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Posted on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 3 p.m.

Ann Arbor students take in President Barack Obama's back-to-school speech

By Kyle Feldscher


Students watch President Barack Obama's back-to-school speech today.

Angela J. Cesere |

Ann Arbor Pioneer High student Damian McGlothlin wasn't too impressed by President Barack Obama's back-to-school speech today.

“I thought it was a little trite, to be honest,” he said. “We’ve heard a lot of it before, there was nothing new or different. … I think it was fine to give the speech, but I don’t really think he spoke out.”

Students in Tracey Van Dusen’s Advanced Placement Government class at Pioneer High and a neighboring law class watched Obama’s speech. Many students in the class said they thought the majority of the 30-minute speech was simply rhetoric.


President Barack Obama greets students at Julia R. Masterman School in Philadelphia after delivering his speech.

The Associated Press

The speech was Obama’s second annual back-to-school speech. It was considerably less controversial than last year’s edition, which was hotly debated in the days before it was delivered.

  • Read the prepared speech here.

Students in Van Dusen’s class engaged in a discussion beforehand about some of the challenges the country is facing when it comes to education.

“Things are changing,” Van Dusen said. “More support is being given to reform efforts, and statistics are showing that America is falling behind and shows the status quo is not working.”

Van Dusen is one of 15 Teaching Ambassador Fellows for the 2010-11 school year, working with federal policy makers and other teachers to encourage input into efforts to improve education.

Despite the lackluster reviews of the speech, about half in the class believe it was a good idea for Obama to give the speech. Students said they believe it shows the president cares about their education.


Tracy VanDusen talks with her Pioneer High School AP government class before watching President Obama's back-to-school speech.

Angela J. Cesere |

Speaking from Masterman High School in Philadelphia, Obama touched on many of the themes students predicted beforehand: Stay in school, work hard and stay focused. He talked about his own experiences when he was in school and how he had to buckle down and get serious during his high school years.

“If hard work could make the difference for me, it can make the difference for you,” he said.

Working hard in school isn't only beneficial to individual students, but also would benefit the entire country, Obama said. It was a message that rang true with Van Dusen’s class after students spent a few minutes prior to the speech discussing the United States’ dropping standing in world education.

Van Dusen told her class that, despite spending the most money in the world on public education, the United States had dropped to 12th in college graduations rates in the world. She said not much has changed since the 1920s in education — from how the school year is laid out to teachers’ salaries.

Students argued teachers unions are one of the things keeping education reform from happening. Van Dusen said the situation in Washington D.C. is unique, with a president and education secretary who are both Democrats and working with teachers unions to agree to reform.

Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for He can be reached at



Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : 7:48 p.m.

Test scores started dropping from the high in the early 70s, coinciding with the Federal Government creation the Dept. of Education. The goal today is indoctrination not instruction. Along with the Dept of Ed., the teachers unions have contributed to the mediacrity of todays education. That's not likely to change since the teachers union is about all that is left in obama's corner.


Fri, Sep 17, 2010 : 11:11 a.m.

I would like to add Al Sharpton's comments about "No Child Left Behind". A grade for schools, teachers, and students is good as long as you let the school grade the parents. All the data has no meaning and is thrown out if the parents are failing". Kind of makes you feel like Obama is leaving some important things out.

Barbara Goodsitt

Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 8:16 p.m.

I also think that the quality of journalism displayed here is pretty bad in a town that has so many highly educated people!

Barbara Goodsitt

Thu, Sep 16, 2010 : 8:09 p.m.

This article and the responses to it are disheartening. I think it shows bad judgement on the part of most Americans. We have an inspiring President who wants to urge young people to work hard in school to get a good education and to achieve success in their lives. Most of what I read here is criticism and sniping. The problem lies with the attitude of Americans, such as those here. The President is a self made man, who came up from nothing to develop his intellect and devoted his life to improve the life of others. Those who cannot recognize this and insist on petty back-biting are the losers.


Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 9:14 p.m.

