Barack Obama | Education | News

READ: Obama's Back to School Speech


Here's the speech. You know, the one conservatives have been up in arms over, the one that's going to "indoctrinate" America's kids into socialism. Read the full text of the speech, plus watch interviews with two Republicans, Florida GOP Head Jim Greer and conservative pundit Tony Blankley, who fail to have objections when presented with the actual content of Obama's speech.

Read and watch, AFTER THE JUMP....


The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.  

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK.  Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country? 

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

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  1. And now you vill go to zee reeducation camp to be made into a socialist mini Hitler without a birth certificate. Report at Red Dawn.

    Geez, the Repugs are such a bunch of tools for making even one kid disrespect the office of The President.

    Any President.

    Posted by: Derek Washington | Sep 7, 2009 7:19:45 PM

  2. Oh, so scary! There's nothing more socialist than talking to kids about personal responsibility and the importance of education. But I'm sure the wingnuts will find something Hitleresque in there.

    Posted by: Ernie | Sep 7, 2009 7:25:27 PM

  3. Clearly, the wingnuts who are protesting this address are just that--wingnuts. However, I'm wondering if anyone else had a problem with that last line, specifically the part written "...God bless you, and God bless America."? While it certainly doesn't cross the line between church and state in quite the same way a prayer would, it still seems insensitive to the millions of schoolchildren of different faiths, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, etc... who will be listening with their peers and teachers. I think the the speech should have simply ended with "Thank you, and best of luck to all of you for the rest of the school year and beyond." Thoughts?

    Posted by: peterparker | Sep 7, 2009 7:31:56 PM

  4. The content of the speech does not matter. With the current political climate it is that is is being given that is the issue. Our political system is too Manichean for any thing approaching ration discourse. One may trace the roots to Lee Atwater but it was not his party that perfected the techniques.

    Posted by: Diogenes | Sep 7, 2009 7:41:42 PM

  5. Where's a copy of the lesson plan that was scrapped after complaints, Andy? Nothing like telling the half of the story that suits your agenda. I thought I had stumbled onto the Fox News or MSNBC websites for a minute there.

    Posted by: paul c | Sep 7, 2009 7:57:41 PM

  6. I prefer your God-free conclusion PP, but if he'd left "God bless America" out of it that probably would have been tomorrow's headline, sadly.

    Posted by: Ernie | Sep 7, 2009 8:01:14 PM

  7. It's a great speech that should be heard by all school kids AND their parents. Only conservative wingnuts with their twisted thinking would believe this speech would "harm" their children. Anderson Cooper ripped this Greer guy a new one on his program the other night.

    Posted by: Dean | Sep 7, 2009 8:04:32 PM

  8. Once the speech has been delivered and the country doesn't explode into street-riots, a few more moderate conservatives with brains that work will realize their party has been co-opted by irrational, fear-mongering wingnuts. You are welcome to join us.

    The blatant hysteria/histrionics would almost be funny if it wasn't happening in our own country.

    Posted by: Zinc Alloy | Sep 7, 2009 8:34:58 PM

  9. @ Ernie

    Thats because America is full of SHIT!!! Religion is a society destroyer and even if it doesnt completely destroy a whole society,it will totally corrupt a society.Take a look around you! But I digress.

    What a great speech that all children and even ADULTS should hear.

    Posted by: Rocky | Sep 7, 2009 9:14:56 PM

  10. But of course that Log Cabin Rabid queen Paul C would always have say something negative when it comes to Obama.

    Paul go and find that transcript and show it to your uncle Glen Beck. I'm sure he'd be so happy his queery idiotic nephew passed on the info!

    UGH! You're just as NUTS as those repugs!

    Posted by: Chris | Sep 7, 2009 9:42:40 PM

  11. The State of the Union ends with god bless America. It's pretty much a given for a presidential speech. Look at our currency---it all says In God we Trust. Do I like it? No. But most of this country self-identifies as Christian, so it would have been stupid to say otherwise.

    The GOP, I believe, seriously screwed themselves on this one. And the whiny Greer moron is not helping the cause.

    I like the speech fine; it's benign and hopefully useful. But I seriously doubt that kids in younger grades will be able to follow a lot of it. I suppose that doing one for elementary students and another for junior and high school students wouldn't have been feasible, but some of the lofty rhetoric and examples used are not going to be understood by a lot of children. (Hell, a lot of it wasn't understood by Republican adults.)

