White House releases transcript of Obama school speech

WASHINGTON -- Conservative activists blasted it as socialist. Worried parents called for boycotts. School administrators struggled over whether to let students hear it.

But in the "back to school" speech Barack Obama plans to give Tuesday, he will do what American presidents have done before -- urge students to work hard, stay in school and follow their dreams.

"If you quit on school, you're not just quitting on yourself; you're quitting on your country," Obama will say in the speech, which is loaded with similar exhortations.

The White House released a transcript of the president's remarks Monday afternoon in hopes of neutralizing the voices that have charged he was promoting a political agenda.

The address, intended as an innocuous back-to-school missive, has proved to be a another late summer distraction for the White House. With Obama's poll numbers sagging, the president had hoped this week to focus on winning public support for his top priority -- overhauling the health care system. But other controversies, small and large, have gotten in the way.

Over the weekend, for example, a top Obama environmental adviser resigned amid a dust-up over remarks he made about Republicans and that he had signed a petition questioning whether the U.S. government had played a role in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In the transcript of the school speech, Obama cited the importance of education as an equalizer, the power of social networking tools and the importance of working hard and taking personal responsibility.

He plans to talk of the challenges faced by young people in a media culture that seems to offer opportunities to get rich quick.

"I know that sometimes you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star when, chances are, you're not going to be any of those things," the president will say.

"But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won't love every subject you study. You won't click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won't necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try."

Obama's speech draws on his own experiences -- and those of his wife, Michelle -- to support the notion that education is the key to personal success and to the success of the nation.

"You'll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math ... to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment," the president will say. He also calls for young people to battle poverty and injustice.

The speech from a high school in Arlington, Va., scheduled to be delivered at noon Eastern time, will be shown on the White House Web site and on C-Span.

Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan gave similar addresses, and both attracted a bit of controversy. But the reaction to Obama's planned speech has been heightened by the political fight over health care and economic issues and a furious effort by conservatives to organize opposition.

When plans for the speech first were announced, they included a "menu of classroom activities" from the Department of Education that suggested schoolchildren write about "how they could help the president."

In a statement, Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer said he was "absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology." Greer could not be reached for comment Monday after the text of the addresses became public.

But other Republicans have taken a calmer approach. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia defended the idea of the speech, telling Fox News Sunday: "It is good to have the president of the United States saying to young people across America stay in school and do your homework. It's good for America."

Monday afternoon, one critic issued a statement lauding the White House for posting a copy of the plan.

"Parents, teachers and local school leaders were not wrong to look with suspicion on a federally developed curriculum to accompany this speech," said Alexa Marrero, an aide to Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee who initially was critical of the speech plan. "The strong reaction we've seen from coast to coast is a reminder that federal intrusion into the classroom brings with it a number of unintended consequences. It's a lesson we should remember as Congress looks to reform our education laws in the coming months and years."

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