Out of boredom the other afternoon, I clicked on a link that a former middle school friend of mine had posted on her Facebook. And in the midst of an uninspired day where I’d avoided my projects and even doubted their worth, I was presented with some of the most moving words that I’d heard in a while. Words that filled me with substance. I found myself inspired and literally brought to tears as my private fears about the worth of my contributions came full circle publicly in someone else’s words. I happened to be reading President Obama’s prepared words for his address to the students at a back to school event for September 8th. Full text here.
“I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.”
He addressed our youth, but in doing so, he really addressed our nation’s underlying beliefs about work, success, and failure. In a world where we are numbed by a steady precipitation of commercials for the lottery, and turnkey systems for ambiguous wealth, we forget that success requires repeated hard work. And what else? That we are rarely successful alone. Open a book and read the credits. Watch the Oscars. We all have people to thank when we look back. But in the present, young and old, we all need moments where something pricks us and wakes us up. People that remind you that there is either a better, cleaner, more integrated, or more meaningful way of life. People to perform emotional CPR on you when you have not a breath of oomph left to see it finished. It is so easy to drown in the here and now. In bills. In life’s stresses. We can get used to not contributing. It is easy to stop dreaming. I see youth as well as adults starve for lack of mentors and inspiration. We need to be addressed sometimes, if even by a public figure.
My best friend often performs the CPR I need to stay alive and keep building my dreams. And a few days ago, I found higher ground outside of that support system. From my President! I immediately found myself wishing I could thank him for his words and wondering how he would ever hear my thanks. And then the bottom dropped out. I found out that parents didn’t want their children to hear it. School districts in six states — Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin — opted out of showing the broadcast of the speech to their students. This decision was prompted by parents in most cases. Why? Because they don’t want politics in their schools. They worry that their children will be indoctrinated by a subversive socialist agenda. And there his words were posted on the White House’s official website for all to read and be inspired by, should anyone give the words a chance.
And that’s just the thing. We’re so afraid to be affected. So afraid to be influenced. Although President Obama is a political figure, politics are nearly absent in his address. It is just good common sense full of encouraging examples and reminders. It is something that we all need to hear because life doesn’t get any easier just because we grow up.
We shouldn’t listen to someone just because he is our president. His title alone shouldn’t garner our respect. And I’m not trying to play the rebel card here either. It’s just that one shouldn’t be a leader by title, but by words and actions. And we ought to judge accordingly which means listening first. We are afraid to be led. But we are also afraid to listen.
The parents are crying “ear muffs!” to protect their children. They also apparently want to separate politics from school. They’ve asked for God to leave. And now our President. So what happens to our history text books? Economics classes? What about learning to discuss and think critically about current events? The fact of global warming? Better burn the science books too. Sociology? Nevermind. Let the parents explain to the children why the word “race” shouldn’t exist, and what the difference between someone’s ethnicity and nationality is. And you can forget school elections. Why bother sending them to school? Because they might get affected.
If we must be jaded and contrary and negative, then let’s please leave our kids out of it and not stifle what is good on its way to them. We are starving for mentorship and inspiration, and the parents are pinching the feeding tube. For shame.