Obama to tell students to take responsibility

Take responsibility for your education. Go to class and listen. Don’t let failures define you.

That’s the advice President Barack Obama will give schoolchildren Tuesday in a speech that drew fire even before he delivered it.

“We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems,” Obama said. “If you don’t do that ? if you quit on school ? you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.”

The White House posted Obama’s remarks on its Web site Monday.

The president was to deliver the talk at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., a Washington suburb. The speech will be broadcast live on C-SPAN and on the White House Web site.

In the prepared remarks, Obama tells young people that all the work of parents, educators and others won’t matter “unless you show up to those schools, pay attention to those teachers.”

Obama’s planned talk has proven controversial, with several conservative organizations and individuals accusing him of trying to pitch his arguments too aggressively in a local-education setting. White House officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have said the allegations are silly.

Obama makes no reference in his prepared remarks to the uproar surrounding his speech. Nor does he make an appeal for support for tough causes such as his health care overhaul. He uses the talk to tell kids about his at-times clumsy ways as a child and to urge them to set goals and work hard to achieve them.

“I think it is a very good speech,” Loudoun County, Va., school superintendent Edgar Hatrick told WTOP News in Washington, “but it’s just not on the first day of school very convenient for everybody to stop in the middle of lunch and to stop everything else they’re doing and hear the live broadcast.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt told KDKA Radio: “If the president wants to speak to the students of America and talk about the importance of academic achievement and working hard, that is a wonderful thing and ought not to be the subject of debate.”

Duncan, in an interview Tuesday on MSNBC, said the controversy wasn’t merited, but he also acknowledged that guidance the administration sent to schools about how kids could participate Tuesday could have been better worded.

In his talk, Obama says: “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.”

Some conservatives have called on schools and parents to boycott the address. They say Obama is using the opportunity to promote a political agenda.

Schools don’t have to show the speech. And some districts have decided not to, partly in response to concerns from parents.

Duncan’s department has also taken heat for proposed lesson plans distributed to accompany the speech.

The education secretary has acknowledged that a section about writing to the president on how students could help him meet education goals was poorly worded and has been changed.

In his remarks, Obama leaves the students with some words of encouragement.

“I expect great things from each of you,” he said. “So don’t let us down ? don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.