Remarks by the President in Discovery Education Webinar with Middle School Students
Anacostia Neighborhood Library
Anacostia, Washington, D.C.
11:11 A.M. EDT
OSMAN: Good morning, everyone. My name is Osman Yaya, and I'm a 6th grade student at Bennett Middle School in Salisbury, Maryland. Welcome to the White House and Discovery Education’s Of The People Series. We are live from Anacostia Library in Washington, D.C. with students from Kramer Middle School and Brightwood Education Campus. (Applause.) As well as students joining us online from around the world.
Today we have a very special guest with us -- the President of the United States.
Welcome, Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Nice to meet you. Thank you.
OSMAN: What do you want to talk about with us today?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we are in an outstanding library, part of the D.C. library system. But what I really want to talk about is how we can harness and take advantage of the amazing technological revolution that's taking place to help young people learn, to help young people succeed, help young people read, and ultimately help young people be able to get great jobs and start their own businesses and do great things.
And so that's why it's wonderful to be with all the young people here today. And, Osman, I want to thank you for being our host.
OSMAN: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Very cool young guy, by the way. I've had a conversation with him already and he’s going to run a tight ship during our little town hall meeting here.
Two other people I want to acknowledge, though -- we've got our Mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, who’s here. (Applause.) And we have the Superintendent of Schools for Washington, D.C. -- Kaya Henderson is here. (Applause.)
So a while back, about a year and a half, two years ago, we announced something called ConnectED. And the idea was pretty simple. It turned out that in most schools around the country, people had a connection to the Internet and there were computers in the classrooms, but a lot of times you didn’t have the kind of connections and wireless and high-speed broadband that would allow you to pull up information really quick on the computer. Or if you were in class, you might have to wait in line to use all the computers. Or the teachers weren't plugged in as well as they needed to be.
And so what we said was we need to make sure that in all the schools in America, everybody has got a great Internet connection and a wireless connection, so that if you're studying astronomy and are learning about the planets, right away you can pull down pictures and information that helps you learn. If you are learning world history and you want to know about ancient Egypt, right away you can start looking at how the Pyramids were built and read about that and create presentations off the Internet.
And so what we did was worked with a bunch of different people -- both companies, private sector, but also government and what’s called the FCC -- this is the organization for the federal government that’s in charge of making sure that phones and smartphones and television and all that stuff works properly -- and we made a commitment that we would start putting billions of dollars into schools all around the country so that all the schools -- 99 percent of the schools would have high-speed Internet connections.
And we're well on track to do that. So I'm really excited about that. But you also have to make sure that even if you’ve got a good Internet connection, that we've got libraries and schools that are getting resources, especially around reading and around books. And I'm somebody that when I was young I used to love libraries, used to love reading. I still love reading, but these days the stuff I -- I don't get to read for fun as much as I do for my work.
And so I've got a couple of announcements today where we've got some amazing organizations -- libraries from around the country -- the New York Public Library System in particular is taking the lead on some work to make sure that working with book publishers, we’re going to provide millions of e-books online so that they’re available for young people who maybe don’t have as many books at home, don’t always have access to a full stock of reading materials -- they’re going to be able to get about $250 million worth of books online. And we’re also creating new apps -- new applications -- that allow people to pull down more information and more books.
And I just want to thank all the publishers who are making all these books available. And I want to thank the libraries and the schools that are making all these books available.
What I'm also announcing is a drive to make sure that young people have a library card in every city in America. And we’ve already got 30 cities and library districts that are coming together to make sure that everybody gets a free library card.
Because ultimately -- and this is the last point I’ll make and then we’ll go to questions -- all the young people here, I know you guys are working hard in school, but how well you do over the long term is going to depend on do you love reading, do you love learning, do you know how to find information, do you know how to use that information. And the way you learn to do that is by reading a lot and learning how to think about the material that you’re reading. And you got great teachers, but you got to not just do it in the classroom, you got to do it in life, thinking about how you’re constantly getting more knowledge and more information. And in the Internet age, the best way to do that is making sure that you’re plugged in.
