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Obama Town Hall: A passionate moment of 'truth telling' about education, and is that kid a movie star?

March 19, 2009 |  2:14 pm

A question about education and how the schools are suffering really gets President Obama going. He is passionate on the subject and warns people that he is about to engage in "some truth telling," his signal that they may not like what they are about to hear (but secretly, you know that he knows that they want to hear what he has to say).

"You can't have something for nothing," he says about pleas for more money for schools. "I was in the White House and we had done this event where we signed stem cell research, and a woman who was in the audience came up to me and said ... 'I am very excited.... Please, please, I hope your plan is free healthcare for all!"

"And I said, 'Listen, nothing is free, nothing is free. And the reason I make that point, you can't ask local officials to raise teacher salaries, and cut taxes and balance the budget and increase roads. At some point, you've got to make some choices. So if you want a high-quality education in California -- [which] historically had the best education system in the country -- then somebody's got to pay for it."

The government's obligation, he says, "is to make sure that every dime of money is being spent wisely."

But now Obama is warmed up: "I want to do some truth telling here. I love teachers, no profession that is more important than teaching. My sister is a teacher, I am a huge supporter of teachers unions ... but you can't be talking more money, more money.... There has got to be a reform agenda in exchange for the money.... So don't just say give us more money or smaller classrooms, but you aren't willing to consider how are we gonna do better assessments ... or if a teacher is not performing, how do we get them to choose a different career?"

And he's not done: "A little more truth telling," he says. "Parents! You can't complain about the schools and complain about the teachers but when your child comes home, they're doing video games, not doing homework and you don't have time to go to your parent-teacher meeting. Our parents have to instill a sense of excellence and a search for knowledge."

His next question goes to a handsome young man. "Is he in 'Gossip Girl'?" asks Obama. "Is he a movie star?"

"Not a movie star," replies the young man. "Just one of your volunteers."

-- Robin Abcarian

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