“He said things that we, parents, teachers, ministers, have been saying for years: Stay in school, respect your teachers, listen to your parents, take responsibility. Well, praise the Lord, it makes all the difference in the world for those words to come from the president of the United States.”
The speaker was Vera McKissic, wife of Cornerstone Baptist Church minister Dwight McKissic, explaining why the church opened its doors to Arlington public school students so that they could hear Barack Obama’s speech to the nation’s schoolchildren on Tuesday, after the Arlington district opted to close its doors (and its students’ eyes and ears) to the historic broadcast. “We knew we had to do something when we heard that the school was banning the speech,” Vera said. (In an agreement negotiated with the pastor, the AISD gave excused passes to students who wanted to watch the speech at Cornerstone.)
In all, 186 kids of all ages showed up at the church, McKissic said. “They listened and talked about it afterward. We made it a group experience,” she said, recounting one 7-year-old student who said he’d never been asked to set goals before, but now he’s going to do so. The kids got a free lunch to boot. Vera McKissic saw it as the church’s civic duty, she said.
Over in Fort Worth, one of the few Tarrant County districts that did show the speech live, the president’s message was seen by the students who needed it most: High-schoolers who may be about to drop out. To their credit, district officials recognized that the minority kids and poor kids who make up the majority of their enrollment and who are at highest risk of dropping out badly needed to hear an inspiring message from one of the few people in public office with whom they have ever been able to identify: a man with an absentee father, raised by a single mom with very limited financial resources, who was encouraged to do well, won scholarships to good colleges, and became the first minority president in the country’s history.
Fort Worth schools’ spokesperson Barbara Griffith said the president’s message was so popular that the number of TVs turned on in the high schools strained the system’s servers to the point that some feeds to some classrooms were knocked out. The district was planning to replay the speech later in the day to the lower grades via video, as well as to those high school classes whose TVs went out, she said.
Across the county, more districts opted out of the speech than those that opted in, under pressure from a few parents who feared a “socialist agenda” in the president’s message. And just what was that message that scared so many parents and school administrators: Stay in school, work hard, honor your parents, listen to your teachers, set goals, go to college, and take responsibility for your own life. The very message the compassionate conservatives have been preaching all these years.
“It’s a shame,” McKissic said. “We need to lay down our political hats and concentrate on the kids.’