So I am really excited and thankful for the publishers, the libraries, the elected officials who are participating in this. And the most important people, though, to participate in it are students, so that’s why I wanted to talk to them.
Back to you.
OSMAN: I think everybody completely agrees with you. And before we start, I think the President and libraries all deserve a round of applause for what they’ve done. (Applause.)
So thousands and thousands of questions were submitted online. And our first question is from Mrs. Cook’s 2nd grade class at Pinegrove Elementary School in Alabama. They asked: As a child, did you enjoy reading? Well, you said you loved reading, so that question is done. And they also asked: If so, what type of books spark your imagination and interest?
THE PRESIDENT: That’s a great question. When you’re little, you read what your mom is reading to you, or your dad is reading to you, so probably the books I read weren’t that different from what you guys were reading. Like I’m still a big Dr. Seuss fan. I was into that. The “sneetches”, and “Horton”, and all that stuff. But then as you get older you start making your own decisions about what you want to read.
I was into adventure stories. There was something called “The Hardy Boys” back in the day -- I know you guys don’t read that anymore. And books like “Treasure Island,” which was about pirates. I really enjoyed that.
Later on, I started getting into things like “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” which is still popular today. And then when I got a little older, when I got into high school, then I started reading some classic books that when you guys get to high school you’ll start reading -- things like “Of Mice and Men” and “The Great Gatsby” and things like that that are more novels that focus on adult experiences. But I also enjoyed reading science books, and I loved reading about planets and dinosaurs. So it was sort of a mixed bag.
What do you like to read?
OSMAN: My favorite series must be the Alex Rider” series, if you’ve heard of those.
THE PRESIDENT: What are they called?
OSMAN: “Alex Rider.”
THE PRESIDENT: I haven’t. What’s it about?
OSMAN: It’s about a boy whose parents pass away in a plane crash, and he lives with his grandfather -- I mean, his uncle. And his uncle one day dies in a car accident, and later did he know that all the family worked in the M16 and the CIA, so it's a really good storyline --
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, okay.
OSMAN: And every book, he always has like secret gadgets, and there’s always something he has to do.
THE PRESIDENT: So he becomes like a young spy?
OSMAN: Pretty much.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s pretty cool.
OSMAN: I can lend you some books if you -- (laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I might borrow them. They sound pretty interesting.
OSMAN: To make you feel younger, my best friend read “Treasure Island.”
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that does make me feel better. (Laughter.) The “Harry Potter” books were pretty cool, too. I read those to Malia, starting when she was around five, and we read all the way through all of them. I think we finished when she was about 13 -- maybe 12. So that was kind of cool.
OSMAN: Yes. So that was the taste of some online questions. Do you want to ask the audience?
THE PRESIDENT: I do, I want to ask the audience. Who’s got a question? This young man right here. What’s your name?
Q I'm Darrell.
THE PRESIDENT: Darrell, hold on a second, we’re going to get a mic so everybody can hear you.
Q Mr. President, when you were young, in high school, my question is, what did you study in school?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, what grade are you in?
THE PRESIDENT: You’re in 7th grade. So probably the things I studied aren’t that different from what you study. You had math and science and English and social studies. We had art and music -- which sometimes is forgotten about, but is really important, too, because you learn a lot through the arts.
But by the time I was in 7th grade -- I guess I was doing algebra, I think, in 7th grade. And I don’t remember what our math was. When I got to high school -- and the same thing will happen to you guys -- you’ll start studying the same subject matter, but it will be a little more intense. You start getting a little more homework. So instead of just social studies, generally, about how the U.S. government works, they might have you study the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, and how that war ended up shaping America and how it affected race relations when the slaves were freed, what happened in the South when segregation came back. So you’ll study the same things, but you’ll just kind of go deeper into it.
But do you have a favorite subject that you like?
THE PRESIDENT: Science? So, in science, there’s all kinds of different types of science, and typically, when you get to high school you’ll do some chemistry, you’ll do some biology, you might do some physics. And one of the things we're really trying to encourage is more young people studying math and science, because we live in a technological age and you got to know a little bit about math and science. Not everybody is going to be an engineer, but everybody should know sort of the basics of how the world works and how -- if you're using a smartphone, how does that work. And you may decide at some point that you want to program and create your own apps on a smartphone.
