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September 7th, 2009
08:24 PM ET

Text of Pres. Obama's back-to-school speech

AC360°

The White House released the text of a controversial back-to-school speech to students from President Obama that has angered some conservative parents and pundits.

The speech was posted to the White House website.

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.

Read the rest of the speech here and tell us what you think.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Education • President Barack Obama
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Shannon

    Although I am a college student, I commend the parents who will show this to their children even if their schools are not. It's a shame that such an inspiring speech has become so controversial after the GOP assumed the message was pushing the liberal agenda. Parents, politicians and pundits who have a problem with the President telling America's youth to work hard clearly needed the guidance that this speech provides when they were young.

    September 8, 2009 at 11:51 am |
  2. Isaiah

    To President Obama, thank you for this approach and leadership. To all the cynics, truely ask yourself what really is the issue here. Remember an alcoholic has to admit that he has a problem before realistically they get be helped. I see nothing wrong with the speech that is inspiring to our future (our childern).

    September 8, 2009 at 11:43 am |
  3. Stephanie

    We are one nation, led by one President, freely elected by the majority of the American people. It is a sad state of affairs when people become so self-centered with their own personal agendas that they don't stop to take a look at what might be best for the whole country. Just like Kennedy said..."Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country". We live in a free country and too many Americans and young people take that for granted. The military to their part and then some when it comes to giving back to this free country of ours. But what does the average American give? Our President, whether you agree with his politics or not, is still our President. If an educated person read President Obama's speech and came away with the idea that he is spouting propaganda to our young people in hopes of brain washing them to be his political puppets, then we really do need to better educate our young people. All this speech does is try to speak directly to a population of young Americans who don't know what their role is, in the American dream. There is nothing wrong with inspiring a person to reach for higher goals and to better themselves. We as free Americans should not teach our children to avoid or not listen to information (good or bad). As parents, teachers and responsible adults we should teach our students to listen to everything and LEARN how to make good decisions based what our parents teach us. Parents should let their children listen to the President's speech then sit down with them and discuss it. (Good, bad or indifferent). Free speech. If America is so afraid of a Communistic or Socialistic agenda creeping in, they should stop trying to squelch our leaders from speaking FREELY, but rather open our hearts and minds and for once, USE THEM!

    September 8, 2009 at 11:20 am |
  4. Anna

    Does anyone remember where President Bush was on Sept. 11, 2001?? He was reading to children in a Kindergarten class...OMG! How did that happen????

    September 8, 2009 at 11:00 am |
  5. Chris, Ohio

    As I read President Obama's speech to the school children I kept searching for the brainwashing part. I guess if you consider telling children why school is important , to do their best, and when all is said and done, the STUDENT is the one ultimately responsible for his or her success or failure to be brainwashing, I was successful. It is a sad day when talking about "personal accountability" is considering brainwashing! I personally thought this is a great speech with a timely message, it's unfortunate many children will be denied hearing it . My children's school plans on taping this speech to show at an assembly, I will be taping it myself.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:48 am |
  6. Stella Skembos

    This is a wonderful speech. In an era where alot children and youth expect things and expect them to come easily, this is a strong message of the need to work hard for anything they may want in life. We live in a time where families are so busy, some maybe too busy to have the time to even talk with their children. I think we are fortunate to have a President who would take the time to address our youth about the importance for education and continuing education.

    September 8, 2009 at 10:22 am |
  7. Anna

    Dina and Liz,
    Care to to tell us what, exactly, in your opinion, is "controversial" about this speech or what the "real problems American schools face" are? The positive comments are specific in their praise. Be specific in your critisism.

