Obama’s Inauguration Speech: Reflections and Implications for Education

I had the privilege of watching the inauguration this morning with my students. Our school was kind enough to extend our first period so we could finish listening to President Obama’s inauguration speech. First, a couple of thoughts on the process:

  • Since we don’t receive any sort of cable signal, our building tried an interesting idea: stream the video to one computer and send that out over the school video connection. It was somewhat successful, except that the feed was jumpy due to the high volumes of traffic. We eventually resorted to some less tech-savvy methods: internet radio and actual radio. One staff member even quipped, “Anyone have a pair of rabbit ears for my TV?”
  • It was interesting to see how the opportunity to watch this event was received by the students. A good number of them (maybe 75%) were simply entranced – they listened and hung on every word. Others could have cared less and felt it more important to discuss more pressing issues like what so-and-so was wearing.

As soon as the speech was finished, I searched for the full text of the speech. I wanted to look it over and see if it was usable as an example of good writing. Not surprisingly, I found a copy of the speech within seconds of it ending (isn’t the web an amazing thing?). I highlighted a couple of impressive lines and thought I’d reflect on the implication for education in the Obama administration.

  • “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
    In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. “

    • One of the lines from this speech that may be engraved on a statue some day. Again, a rephrasing of another writer (“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”). I think this line reflects what we want to provide our students: a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
      One of the interesting debates we have with students at the secondary level is whether or not they should go to college. Of course, some students will not attend college. Unfortunately, many that don’t simply stop caring about school. I see my goal as a teacher to encourage those students to work hard to be successful in school, not so they can go to college, but so they can at least have the opportunity to do so if they choose. I believe that choice to do as one pleases captures the ideas President Obama (or his excellent speech-writer) had in mind – that is true liberty and true happiness.
  • “For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
    • How many times have we heard this in education, particularly as it relates to technology? In spite of the almost cliched status of this line, it still rings true. As Microsoft begins to roll out the Surface coffee table, our students will begin learning how to use a new technology. The skills they develop now – risk-taking, flexible thinking, problem-solving, and creativity – will determine how successful they are as the world around them changes. And we continue to test students’ ability to solve quadratic equations or identify possessive pronouns…
  • “Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.”
    • I think this idea has huge implications in education – the tools are ever-changing, but the ways in which we use those tools and the goals we strive for continue to be the same. Plato and Socrates advocated wisdom as the primary goal of education – something we have termed “critical thinking” and “habits of mind.” Helping students develop this kind of mentality has always been the primary goal of education. Now we have different tools and strategies to help students reach those goals.

It will be interesting to see how these thoughts evolve over the next four years. My only hope is that education will not take a back seat to the economic problems as I fear it will.

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