'We do big things'

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 4:47 p.m.

Moreover, she added, "It's alarming to hear some Republicans counter the president's bold vision with devastating cuts that would destroy jobs and plunge our nation back into recession. These Republicans are quick to dismiss job-creating investments in education and infrastructure as unnecessary spending while pushing for budget-busting tax breaks for millionaires. And it's no longer acceptable for corporations and Wall Street banks to earn a record $1.6 trillion in profits while refusing to put America back to work."

After several minutes on the plight of America's trailing other nations in technology and technology, Obama drew an example from the past.

"Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we'd beat them to the moon. The science wasn't there yet. NASA didn't even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation's Sputnik moment."

"If this is indeed our Sputnik moment," said Henry, "we can no longer allow politics to divide us. Our children are counting on all of us to come together to create a brighter future and meet the great challenge of our generation. We can and must do big things."

Doing "big things" was not relegated solely to jobs and competition; Obama placed the same emphasis on the realm of education and its vital link to the world of work.

"Over the next 10 years," the president stated, "nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren't even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us--as citizens, and as parents--are willing to do what's necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

"That responsibility," he continued, "begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It's family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline."

These pronouncements had a special resonance for Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "We agree with the president's call for long-term investments in our children and schools," she began. "These investments are essential to strengthen our nation, maintain a healthy democracy and help future generations succeed. The goal is to make sure every student has an opportunity to achieve great things, just like the terrific West Philadelphia students who sat with the first lady during the State of the Union address.