By Jason Knapfel
Last night’s State of the Union address came at a compelling time in President Obama’s first term in office. It comes on the heels of the Arizona tragedy that took the lives of six people and injured 13 others, including congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
This timing has presented an opportunity for the president to try to bring the country a little closer together, which is especially important in these politically divisive times.
President Obama has a little more political capital right now, which could afford him the opportunity to move forward on some initiatives he champions. After his speech in Arizona and some minor signs of economic improvement, the president’s poll numbers are as high as they’ve been since the beginning of his term.
One of the central themes to Obama’s State of the Union address was moving the country forward in the technologies of the future. While he chose the right words in lauding the U.S. as having the best universities in the world, he also acknowledged the fact that we are currently just ninth in the world in the number of citizens who get a college degree. He also spoke about the painful fact that we continue to lag in the sciences.
One of his best moments, and one that got the room up on its feet, was when he said that “we need to teach our kids that it’s not only the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.”
I particularly liked what I took to be a subtle dig at our cultural obsession with reality TV: “Success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.”
This led into a mention of the “Race to the Top” initiative, a $4 billion program at the Department of Education that is designed to entice reforms in public schools.
President Obama also got a well-rounded standing ovation when he said that we need to start giving more respect to our teachers, in reference to the fact that South Koreans refer to their teachers as nation builders. But he only vaguely referred to the fact that we need to reward good teachers and not the bad. He did however pull off another standing ovation by pulling a sort of “Uncle Sam Wants You!” moment, imploring people to “become a teacher, your country needs you.”
Here are a few other lofty goals:
– The president requested that congress makes the $10,000 tuition tax credit for students permanent.
– Obama set a goal for the U.S. to be #1 in the world in college graduates within a decade.
– To stop expelling children of illegal immigrants, particularly spotlighting ones who excel in school who could be working in our market as opposed to competing against us.
Maybe the most effective line on education in the president’s speech is an analogy he used in his support for federal funding for education:
“Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.”