    Posted by: Paul R | Sep 7, 2009 9:44:50 PM

  12. OK, I hadn't watched the part with Tony Blankley. Man did they smack him down, the dumbass. Nice try.

    Posted by: Paul R | Sep 7, 2009 9:52:20 PM

  13. i think that 95% of all the this hatefest that the rabid righteous Right is tossing around like so many communist plots can be boiled down to one reason and one reason only: they just can't stand to have a black man in power. they can't stand the fact that a black man will garner the respect accorded to the POTUS. they can't stand that anything positive for this country will come from a black man. there are tons of avenues of their vitriol, but the main reason, the only reason, is racism, pure and simple. we are deluding ourselves if we think we are even on the path to a post racist society. i'm ashamed and humiliated to think that this is my country. i was embarrassed to be an American under the Bush regime, but i'm disgusted and truly frightened by what the republicans and right wingnuts are up to now.

    Posted by: casey | Sep 7, 2009 10:49:23 PM

  14. @derek washington,

    i agree w/u. what are conservatives teaching their kids about respect for the presidency? even if it were dubya, i would not pull my kids out of school. at long last, is there no sense of decency?

    Posted by: nic | Sep 7, 2009 10:50:19 PM

  15. These people (such as this man from Florida) are un-American, un-Patriotic and a real danger to America. They are not good for America at all.

    Posted by: Sargon Bighorn | Sep 7, 2009 11:00:12 PM

  16. Republicans, republicans, republicans...I have no words left for this party anymore

    Posted by: jill | Sep 8, 2009 12:18:19 AM

  17. Well, what do you expect from someone who Opera stole the presidency for.

    His socialism is showing.

    I'm not anti-negroe or anything, but a couple of generations ago he'd be lucky to the janitor in a European descended school than the present occupant of the White House.

    W was no genius; At least he knew who his constituents were, unlike the Ivy league grad who usurped the Presidency!

    Posted by: Debbie Wilson in Washington | Sep 8, 2009 12:32:01 AM

  18. you all are full of hot air.

    Posted by: Steve | Sep 8, 2009 12:37:04 AM

  19. It's a great speech, but it's long and most of the students will probably tune out. I don't see him even reaching the younger grades. It's just too complex, but certainly not the falling sky the w'nuts are getting all wadded up over.

    Posted by: Beef and Fur | Sep 8, 2009 12:57:55 AM

  20. @debbiewilsonyadayadayadaurp,

    F.U. no, really F.U. to hell.

    Posted by: nic | Sep 8, 2009 1:14:26 AM

  21. @Debbie Wilson, you are a moron.

    Opera (WHO can't spell Oprah?)? Negroe (that spelling was wrong even when the word was used 100 years ago)? Janitor in a European-descended school? Could you be any dumber?

    "The Ivy League grad who usurped the presidency?" One, do you have any idea what schools W attended? (Ive League.) Two, do you have any idea how elections work? (It's not considered usurping to be truly elected, unlike W.) Does it make you proud to be racist? Really, does it?

    I'm pissed off I'm even responding to you.

    @Steve, your comment is completely useless given that a wide range of opinion is expressed here.

    Posted by: Paul R | Sep 8, 2009 1:17:46 AM

  22. Debbie Wilson, I think you're on the wrong website. Go to

    Posted by: Ted | Sep 8, 2009 1:21:24 AM

  23. Good luck with that crowd, Professor Obama. This speech is way too complicated and nuanced for them. And I'm not talking about the kids. I'm talking about the creatures that provided the genetic material for the kids.

    I'm sorry.

    Was that evolutionist driven blasphemy?

    I meant the people who received the "gift" of parenthood from Jesus.

    And really, Mr. President, you're not going to dazzle them with tales of your travels to distant and - in their mind - inferior lands. They'll just interpret it as you hating on America. These are the same folks who think there are cannibals in Indonesia. And that Shanghai is a Chinese concentration camp. They are somewhat provincial.

    Don't mention JK Rowling either, sir. Everyone knows she's an evil lesbian witch. And Harry Potter is, of course, the tool of the devil. Everyone knows that.

    And please, Mr. President, don't confuse the audience with big words like "government standards." They think it means you're going to resurrect Chairman Mao - using your insidious African black magic - and put him to work on destroying their precious way of life. Because if there's one thing socialism hates, it is double-wide trailers and shotgun racks.

    Posted by: John | Sep 8, 2009 1:34:33 AM

  24. With all due respect, what is missing from this story is that without the uproar, changes would not have been made. Originally, a suggested lesson plan was to be given by the administration for the students. Also, the essay of "what can I do to help the president?" has been changed to "what are my goals and how can I achieve them?" Understand that 48% of the voters did not vote for Obama. Some of them follow what Limbaugh, Coulter and Hannity say and with Obama and the media being less transparent about Obama's history during the election year, who do you think these people will trust with their children's mind? Like I said, changes were made, so more people feel more comfortable with the speech.

    Posted by: NYSmike | Sep 8, 2009 2:04:35 AM

  25. Debbie,

    Wasn't W an Ivy League grad who usurped the presidency?

    Posted by: Eric | Sep 8, 2009 2:09:45 AM

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