    September 8, 2009 at 9:38 am |
  8. mary v jackson

    Listen, On 911 President George Bush was seen on all TV channels sitting in a classroom reading to school children, did any of these same parents ask that the book he was reading be screened for partisan persuasion? No, lets just stop making excuses for the frenge poplulation that seems to be controlling social issues. I am an open minded college graduate with 3 degrees. Our President is being overly critiqued because of the color of his skin. There are money grabbers(Politicians) in Washington who don't want to lose financing from the major insurance companies. these men and women are good at inciting the les intelligent among us. Racism is and never have been a good thing. Lets talk more about how to improve race relations in the greatest country on earth. Thank you, Mary

    September 8, 2009 at 9:20 am |
  9. Dr G

    I cannot think of a better way to start off the school year for our youth than to have the President of the United States address them personally. If this address touches one single child to achieve, encourages one single child to stay in school, challenges one single child to excel, there are no losers here. Those parents who did not allow their children to listen or those schools that refused to air this address should be ashamed of themselves. Was it their children's welfare that fueled the opposition or the parents' petty, partisan, and uneducated thinking?

    September 8, 2009 at 9:17 am |
  10. Tabu' Hurt McClung

    As a parent, I'm recording the student address at home on my Comcast DVR. I plan to watch this 18 minute address with my children tonight. I would like my children to have already watched the speech at their school, Woodland Hills High School and Middle School so we can have a small discussion before we watch it together. If they don't have the chance to see it in school they will watch it as a family at home.

    When I agree OR disagree with Obama's politics, he is my nations leader. As I have had pride in this nation in the past, when I honestly don't have equal representation, my fair share, my 40 acres. My part was to read the speech yesterday and decide what I wanted to say to my children today, my part was to set my DVR and make a date with my children to watch the speech. I will discuss this speech with my children as I did when Bush made his student address. It is my American duty to do this with my children, to listen to My President with my children and do my best to contribute in a most positive way. It is my American right, cause I vote, I participate to form my opinion with my children and to still honor this mans position even when someone else holds it.

    The speech is great. He talks to the students as if he is a Dad that cares about his children, his young countrymen. Most important it has no partisan angle, it's very real, coming from a man that is very real, no dreams but solid goals!!!!!

    September 8, 2009 at 8:56 am |
  11. Kim

    I received a lot of slack last week for requesting a copy of the speech and a lesson plan so I could review it before presenting it to my school aged children. For those of you who tired to beat me up in here, it seems the White House agreed with me and sent out a preview and some classroom activities. And I have done this before. I have had the school e-mail lesson plans about sex education and politics before they were presented to my kids, so I could determine whether or not I felt my child was mature enough, or to give the mental tools to debate the issue. My children's teachers and the school district have no problem preparing the parents for future lessons when requested. That's what this speech is about.... Trusting yourself, to go beyond the minimal requirements. I don't think any where in that speech does it say, "to blindly follow" anyone.
    I like the speech, after review, and I will have my children watch it.

    September 8, 2009 at 7:36 am |
  12. Annie Kate

    It's a great speech – one that shows children why school is important and why they are important not only to themselves and whatever life style they want for themselves but why they are important to each other and ultimately their country. I hope the kids listen and the speech inspires them.

    September 7, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  13. Jennifer NC

    I think this speech is great and that the commotion about it is ridiculous. People have got to relax! I am a public school teacher and am glad that the students at my school will get to watch this tomorrow.

    September 7, 2009 at 5:15 pm |
  14. Lynn--Kansas City,Mo.

    I read nothing wrong with his speech,But as I read in another comment.I wonder if the speech was differnt before the press started all the hoopla about it.ANd yes I do have 2 grandchildren in school.One I am raising.And they will be showing it at the school's they go too.

    September 7, 2009 at 4:29 pm |
  15. theresa

    The cynicism in this world scares me. This speech is very good, and I hope it inspires children, parents, and teachers to reach new levels of excellence. The country needs more commitment to the collective good. It will make our individual lives much better.

    September 7, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  16. Mommy-of-one-9yr-boy

    His speech is fine other than too long for a kid to sit through on their first day of school. I send my son to private so they may not show it. I'll show it to him when it's archived on whitehouse site.

