The Obama Speech

Thanks To …

My thanks go to Andrew Forgrave (@aforgrave on twitter) for his thoughtful post on the Obama Speech controversy. His post has prompted my post, which offers my own thoughts on some of the issues that he offers.


Andrew’s has the advantage of coming from the USA’s next door neighbour. He is far more in tune with the feelings of the general populace than I can ever be, writing as I do from a distance of several thousand miles. I have also needed to do some research into recent publications in the USA, so I have probably missed some important strands in the current debate. My own slant is to look at that debate from the wider educational context, and this from an AussiePom background.

Some Parts of the Debate

As you might expect, the debate ranges from the thoughtful to the confused to the name-calling. Rather than trying to summarise each of those strands, I will leave you follow each of those links yourself; this avoids me imposing my own bias on those articles.

A Reason to Listen

For me, education is not just about delivering curriculum into students’ skulls. It is about developing every individual in a way that they feel is appropriate for their future adult lives. Adult life does not come neatly packaged in the manner of “curriculum, learning and assessment”. It is full of opportunities and setbacks, and I feel that as an educator I must model the behaviour of capitalising on every opportunity and overcoming every setback: I owe this to all of my students.

When I was young, my teachers sometimes grasped those extra-curricular opportunities and gave unique experiences. I did not appreciate their value at the time (after all, when you are a child, the assumption is “that is just the way the world is”) but as an adult I have benefitted from those experiences. The rest of this post is cast in that light.

The Responsibility to Educate

The heading “The Responsibility to Educate” is deliberately chosen. It is not ” … to Teach”, nor is it ” … to Deliver Learning”. It is its etymological association, “to draw out from within”, hence to empower to live a full life, which is the primary focus here.

I hold it as a self-evident statement that to deny a child an extra-curricular activity, such as listening to the leader of a country (even if it is the leader of the country in which you happen to be living), is to deny it that child the possibility of growing in that direction. We may feel that the speaker’s agenda is thoroughly odious, in which case we have need to have already given the child as much critical thinking skills as is appropriate to his/her age, even something as simple as “Do you think that what this person is saying is good or bad?”

The Tough One

There are some parents who will always reject the message contained in the previous paragraph. What then, should we as educators say to those who are open to persuasion? This is a question that you will ultimately have to answer for yourself. I offer the previous paragraph as a springboard for your own cogitations.


Since I wrote this post, Obama has delivered his speech, with predictably mixed reactions. The BBC’s Mark Mardell puts in beautifully.

If you want to read Obama’s speech, you can get it here.

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