And particularly for the young ladies here, I want you guys to make sure that you look at math and science, because sometimes young women aren't going into some of those areas like math and science as much, and they should. It's not because they don't know how to do it; it's because sometimes they’re discouraged, the idea being that somehow that's traditionally more of a boy thing. And that's something that we've got to get rid of.
I always tell Malia and Sasha I want boys and girls studying all the subjects and getting good in all the subjects. You don't want to get pushed aside just because you're a girl.
All right? Remember that.
OSMAN: Speaking about how people around the world are -- like women and boys and girls, you all have to learn science and math -- a question from Noland at West Lake Middle School in Texas. He asked: Why is it important for kids across the country and the world to have access to electronic books, and not only paper copies?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I love traditional books, so we're here in a library and I still, when I have a book that I love, I love turning the pages and reading it. And when I was a kid, when I was reading, sometimes I'd write and take notes in the margins, and I still have old books where I could see things I underlined, and it reminds me of how you learn.
But the truth of the matter is we live in a digital age. How many people here have a smartphone? Right? So a lot of you do. And if you don't have one now you're going to probably get one at some point. And so you're texting all day and you're looking at Bine and Instagram, and you're looking at “Grumpy Cat” or some video of your favorite singer, rapper. And so more and more information is coming through in digital form. And what that means is, is that we want to make sure that that becomes a tool not just for entertainment, not just for talking to your friends, but also for learning.
And the good thing about e-books is that it's really easy to carry. You don't have to have a library full of books in your house to be able to suddenly have access to every book in the world, potentially. And for a lot of people, they may live in a home where they don't have a lot of books. Books can be expensive. Your parents may not be able to afford buying a whole lot of books. But if we're able to set up, because of these publishers and because of the library system, a way in which people can pull all these books down just through the Internet, suddenly that can even things out between poor kids and rich kids. Everybody has got the ability to learn. Everybody has got to have access to information.
Now, the one thing I've got to say, though, is we're really proud of what we're doing to make technology available to kids everywhere, but ultimately you still have to have a hunger for learning in order to learn. You got to want to learn. You got to be curious and interested in how does the world work, or who is Shakespeare, or why is it that the Earth rotates around the sun? You’ve got to be interested in those things and want to learn in order to learn.
You can have the nicest computer in the world and the best books in the world, but if you're lazy and sitting around just playing videogames and not really interested in it, well, you're probably not going to be a great student. And if you are curious and interested in learning, you're going to make sure that you figure out a way to learn, no matter what.
So we want to make sure that you have the best technology and the best information, but ultimately, the most powerful engine for learning is between your ears and the attitude you have about learning.
OSMAN: I think attitude and using your brain is really important. And I think the audience just was listening to what you're saying about how e-books are important and how regular books, they sort of change how people think of each other between rich and poor kids. So I think the audience might want to ask you something about why this is happening and why that might be.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, well, let’s see what kind of questions we got. Young lady right here. What’s your name?
Q Jaelyn (ph).
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Jaelyn.
Q What inspired you to be President?
THE PRESIDENT: I'll tell you, Jaelyn -- how old are you?
THE PRESIDENT: You're 12. When I was 12, I didn’t want to be President. I think when I was 12, I was thinking about -- first I wanted to be an architect for a while and build buildings, which I thought would be -- design buildings -- I thought that would be really interesting. And then for a while I thought I was going to be a basketball player. But I wasn’t that good. I was pretty good. I played in high school. But I wasn’t going to be good enough to play at pro basketball. Then I thought about being a lawyer, and I did end up becoming a lawyer.
But I think it wasn’t until I was in college that I really started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and I realized that the people who really inspired me we're people who were giving something back to the community or making the neighborhood better. And I was really inspired by the Civil Rights Movement.
