Of course, I did wonder how the late Lolo Soetoro would have felt about the speech, given that Obama seemed to be highlighting the portion of his childhood when Mr. Soetoro was not his stepfather with all that "single mom" talk. And when the president mentioned something about feeling lonely and not fitting in, I had to wonder if he was talking about his years in the Indonesian Catholic school, or if he was referring to the privileged crowd at Punahou School.
In fact, this bit of the speech is a little odd:
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."
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.
We're spending more money on education than people think, too; here's Peterson again:
Yesterday President Barack Obama delivered a pep talk to America's schoolchildren. The president owes a separate speech to America's parents. They deserve some straight talk on the state of our public schools.
According to the just released Education Next poll put out by the Hoover Institution, public assessment of schools has fallen to the lowest level recorded since Americans were first asked to grade schools in 1981. Just 18% of those surveyed gave schools a grade of an A or a B, down from 30% reported by a Gallup poll as recently as 2005.
No less than 25% of those polled by Education Next gave the schools either an F or a D. (In 2005, only 20% gave schools such low marks.)
Beginning in 2002, the grades awarded to schools by the public spurted upward from the doldrums into which they had fallen during the 1990s. Apparently the enactment of No Child Left Behind gave people a sense that schools were improving. But those days are gone. That federal law has lost its luster and nothing else has taken its place.
It's little wonder the public is becoming uneasy. High-school graduation rates are lower today than they were in 1970. The math and reading scores of 17-year-olds have been stagnant for four decades.
But when it comes to actual dollars spent per pupil, Americans get the numbers wrong. Those polled by Education Next estimated that schools in their own districts spend a little more than $4,000 per pupil, on average. In fact, schools in those districts spend an average of $10,000.
One can understand the public's confusion on the dollar and cents question. Schools' money pots are filled with revenue from property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, gambling revenues, and dozens of other sources. It's not easy to add up all the numbers, and no one does it for the voter except the federal government, which manages to get the information out two years late. When those surveyed are told how much is actually being spent in their own school district, only 38% say they support higher spending.
The public also dramatically underestimates the amount teachers in their state are being paid. The average guess in 2007 was around $33,000—well below actual average salary of $47,000 across all states. When told the truth about teacher salaries, support for the idea that they should get a salary increase plummeted by 14 percentage points.
I don't pretend to have the answers to the question of improving public education. I do know that we keep trying the same things and acting surprised when they don't work. For all the money and federal mandates and special programs and extra layers of bureaucracy dreamed up by the educrats, we still have stagnant reading and math scores and an increasing sense that our kids need to go to college to learn what our grandparents learned in high school.
And if a few speeches or pep talks to students could improve things, we'd have seen improvement long before today's speech. We keep trying to impose a one-size-fits-all education policy on a widely diverse nation; we keep trying to pretend that a child's social situation or home life doesn't matter to his education, as the president indicated today; we keep trying to pretend that our schools can serve as fallout shelters for the sexual and cultural revolution with no resulting impact on the quality and nature of the education being offered; we keep trying to pretend that one of the chief roles of a secular school in a secular nation is to tear down and undermine all the religious underpinnings of Western Civilization without there being, in any way, any consequences to the minds and experiences of the children deprived of any religious context for what they learn and study.