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School Cutbacks Create Skeptics: Students Want More Than Words

New America Media, Commentary, Raj Jayadev Posted: Sep 09, 2009

Editors Note: When Pres. Barack Obama addressed the nation's school children yesterday on the importance of education, students at several San Jose public schools were listening. Silicon Valley De-Bug, Generation Engaged and Unity Care facilitated workshops at Andrew Hill High School and Fischer Middle School right after Obamas speech to rate his message, and the majority of those who responded were skeptical of his message. What follows are some of the students views.

The juniors in Osvaldo Mendozas U.S. History class at Andrew Hill High School in South San Jose had an unusual guest speaker addressing them during their second period: Pres. Barack Obama. Projected on the large screen from a laptop, roughly 30 students watched and listened to his address, which was broadcast to classrooms all over the country. The president spoke about the value of education, the possibility of success, and the relationship between the two.

Immediately following the speech, the mix of predominantly Latino and Asian students gave reactions to the presidents message. By a show hands, the president did not poll well. Out of all students, only 10 said that the speech was useful. Some felt it made the same points they've heard from their parents, and others questioned the hopeful tone of the talk while budgets cuts continued to strip away educational opportunities.

At Andrew Hill, students still havent yet received their books for the school year. Kristin, who twirled her pencil despondently while listening to the address, was Obamas most vocal critic. Obama is the same as other presidents," she said, "sounds like everyone else trying to tell us to do well in school, but wheres the money? Hes saying do better, but then dont take away the money, and show us what you can do.

Yet, amidst the more critical viewpoints, several students did say they were inspired by the hopeful message Obama delivered: that they can still achieve, despite the limitations they are facing. Anthony, dressed in full ROTC attire, defended the presidents message of striving for success. In response to Kristin, he told the class, Its really up to us, you know. He can put all the money in, but ultimately, its up to the person to do it.

A common response, however, was that the president fell short because he did not connect with their experience. Vee explained it through the social ladder of school. Trying is not enough. Its like being pretty. Some people dont understand what it is like for others, but they have to try walking in those peoples shoes to know what they go through.

The following are written responses by the Andrew Hill High School students and Fischer Middle School students.

Andrew Hill High School:

"I think the president had honest intentions about this speech, but honestly, it probably won't affect many people. Especially at Andrew Hill. I've been here for three years, and most of the time, the atmosphere is depressing enough to make you lose hope. The colors, the people, the places, buildings, books, and desks; it's something un-motivating to carry on because it seems like no one cares with all the money being taken, and many programs being cut. To me personally, it was pretty inspiring coming from a president who has been there, done that, but there's not much being done about it. I think kids need to be shown that someone cares enough to help us, encourage us, and motivates us." --Thi B.

"I thought the speech was too repetitive. I have heard what he spoke about countless times, even his childhood, him having no father. Everyone has a messed up childhood around here. Its nothing for him to say he knows what it is like. He doesnt even know who we are, or who I am. I think he is a fake. Hope is a word you shouldnt f*&# with, and he's giving everyone false hope. So far he hasnt done anything that has changed the U.S." -- Angel M.

"The speech was encouraging for young people. I though it was especially powerful for those who dont have anyone in their lives who gives them advice". Anthony Sanchez

"I thought the whole speech was whack just because he was talking about doing good in school. But how can we do good in school when they are doing budget cuts and taking money from the school? He is contradicting himself. I wouldve liked to hear him say, 'Were going to stop taking money from schools but investing in them.' How are we supposed to do good if they're cutting money from the programs, teachers? I think the whole speech was b.s. If I wanted to hear do good in school I wouldve asked my father." -- Juan M.

"Obama wasnt that inspiring to me. At our age, he just sounds like everyone else. In order to inspire us, he has to help us. How can he tell us to do our best when we don't have the resources to do it? He's taking money away from our schools and making huge budget cuts to classes I really like, for example photography class. I'd really like to be a photographer, but I can't even learn because the teachers can't buy the supplies we need. Also, like I said before, he just sounds like everyone else. Obama needs to see things from our point of view; he needs to realize what we're going through in this depression. It's hard for a lot of students, including me." -- Kristin P.

"In my opinion, I didnt exactly favor the speech that Obama gave to the students across America. I felt like the words he used in his speech might have pressured the students. He gave out words as if you don't do your best you'll let your country down. I felt like he was putting a lot of pressure onto the childrens shoulders. Now add on the fact that there could be issues going on in those childrens lives already. Just adding more pressure can make their heads explode. Instead of saying 'you'll let your country down' he should have used less pressure-filled words like, 'No matter what, just do, just do your best in anyway you can'" -- Jennifer G.

"Although Obama's speech is inspiring, I thought he missed a very important point: budget cuts. So many teachers were cut, and our classes are extremely full. How does someone expect to learn when there are so many people and teachers that can't get to you? We heard constant complaining from teachers that we can't do certain things because we have no money. So how are we supposed to give our all when we don't have our essential tools to do it? Its like people expect too much when they know we don't have everything we need. So, in my opinion, yeah, you can talk the talk but sometimes you won't be able to walk the walk because we don't have as many resources as we used to." -- Ariana L.

"The first [time] I've heard about this speech was online on Yahoo! and the immediate reactions to the article was somewhat like mine: pressure. I didnt base my whole reaction to the ones that were online, but after actually hearing the speech, I saw what those people meant. Young children would listen to this and think, What is he talking about? All the things that he mentioned about trying hard and never giving up was really repetitive, and I really wish instead of telling us to do things, he'd give us the opportunity to do so and not take away money from our schools. That made him seem a little hypocritical -- do well in school, but we'll take away money. I do understand that the will to learn and succeed is in us and only we, ourselves, can ignite it, but he didn't have to put the faith of our country in our hands, the hands of students who might not care. The whole 'do it for our country' bit was too much. We hear this kind of motivational talk so many times." -- Miccah M.

"Obama's education speech was very well written. It's definitely another step to inspire/motivate students to head for their goal. But those words are given daily to us (which makes no impact on our life). Sure, it is given by the most well-respected man in the country, but it wont make a difference. Main point to his speech is that 'trying is not enough, because it's just showing that you are not trying hard enough,' which is like a pretty person telling an ugly person 'do they know how ugly feels like?' Action over words -- change the education system, fire teachers who are there just for the money and actually hire good teachers." -- Vee P.

Fischer Middle School:

The main challenge I face is being a role model as an eighth grader. You have to set an example for the seventh and sixth graders. David D.

The president did not inspire me because I hear it everyday dont give up, be proud, and ask questions if you dont understand. He should have spoken about racism and your future if you dont care about school. Linh P.

I was inspired because he talked about how you have to work hard to get to your goals and dreams. Otherwise, you will never get a chance to become famous or get money if you just stay home. You have to get a real job to get money. Armando M.

It would have really been inspiring if Obama said how to deal with not having enough time in your day. Angelica M.

President Obamas speech made me want to put more effort into my studies, because if you dont have a voice, you dont get heard. Juan. L

The thing he said that I liked was that we should not be scared to ask questions, because you will never move up in life [if you don't] ask about the things you dont know. Jose M.

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