A lot of people have heard about Dr. King and you guys in school see the “I Have a Dream” speech. That's all important, and Dr. King was one of our greatest leaders of all time. But the reason that the Civil Rights Movement worked so that we ended segregation, and people could go to school together and sit at a lunch counter together, and segregation eventually went away, was because of the work of all kinds of ordinary people -- nurses and bus drivers and maids who started marching, and they met in churches, and they let the country know that they were being treated unfairly, and showed the world and the country that everybody should be treated with dignity and respect and you shouldn’t be judged based on your race.
And I was really inspired by that. So I thought to myself, well, how can I do that kind of work? And that's the work that I did before I even went to law school and got a law degree. And in some ways, that's how I got into politics and eventually being an elected leader, was trying to figure out how I can be helpful to people.
And the good news is that you don't have to be a politician to help people. There are a lot of people here in this neighborhood who are teachers, and that helps a lot of people. You probably have a teacher who is really an inspiring teacher. You like that teacher and they’re making you try harder and learn more. Well, that's an incredible contribution. You might have somebody who’s working in a church and helping to feed homeless people, maybe helping them get housing. That's really important.
So that's what inspired me. And then it turned out I was pretty good at it --
OSMAN: Pretty good at it.
THE PRESIDENT: -- and eventually I had the opportunity to run for President. But I'll be done being President in a couple of years, and I'll still be a pretty young man -- not compared to you guys, but I'll still be pretty young. And so I'll go back to doing the kinds of work that I was doing before, just trying to find ways to help people -- help young people get educations, and help people get jobs, and try to bring businesses into neighborhoods that don't have enough businesses. That's the kind of work that I really love to do.
OSMAN: Also, before we get another question from the audience, since you're talking about people doing what they want to be, how you started out being an architect -- or you wanted to be an architect, and you were a lawyer and then President, and like how it's never too old to be something that you want to -- a little birdie told me that you were an author and you wrote a book.
THE PRESIDENT: I wrote two books.
OSMAN: Can you talk about that to them?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I wrote -- my first book was about me growing up and what my life was like. My dad left when I was very young, so I never really knew my father, and I was raised basically by my mom and my grandparents. And so my first book was me telling my story about how I made sense of the world, not knowing my dad, and then eventually kind of tracing back and finding out who my father was and what had happened to him -- because he had come from Kenya. That's where I got my name from.
And so that was kind of a real personal book.
And then the second book I wrote was more about some of the issues that I was working on when I was a U.S. senator. And I also wrote a children’s book while I was doing that that was about great American heroes. So that wasn’t about me. But I love writing. I don't have as much time to write as I used to.
OSMAN: And since our audience is so big, not only here, online, and around the world, one of our students from Golden Oak Montessori in California -- Danica -- she asked, what is your favorite way to get rid of writer’s block? And explain that. Just talk about what is writer’s block.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, everybody has had writer’s block. So you get an assignment from your teacher that says, I want you to write a one-page essay about what you did last summer. So you sit there and there’s a piece of paper, and you got your pencil or your pen and you're sitting there, and then you say, I don't know what to write about, I don't know what to say. That's writer’s block.
And there’s only one way to overcome writer’s block. What do you think it is? Anybody got an idea? What do you do when you’ve got writer’s block? What do you do?
Q What I do is just read books and try to find ideas from the book that I'm reading.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's interesting. So the idea of reading books to give you ideas -- that's one way of doing it.
Q What I usually do is outline something before I even start my draft.
THE PRESIDENT: So you just sit there and brainstorm -- kind of think about, okay, what ideas might be interesting.
Anybody else? Yes. What’s your name?
THE PRESIDENT: Hi, Paula. Are you 12 as well?
Q No, I'm 13.
THE PRESIDENT: 13.
Q What I do is I listen to music.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah? Does it matter what music it is?
Q No, it doesn’t.
THE PRESIDENT: But it kind of loosens things up a little bit, makes you a little more relaxed?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, so those are all good strategies. But ultimately, the one way to get through writer’s block is to just write something. I mean, the reason you get writer’s block is because you're trying to write something really good. But I don't know if your teachers have sometimes told you that sometimes the best thing to do is just to start putting some things on paper even if it's not good. But at least it makes you kind of get going.