The image of the Obama in front of the children looks like something out of Orwell's "1984." I hate to see little children being indoctrinated. It is unbelievable how uninformed democrats are just as how uninformed Republicans were under Bush. That is because people on both side of the isle are being fooled. Both sides want to believe in their great leader so they ignore all the lies ande atrocities. Bush was intalled to fool the republicans and Obama (aka Barry Soetoro) was intalled to fool the democrats. Far easier for Bush to fool Republicans and Obama to fool the democrats. That is how it works. @jjc Obama may not be responsible for this mess (although he is since he voted and urge all the underlings to GIVE the banksters $800 billion and guarantee another $27 TRILLION. Which the bankers are currently drawing on), he is continuing Bush/Cheney policies (torture, illegal wiretapping, endless wars, authorized to assassinate U.S. citizens without a trial, hired lobbyists, etc.). No difference between Bush/Cheney and Obama/Biden. Please wake up before it is too late.

David Briegel

Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 9:13 p.m.

jcj, No, not just Bush. It is the complete failure of the philosophy espoused by every Republican since Reagan. The lie of "trickle down" is where we now stand. If cutting the taxes for the victors of the "class warfare" would trickle down, we would have the greatest economy of all time. It is simply mythology!

mike from saline

Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 7:22 p.m.

@Win, So, people who appose the current president, can be simply dissmised as racist, right-wing hate mongers? Is this's position? Must be, I guess.


Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 11:01 a.m.

No, not Bush alone. But it certainly cant fall on Obama alone either? And that is what right wing hate mongers want us to believe. I recall all those folks calling anyone who opposed our president unpatriotic and now those same fools are OPPOSE EVERYTHING President Obama does, no matter what it is. Hypocrisy at its best!! and yes my friend, good old fashioned RACISM!


Wed, Sep 15, 2010 : 12:11 a.m.

@ win "He did not create the mess we are in" Let me guess, Bush??? LOL


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 10:23 p.m.

Hey Eom, Your response, says alot. I was taught to respect my country. To respect our President ( Dem or Rep ). He leads, it's his call. Go with it now, vote for what you want (next election). Permission to watch our President of the USA? To wacky, don't put a shield on where it doesn't belong.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 10:12 p.m.

I don't agree with his policies, did NOT vote for him and wouldn't vote for him if he was the ONLY candidate running... Howere - there have been other presidents in the past that I have not agreed with and did not vote for. There have been presidents that were terrible before I could vote and before I was born. Thay ARE a part of our history - good, bad or somewhere in between - it's important that kids learn about the presidents and have the opportunity to 'know' them on some level. President Obama stayed away from the type of message he had planned last year - which I would not have allowed my kids to participate in if the school had not made the decision to eliminate the cirriculum that was supposed to be implimented with the speech. As it turned out - the White House changed this cirriculum and the speech after the fall out from concerned parents. This year's address to the schools is a speech that I would expect from a president - any president. And as an American - I hold a respect for that office even if I'm not 'feelin it' for the person who holds the office.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 10:04 p.m.

I hope the kids who watched OUR president speak are smart and open minded enough to learn the facts. He did not create the mess we are in. Is he having difficulty cleaning it up, yes, I can't argue that. But he also isn't getting much help. Maybe those individuals in congress begin to see that they are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem If they choose to work against the President, maybe they should be voted out. You can't just blame one man for a world of problems that he INHERITED.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 10:03 p.m.

@eom - If you did not have a parent permission slip, you had to watch him. If you did, you could go to the library in most schools. The permission slip was to avoid seeing him.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 8:52 p.m.

Interesting that high school students realized there was no substance but yet the majority of Americans voted to make Owebama the pres. Hopefully a one termer.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 8:40 p.m.

