Hefei school sparks controversy after asking students to study Obama speech

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 8:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 12:35pm

A Hefei middle school has become embroiled in controversy after ordering its students to study a 2009 speech by US President Barack Obama.

All 3,000-plus students of Anhui’s Hefei Shouchun Middle School were given a translated copy of Obama’s speech to study on the third day into the new term on Wednesday.

The text was of a back-to-school speech Obama delivered to students of Wakefield High School in Virginia in 2009. In it, he focused on responsibility, perseverance and the importance of education.

The idea to study the president’s speech was proposed by the school’s deputy principal Sun Yeqing, according to the Anhui official news portal, “His speech was concrete, vivid and lacked empty words, which is very easy for students to digest,” Sun said.

Neither the school’s principal nor deputy principal was available for comment on Thursday, but a staff member working for its administration confirmed the report for the South China Morning Post.

In the speech, Obama stressed that everyone had the responsibility to discover his or her own talents through education so they can better contribute to their own country.

He also said that receiving an education was the only way to decide one’s own fate. “Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future,” Obama said.

“The entire school was given about 10 to 20 minutes to study the text during the morning study session on Wednesday,” the staff member said.

In Chinese schools, a morning study session takes place before the first class of the day and generally lasts between 15 minutes to an hour, during which teachers can freely give assignments.

The move has raised eyebrows among Chinese scholars. The US democracy and the country’s cultural values are criticised constantly by the mainland media, making such a school assignment surprising. Some education experts recommended ancient texts or other material that may promote nationalism.

“While having students read over Obama’s speech, it’s better to also introduce classic Chinese Analects readings, because those also inspire students on the purpose of education,” Anhui University professor Wang Tiangen said, according to the website report

The staff member, who did not give his name, was reluctant to elaborate on the issue, saying the school and its principals want to maintain a “low profile” and did not anticipate such attention.

“It is still unclear whether the school would push for a similar assignment in the future,” he said.




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