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Battle Hymn of the Reformers (No Excuses!)

noexcusesA challenge to the NAACP, African-American parents and all Americans…

To rousing applause, the president gave what was perhaps his best education speech to date last night, making it clear that “government programs alone…” won’t solve our problems, instead asking this community in particular to adopt  “a new mind set”, one that doesn’t tolerate failure.

“No excuses,” the president demanded to this audience. “No excuses.”

He has our thanks and our blessing for adopting the Reform Battle Cry.

“No Excuses” he said to the organization that, despite it’s name, has in reality done little in the last 20 years to support the kinds of real reforms that can indeed create a no excuses culture for poor children, children of color, all children in need.

And so the president’s impassioned and bold speech is particularly music to the ears of reformers of all stripes.

“I hope you don’t mind. I want to go on a little detour here about education (to rousing applause). In the 21st century when so many jobs will require a bachelors degree or more… a world class education is a prerequisite for success. You know what I’m taking about. There’s a reason the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools.

“There is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God given potential.

“Yet more than half a century after Brown v. Board of Education, the dream of a world class education is still being deferred…” (i.e. Achievement gap, dropouts, corridors of shame…)

“The state of our schools… is an American problem. Because if black and brown children cannot compete, America cannot compete.

“And let me say this, if Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg and Newt Gingrich can agree we have to solve the education problem, then that’s something all of America can agree we can solve.

“Those guys came into my office… and I kept on doing a double take. So that’s a sign of progress and a sign of the urgency of the education problem. All of us can agree that we have to offer every child in this country – every child – the best education the world has to offer… and all of us in government have to do our part by not only offering more resources, but by demanding more reform…”

Perhaps the evening’s least applause came when the President questioned the very conventional wisdom that has guided the thinking of the NAACP and other traditional civil rights groups: “We have to get past this old fashioned paradigm that somehow it’s just money,” he said to no applause.  “We have to get past the [idea] that it’s just reform, but no money,” he said as the applause picked up.

And President Obama acknowledged the flaws in some other conventional wisdom thinking, like, for example, not all early education programs are great and that parents should hold their children accountable for the highest of expectations, not just expect the schools and the government to do their jobs. “You can’t just contract out parenting…”

“We’ve got to say to our children, yes, if you’re African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that someone in a wealthy suburb does not have to face. That’s not a reason to get bad grades, that’s not a reason to cut class, that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands – and don’t you forget that.

“You get that education. All those hardships will just make you stronger, better able to compete. Yes… we… can.”

A must listen. A must read. Thank you, Mr. President.

(Part II of The New No Excuses President will look at how Obama’s words fit a man who would normally endorse the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program…)

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