WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama urged American high school students Wednesday to work hard, take some risks and continue learning past graduation, with none of the protests from the right that greeted his first back-to-school speech two years ago.
"You're this country's future," Obama said at a Washington high school.
"It starts ... with being the best student that you can be. ... It doesn't mean that you've got to get straight A's all the time — although that's not a bad goal to have. It means that you have to stay at it. ... And it means that you've got to take some risks once in a while. ... You've got to wonder. You've got to question. You've got to explore. And every once in a while, you need to color outside of the lines."
The president also praised teachers, calling them the unsung and underpaid heroes of education.
"Your teachers are giving up their weekends. They're waking up at dawn. They're cramming their days full of classes and extracurricular activities. And then they're going home, eating some dinner and then they've got to stay up, sometimes past midnight, grading your papers and correcting your grammar and making sure you've got that algebra formula properly," he said.
It was Obama's third back-to-school speech, and it came without the partisan attacks leveled against his first in September 2009. At the time, Republicans and conservatives ripped his speech and the planned distribution of teaching aids to teachers as a plot to indoctrinate young people into a socialist agenda.
"I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology," Jim Greer said at the time; he was then the chairman of the Florida Republican Party.
"The idea that schoolchildren across our nation will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run health care, banks and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs and racking up more debt than any other president is not only infuriating but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power."
In a critique typical of the time, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin said then that the president planned to give the speech at a time when his proposed health care law was "completely under siege."
"The left has always used kids in public schools as guinea pigs and as junior lobbyists for their social liberal agenda," she said. She later added that Obama would give "a very innocuous speech" but that "what you're going to get are overzealous teachers, teachers' union brass who are in the hip pockets of the Democrat Party, urge their kids to write letters, to demonize Obamacare opponents and to call them opponents of change."
The president's 2009 speech, which urged students to work hard in school, didn't mention his health care proposal.
Greer said later that he'd issued his statement only "to placate the extremists who dominate our party today." Greer by then had been forced out of the party and later was indicted on corruption charges.
Under fire, the Department of Education did change a line in the teaching materials it offered to accompany the 2009 speech.
The original line suggested that students "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."
The revised line said, "Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."
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