I don't know why it should continue to surprise and disgust me, but it does. It shouldn't matter if you agree or disagree with a president's policies, if he's speaking, you shouldn't need to get permission to listen to him. He's the President of the United States. It shouldn't matter if you voted for him, or for someone else, he's the President of the United States and having to get permission to hear him is ridiculous.

dading dont delete me bro

Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 8:37 p.m.

i had to sign the slip to excuse them from watching it. @leso, i did not sign it. even though i did not vote for the man, i did tell the kids that he is our president. like it or not, he is running our country. they maynot agree with what he says, but they must respect the office.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 6:33 p.m.

And Angela, the true value of education isn't in the title you earn (or not) or how much money you make, but in the process of learning itself -- and its power to help us live thoughtfully, with context and meaning. Make it about the money and you miss the point entirely.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 6:11 p.m.

Dading, this is our president and like him or not, I hope you didn't sign a "permission slip" to excuse your children from attending. Respect for the presidency and an appreciation for the power of its role is critical to our understanding of what it means to be Americans. Even a second grader can learn something of value from such an address and the discussion that probably followed it in the classroom.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 6:04 p.m.

they had to get a permission slip because of the amount of people who do not agree with him or his policy. people are finally starting to aposse this maniac. when Bush was in office I thought it was patriotic to speak up againts the president


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 5:34 p.m.

No problem with the speech to students this year - it didn't come with an agenda or a three page guide to how the teachers are supposed to use the President's speech for assignments like they tried to do last year. Presidents should send the message to the kids that they need to do the work, study and graduate if they plan to make something of themselves. I believe other presidents have given the same type of speech to school kids in the past.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 5:14 p.m.

Is anyone else concerned by the fact that parents had to sign a permission slip to watch The President of the United States of America? I sure am.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 4:39 p.m.

i guess i should learn to type so I dont reveal what a fool I am


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 4:23 p.m.

didnt obama say our country was never going to be as great as it was? whats the worth in an education if any job is only going to get you ten bucks an hour. whats the worth of an education if all you have to do is stick your hand out and ask for govt. help. whats the use in an education if you use that education to succeed and then are punished in the media for owning a business or earning to much or punished by the govt. having to pay more taxes just because you achieved your goals. i wish obama would give more speak more and continue to reveal what a communist fool he is.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 3:40 p.m.

@Top Cat, His speech was about education. You don't think education is more important today in this economy than it ever was? Well, you are wrong. Where do you see his words today disconnected from his continuous message about the importance of education? This has been a guiding force in his message since he began campaigning. As a child I would never have expected the President of the United States to speak to us in school! By doing so he is defining the importance of education and the importance of our youth, our future. You don't have to like the man. But to fault him for speaking to school children and thus demonstrating the importance of education....that's wrong.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 3:27 p.m.

@UgottaBkidding President Obama was not "in town". His speech was televised.

Top Cat

Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 3:18 p.m.

Everyday, more and more people stop listening to this man. There is no connection between his words and his deeds. There is no connection between his words today and his words tomorrow. There is no connection between his words, our lives and the condition our country is in. The Emperor has no clothes.

dading dont delete me bro

Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 3:09 p.m.

both my kids, one in 2nd grade and the other in 6th grade wanted me to sign their permission slip to go to the library instead of watching... btw, both are honor students.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 2:57 p.m.

I don't blame teachers for the drop in our educational level, among the world. It is the politicians and "eggheads" in state, and federal government that are the problem. They are not worried about educating our children in "reading, writing and arithmatic." Consequently, their more concerned about a child's self-esteem, and tolerance of others. Leave that to the parents please. Speaking of parents, most likely your kid is a brat. Instead of being a defense attorney for the child- try punishing them instead!


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 2:46 p.m.

First it was Howard Dean coming to town...then it's Barack Obama..doesn't it feel like he's been here about every other week?!?

Kyle Feldscher

Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 2:20 p.m.

Ask and you shall receive, Wendy.


Tue, Sep 14, 2010 : 2:10 p.m.

It might be a good idea to add a link to the "controversy" from last year. I have a vague recollection of it, but it's always annoying to read an article which cites an easily linkable backstory but doesn't offer a way to refresh one's memory about the circumstances. (Just a suggestion)