It's not as intimidating if the page isn't blank, right? If you’ve already got something on paper, you can just kind of scratch out ideas and write down anything that comes to your mind. And then you can sit back, maybe listen to some music, take a break, take a look at it and see, okay, which one of these ideas I had are good. And then you can start outlining it.
Look, I still get writer’s block sometimes. Sometimes I have to write speeches -- big speeches -- and I'm sitting there, and I'm thinking, well, I don’t know what I want to say. Or sometimes I know what I want to say, but I don’t know how to say it, or how to start it. Right?
But you can’t be afraid of that. You just -- a lot of times the reason people get blocked is because they’re worried that what I'm going to do is not going to be that good. Well, nothing is very good the first time you do it. You’re first draft -- everybody here has been learning how to -- in your English classes, that you write drafts, right? You try something, you write it the first time. Listen, even the best writers, usually it's not that good the first time they write it.
OSMAN: Yes. And I think you sort of covered everything about that question. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, you think I'm just going to -- Osman thinks I’ve been talking too long.
OSMAN: No, no. I think you just --
THE PRESIDENT: No, let’s move it along. I got you. (Laughter.)
OSMAN: Speaking of writing and how -- who here has written something in the past month in their reading class? Okay, I think everybody has. I wrote something in the last month in my reading class.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay.
OSMAN: And I think some students here in the back maybe might have a question on how you get started, and just how books are going to help them in life later on in their writing skills.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, why don’t I just -- does somebody have a question or a thought about how reading is affecting them? I’d be interested in that. Or they could tell me how technology in your classroom and computers, how you’re using them. Are their problems in your classroom sometimes with not having enough resources and connections? I would just be interested in how you guys are using technology and reading in schools.
Okay, this young man right here. Good. Introduce yourself.
Q I'm Antoine.
THE PRESIDENT: Antoine.
Q The way I use technology in my art classes, sometimes I get art block a lot because I stress out because I'm just thinking about how I'm going to do it, and I have it in my head but I just can’t put it on paper sometimes. So some things that I do is I ask my teachers, can I use their computers to just look up random things about art and different styles.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s interesting. So you might pull up some painting by Picasso or something? Or you might look at some graphic design and it would just kind of help you get going and inspire you a little bit?
THE PRESIDENT: Do you want to be an artist when you get older?
THE PRESIDENT: Do you like all kinds of different art, drawing, painting, sculpture -- or are there particular kinds of art you like to do?
Q For right now, I'm just working on drawing.
THE PRESIDENT: Just drawing. Well, that’s the base for a lot of art that you can do later.
Anybody else want to talk about sort of how they’re using technology in the classroom? I'm going with -- you’ve been talking some good, and I really appreciate it. This young lady right here, what’s your name?
Q My name is Sheree.
THE PRESIDENT: Sheree.
Q In our school, we have something called the blended learning model. Like, for 30 minutes of the day we’re on our computers -- working at our own individual pace.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q And for the other 30 minutes, we’re talking with our teachers and getting other information on the topic we’re on.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Are you using that for all your different topics -- math, science, English?
THE PRESIDENT: And when you’re doing individual study, are you working with that computer the whole time, doing most of the work on the computer?
Q Yes. They’ll mostly work in different projects, like for computer class, we type PowerPoints and sometimes we’ll start using Excel. And in math class, it will have visuals of what we’re learning and things like that.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s great. And is there a computer for every student?
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. So you don’t have to wait and use it?
THE PRESIDENT: So that’s a great example. Thank you. And that’s exactly why we want to make sure every school is able to do just what you described. Because the good thing about having computers and this kind of model learning that you just described is, if you’re just sitting there and somebody is just doing all the talking, that can be boring sometimes, right? But if your there doing problems and projects yourself, and then you talk to the teacher about the things you’ve done, and then you talk as a group, it keeps your more engaged, it keeps you more interested.
OSMAN: If anyone has a last question they want to ask.