    September 7, 2009 at 3:17 pm |
  17. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    There is nothing objectionable in THIS speech. But what was it going to say before the blowup? The lesson plans would have you believe he was going to enlist children's support for his policies. I'm sure the language was changed after all the flap.

    September 7, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  18. patrickyeah

    I think it's great, and that every school should make some time – like an assembly – to show it tomorrow. I hope my school does tomorrow, but it will most likely NOT show it. I'll just tape it.

    September 7, 2009 at 2:57 pm |
  19. Sherma Lopez

    Love the speech would share with my kids if I had any. I think I am going to share with school age nieces and nephews. Who better than President Obama to share these words of encouragement with today's youths.

    September 7, 2009 at 2:51 pm |
  20. Sandra

    I think it's remarkable that President Obama is saying these things to our students. He knows that some kids have no one in their lives to push them, hold them accountable for getting their work done, and motivate them to keep going. For these kids to hear the President say, "I know what it feels like, I know you're having a rough time at home, but you can do this" is so inspiring. Heck, this would've motivated me..."I really don't want to work on this assignment, but the President and my country is depending on me so I better get on it!" In fact, this is good motivation for me as I consider going to grad school.

    September 7, 2009 at 2:25 pm |
  21. Rebecca

    I an the mother of 3 children all of whom are school age. The public schools they attend have decided not to show the president's speech during class and after reading the speech this saddens me.I have not been a Barack Obama fan by any means but I believe we should give all of our elected officials respect especially when they are trying to inspire our children to a better future.I will record the speech for my children and sit down with them that night and watch the speech together. I hope all families decide to do the same.I may not agree with his policies, but I do agree with trying to inspire and make our children more dedicated to learning and being the best they can be.

    September 7, 2009 at 2:21 pm |
  22. Dr. Stan B

    Actually it is a very good speech and parents or guardians ought to follow up with a discussion with their children about the reality of what an education can ultimately provide. Wish th WH would have released this sooner

    September 7, 2009 at 2:19 pm |
  23. Luc

    This speech should not only be heard by the students but by their parents as well. This speech is both informative and inspiring, and maybe that is why some conservatives don't want their children to hear this speech.

    September 7, 2009 at 2:17 pm |
  24. dina

    I can see why this is a controversial speech. I actually have issue with some parts of it. Hmmm.

    September 7, 2009 at 2:09 pm |
  25. Pastor B. Smitherman

    I have read the President's message to the School Children. In response I find nothing in this speech that would suggest that the President is trying in anyway to influence the children except in one way and that is to stay in school and be the best that they can be. This is a message that needs to be broadcast to all school age children. This is a message I belieive that is one of motivation to those children who may other wise have no motivation. As sad as it may be, all children do not have the luxury of having parents and other encouraging adults to inspire them to work hard and be the best that they can be, so this message from the President of the United States may just be the motivation some young person may need to accomplish thier goals in life

    September 7, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  26. Liz

    Brain-washing. Kids don't need the President telling them what they need to do. Comming from a communist country this speach does feel familiar. Lots of empty words that are meant to take away the focus from the real problem the American schools face.

    September 7, 2009 at 1:57 pm |
  27. Nurgul Erbil

    It is an excellent speech...Those who are angry are nuts!

    September 7, 2009 at 1:31 pm |
  28. Freeman

    I read the entire speech and saw nothing wrong with it. I think it's relevant, heartfelt and very encouraging. I see nothing to complain about. And yes I have two young men still in school.

    September 7, 2009 at 1:27 pm |
  29. Tammy, Houma, LA

    As a teacher and counselor, amen! Nice job Mr. President. Now if they only listen...

    September 7, 2009 at 12:51 pm |
  30. Lisa

    What's all the fuss about? His speech is filled with the sort of wisdom and advice that many people should be giving to the next generation.

    September 7, 2009 at 12:41 pm |