Though it is too early to start calling President Obama the next "Great Communicator," with Obama's speech on education this week, the time has come to compare it with President Reagan's speech twenty-one-years-ago, on Nov. 14th, 1988.
Speaking from the White House that day, President Reagan spoke to a group of local junior high school students assembled in the White House for a national address on education. I've dug up the speech from the Reagan Library website, but before you go reading it for yourselves, I've put together a little test. What follows is a set of eight questions with two quotes in each question. See if you can guess which quote came from Reagan and which quote came from Obama.
1. Here is an easy one to start:
"The United States is the world's oldest democratic government. And at my age, when I tell you something is the oldest in the world, you can take my word for it; I'm probably talking from personal experience."
"When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn't have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday -- at 4:30 in the morning."
2. Now just a tad harder:
"I believe that the chief moral task for America in your generation -- a period destined for great change -- will be not so much to chart a new course or launch a new revolution, but to keep faith with the original American Revolution and that remarkable vision of freedom that has brought us two centuries of liberty and is still today transforming the world."
"What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future."
3. A little harder (not really):
"And now it's our duty to bring the values of the American Revolution to all the peoples of the world, and this is happening. Today, to a degree never before seen in human history, one nation, the United States, has become the model to be followed and imitated by the rest of the world."
"The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best. It's the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other."
4. A little easier:
"I would say that the most important thing you can do is to ground yourself in the ideas and values of the American Revolution. And that is a vision that goes beyond economics and politics. It's also a moral vision, grounded in the reverence and faith of those who believed that with God's help they could create a free and democratic nation. They designed a system of limited government that, in John Adams' words, was suited only to a religious people such as ours. Our Founding Fathers were the descendents of the Pilgrims -- men and women who came to America seeking freedom of worship -- who prospered here and offered a prayer of thanksgiving, something we've continued to do each year."
"Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future."
5. Here is a slightly tougher one (just slightly):
"And we're entering one of the most exciting times in history, a time of unlimited possibilities, bounded only by the size of your imagination, the depth of your heart, and the character of your courage. More than two centuries of American history -- the contributions of the millions of people who have come before us have been given to us as our birthright. All we can do to earn what we've received is to dream large dreams, to live lives of kindness, and to keep faith with the unfinished vision of the greatness and wonder of America."
"That's why today, I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education -- and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you'll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you'll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you'll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn."
6. A tough one:
"We lead the world in Nobel Prizes for science, and virtually all of the most important developments in computers, communications, and biotechnology have been made in the United States. ... Other countries may try to copy what we do, but as the rate of progress accelerates, our leadership will become even greater. And these are the technologies that in your lifetime will change the way people all over the world live and change things for the better."
"So today, I want to ask you, what's your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?"
7. Still with me? Two more quotes:
"But in pursuing your education, there is one thing I would like to pass along to you. We should always remember that there are the things that change and the things that don't change. The machines will change -- the horse and buggy to the automobile and so forth -- but the people don't. The permanent truths which give meaning to our lives don't change; they are, as I say, permanent. The basic values of faith and family will be just as true when people are living on distant planets as they are today. So, for America to gain greatest benefit from all the exciting new technologies that lie ahead, we will also need to reaffirm our traditional moral values, because these values are the foundation on which everything we do is built. So, yes, I would encourage you to study the math and science that are at the basis of the new technologies. But in a world of change you also need to pay attention to the moral and spiritual values that will stay with you, unchanged, throughout a long lifetime."
"Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide."
8. And finally, here is a tough one to finish off:
"Here in the White House there's a famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And it shows many of the great men of that time assembled in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. But when you look closely at the painting, you see that some of the figures in the hall are just outlines, waiting to be filled in, the faces have not yet been drawn. You see, this great painting isn't finished. But what the people who gathered in Philadelphia two centuries ago set out to do is not yet finished, either. And that, I suppose, is why the painting is the way it is. America is not yet complete, and it's up to each one of us to help complete it. And each one of you can place yourself in that painting. You can become one of the those immortal figures by helping to build and renew America."
"You'll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You'll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You'll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy."
9. And a bonus question: Did Reagan or Obama end their speech, "Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America."
Since Reagan only mentioned "God" once (see question 4), that ending belonged to Obama.
And in case you were wondering, in each question the first quote was from President Reagan's speech.
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