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Obama works jobs plan into student pep talk

September 28, 2011|By Christi Parsons
  • President Obama delivers remarks at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington.
President Obama delivers remarks at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School… (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty…)

President Obama promised school children Wednesday afternoon that he will fight for an “educational system that’s worthy of your potential,” in a mostly inspirational speech about studying hard and shooting for straight As that alluded only vaguely to his legislative agenda.

Still, as he delivered his annual back-to-school address at a D.C. public high school, Obama told students he is trying to upgrade public school buildings and fortify the ranks of classroom teachers -- two key elements of his proposed jobs bill.

“We’re working to make sure that you have the most up-to-date schools with the latest tools for learning,” Obama said. “And we’re working to get the best teachers into your classrooms, so they can prepare you for college and a future career.”

Probably only the most politically attuned of listeners would notice those careful references to the jobs act Obama is trying to pass through Congress. But the event showed Obama using the presidential pulpit to talk up his plans, even in this venue.

As he attempts to pressure Republican lawmakers to adopt his jobs plan, Obama has a great deal of latitude to make the case for it all over the country -- even to the point of addressing students in the middle of the school day.

Obama first rolled out the back-to-school address three years ago amid some concerns that he would play politics before his captive audience. That speech, like the one that followed it, proved to be essentially an academic pep rally.

Wednesday's remarks followed the template almost entirely. He assured listeners he was trying to get good teachers for them, without specifically mentioning the $30 billion in his jobs plan to stop teacher layoffs. Neither did he detail the $30 billion he wants for upgrading school buildings and classrooms.

Instead, Obama urged students to respect the many teachers who make sacrifices for them each day. And he told them about an ethics class he once took that, although it confounded him, influences his thinking today.

“I remember being asked questions like, ‘What matters in life? What does it mean to treat people with respect and dignity?’” Obama told students at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School. “I still don’t always know all the answers. But if I’d just tuned out because the class sounded boring, I might have missed out on something . . . that’s still useful to me today.”

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