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Fiery Obama Speech Focuses on Education

By Cynthia McCabe

When President Barack Obama took the podium late last week at the NAACP’s centennial convention in New York, he turned it into something of a pulpit to preach the importance of parents taking responsibility for their children, especially when it came to involvement in their education.

Parents must encourage their children to be something other than the next Lebron James or Lil’ Wayne, he said, referencing the popular basketball player and rapper. “Parents, we can’t tell our kids to do well in school and fail to support them when they get home. For our kids to excel, we must accept our own responsibilities. That means putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour. It means attending those parent-teacher conferences, reading to our kids, and helping them with their homework.”

That advice-meets-admonishment garnered thunderous applause from the largely Black audience in New York. His impassioned speech also caught the attention of educators across the country, who were grateful to hear a politician call for support from the community for the work they do for high-needs students, rather than blame them when those students don’t succeed.

“I have always said that, although we as a community should help out, it always starts at home; for parents are their children's first teachers!” said Fedricka M., a high school science teacher in Chamblee, Georgia, in an NEA Today Facebook discussion on the speech.

Jocelyn Conrad, a second-grade teacher in Colorado agreed. “It isn't up to just us teachers to educate children but parents and communities as well. Just like he said! I'm on summer break but that made me want to get back to school to see my kids ASAP!”

The necessity of a great public education resounded powered much of Obama’s message, as he pointed to the role of the schoolhouse in the civil rights movement, from Brown v. Board of Education to the Little Rock Nine. “There is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God-given potential,” Obama said.  Touting the importance of 21st Century Skills, he called a “world-class education” a pre-requisite for success. 

Yet achievement gaps between Black and White students persist, and dropout rates among Black students top 50 percent in some parts of the country, he said, adding that there are too many crowded classrooms and decrepit facilities plague many poor school districts.

“It’s wonderful to know that we have a president that echoes the values of education that many dedicated teachers hold,” said Leah Henry, a teacher in Greenville, South Carolina.

Click here to watch Obama’s speech in full. To see what educators are saying about the speech, visit NEA Today’s Facebook profile.