THE PRESIDENT: Any other questions?
Q Hello, Mr. President. My name is Mulagetta (ph.) I have one question for you.
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q Actually, two.
THE PRESIDENT: All right.
Q What’s your favorite subject? And what subject were you best at?
THE PRESIDENT: That’s interesting. When I was your age, I was actually best at math and science. But as I got older, the subjects I loved the most were English and history. So I still enjoyed math and science, but I loved hearing about other people’s stories. I loved hearing about how people lived, what happened, and I liked reading about it in fictional form, in novels. But I also liked reading about what actually happened in history.
And that's why, by the time I got to college, I ended up majoring in political science. But it really -- a lot of that was history and how government worked. And then I had a minor in English. So I ended up reading a lot of books, as well -- fiction.
What’s your favorite subject?
Q Social studies.
THE PRESIDENT: Social studies. Okay, we're sort of on the same wavelength.
Anybody else have a last question? This young lady, you get the last question. Here we go. What’s your name?
Q My name is Hannah.
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Hannah.
Q What kind of technology did you have when you were in school?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, that's a great question. When I was in school, we had pencils. (Laughter.) And we had pens and we had some colored markers and erasers, scissors. We had rulers, staplers. (Laughter.) No, I’m serious. We didn't even really use calculators that much until I was pretty far along in college -- or in high school. And nobody had a computer in school.
So by the time you got to high school, you had to learn how to type, and you would start typing your papers. And typing was a hassle because, first of all, you had to learn how to type so you weren’t just going one letter at a time. And then once you learned how to do that, you’d still make some mistakes, and then you’d have to get this thing called White-Out, which was like this little liquid that you’d kind of cross out the letter. And then you’d have to wait till it dries, and you’d blow on it. Then you’d type again. (Laughter.) And then sometimes you got a tape that you could slip in there, but that was hard to do.
And so all through college I had to type stuff. And you’d have to figure out like where the margins were at the bottom. And if you were trying to do footnotes, you’d have to guess where you needed to stop. And the whole thing was -- sometimes it took you longer to type the paper than to write the paper.
And you didn't have books online or articles online, so you had to go into the library, and you’d have to get big stacks of books. If you were doing a report or project, you’d have a big stack of books like this. You’d have to carry them home, and then you’d have to remember to return them on time -- otherwise, you’d get fined. So you guys don't even know how good you've got it. (Laughter.)
My first computer I didn't get until I was at law school. I didn't get to use a computer -- I didn't own one, but that was the first time that I was using computers. I was 27, 28 years old before I was regularly using a computer. And I didn't own my own computer until I was -- I take that back. I guess I was about 26 -- 25-26 is when I started using a computer and actually was able to buy one.
So that just shows you how much more information you have at your fingertips and how much faster you can learn than old people like me. But you got to take advantage of it. Remember what I said. We're going to make sure that every school has computers, and every school has the kind of Internet connections so you can pull up stuff fast.
And you guys are part of a generation that can learn more, faster, and get information from around the world better than anybody in human history. You’ve got more information available on your phone than the great scholars of the past had in the biggest libraries in the world. You’ve got more just right there in that phone you got in your little back pocket. But you still got to take advantage of it. You still got to want to learn. You’ve got to want to read, and be curious. And if you do, you guys are going to be incredible leaders in the future.
All right. Really proud of you. Thank you for the excellent questions.
Everybody give Osman a big round of applause. (Applause.) He was outstanding hosting.
OSMAN: And now, his turn. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. You did a great job.
OSMAN: Any final words you want to say?
THE PRESIDENT: No. I just want to say you guys are great and I'm looking forward to seeing great things out of you. And for everybody who participated digitally, thank you for being a part of this.
OSMAN: Well, Mr. President, on behalf of Discovery Education, thank you for coming out today with us. And answers to any questions that we didn’t get to will be on Discoveryeducation.com/ofthepeople. And an archive of today’s video, if your friends didn’t get to see it, will be on that link also.
Thanks for watching, everybody.
THE PRESIDENT: Good job. (Applause.)
11:50 A.M. EDT