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Inauguration Address Gets Par-Troy Kids Thinking About National Unity

Brooklawn Middle School students share their thoughts after viewing swearing in of President Obama.

About 100 seventh graders at Brooklawn Middle Schoolassembled in the school's media center Monday morning to take in a historic event: the second inaugural address of the 44th President of the United States, Barack H. Obama.

The children watched intently, taking notes as they watched the television broadcast. Social studies teacher Josh Weinstein said the students will be writing letters to President Obama after his speech.

Weinstein said teachers at Brooklawn are trying to inspire students to become politically aware and active at an early age.

"A lot of time kids don't get that lesson until they're in high school," he told Patch. "But if you haven't gotten them by middle school, it's done."

The official theme of the 57th inauguration was "Faith in America's Future," but what the children noticed was that in his speech, the president mentioned the word "together" seven times.

In a post-speech discussion, Weinstein told students that togetherness and unity were vital factors in making and keeping the U.S. a successful nation.

"Without the participation of the people, nations fall," he said, encouraging the girls and boys to get involved in politics, in Parsippany—and even in school.

"If you have a problem, call the mayor. He works for you. You pay his salary. [at school], talk to the principal," he said. "That's how you can make a difference."

Weinstein asked the students for questions about what they had seen and heard, given that references to "Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall"—about the struggles for equality for women, African-Americans and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens—likely went over their heads.

One student asked about the words of Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco, and the teacher pointed out that Blanco's words described how all citizens are bound together as a nation.

The children also mentioned how much they enjoyed the performances of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and pop star (and the first American Idol) Kelly Clarkson, and that they got a kick out of seeing rapper Jay-Z in the audience. (Teachers mentioned their enjoyment of the choir and singer-songwriter James Taylor.)

More than anything, though, the students paid close attention to the president's words during his 19-minute address.

"The best part was how our journey doesn't end until we solve the problems in our nation," said student Lydia Parker. "I'm an animal person, so the most important thing to me is working to completely end animal cruelty."

Lydia said she hopes to do her part by becoming a veterinarian and focusing on animals' health. Until then, she said she is helping out at the Parsippany Animal Shelter.

Her classmate Vrinda Jain said she also was inspired by the speech and will tell President Obama that in her letter to him.

"I'm going to ask him to work on ending world hunger," she said. "I also want him to help the poor."

Vrinda said she has helped with her church's work to help feed needy people.

"I think Parsippany is doing a good job there."

Another student said the inaugural address didn't really capture his attention until the president spoke of American children.

"Obama talked a lot about kids then, and I really liked that," said seventh grader Ben Walek. "He said we had to get kids into the workforce sooner. After college, I want to go right into work. He also said that we, us, working together, can get the economy in better shape."

The youngster said he hopes to work in the field of law when he grows up. He also said the inaugural address changed his mind about the president.

"I wasn't a big Obama supporter; I didn't really like Obama," Ben said. "But I liked the speech. He did a good job."

clyde donovan January 21, 2013 at 08:28 PM
It's a disgrace that Obama scheduled the inauguration on the day intened to honor the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, a great American.
Natalie Davis (Editor) January 21, 2013 at 08:51 PM
Really? A lot of people say it is beyond appropriate. I actually was blessed to meet both his wife and his activist-actor daughter Yolanda. From the conversations I had with them, I suspect they would agree. And be fair: The president does not make any of the decisions regarding the inauguration, save for choice of Bible and perhaps what he or she wears.
Chris January 21, 2013 at 08:59 PM
Natalie, don't get too offended. If you guys wrote an article describing how the sky is blue, Clyde would find some way to disagree. Granted, in his world, its always gray, anyway.
Natalie Davis (Editor) January 21, 2013 at 09:14 PM
He didn't offend me; it was the president he wanted to criticize, as is his right. I was just stunned by the question after hearing so many people say what a perfect confluence of dates this was and by seeing the president sworn in using two Bibles—President Lincoln's and Dr. King's. It did not occur to me that someone would have a problem with it. Live and learn.
Diane Campbell January 22, 2013 at 02:35 AM
Just an observation and I don't mean too much disrespect but if you click on Clyde's name and read all the first lines of his posts, it's almost as if he is playing the part of the cranky old man. It almost appears cartoonish at this point. I love reading the comment sections and I have actually changed my opinion on some things when people make good points that I may have overlooked. I am a true believer of people voicing their opinions but I actually feel bad that I just gloss over Clyde's comments now because of the sitcom-type, melodramatic, negative responses to serious topics. Not all comments have to be the same...try something refreshing and tell someone that you agree with them or like an idea. It might be nice. I sense that he may be using shock value to get responses from people and I will oblige this once. Although difficult to assess, he seems like he could be a smart person. Just a little cranky or angry. I hope tomorrow you wake and find an article that makes you smile. On topic: I think the timing of the inauguration was a beautiful gesture to honor a great man. What better way to show respect for Dr. King than to use his bible to swear in an African American President(for a second term)...such a proud moment for Dr. King's family, I'm sure. Support Obama or not, that is a true example of what Dr. King stood for. I would venture to say he would be proud.
Sabot January 22, 2013 at 03:20 PM
ATTENTION Kids: As you noted, the president used the word "together" quite frequently. That means the president wants to create an America where we do all things "collectively," similiar to the failed welfare-states of Europe and national-socialist states such as Venezuela. In other words, when you grow up you'll have less freedoms, less opportunity and less prosperity.
Chris January 22, 2013 at 03:29 PM
No man is and island. Are you telling me that you don't need anybody, ever? You don't drive to work on the roads that other people built? You don't use the power lines and telephone cables that other people put up? When you get sick, who is going to pay your medical bills. You aren't... your group health coverage will. We are America, a society. If we keep working against each other, nothing will ever get accomplished. And believe it or not, everyone in this country relies on other people everyday. Selfishness will get us nowhere. In fact, it was selfishness and greed that put our country into this recession mess. A few selfish people at the top ruined it for all of us. That's why we need to work together.
Joekirk January 22, 2013 at 03:47 PM
Sabot is so right to look for key words that reflect a hidden agenda. When the founding fathers used "WE the PEOPLE" it was clever language to insert their ideology for a future socialist state. Had they been real Americans they would have written "We, the individuals." Thanks to perceptive individuals like Sabot I'm now reading through old speeches of former presidents and circling key words of a hidden Marxist agenda: together, people, everyone, and...OMG - I just realized, our national motto is E Pluribus Unum..."Out of many, One."...... It's a conspiracy!!! It's like the DaVinci Code here in America!!!
Natalie Davis (Editor) January 22, 2013 at 03:55 PM
You never know. I ran across an essay last night by Dr. Cornel West, the progressive scholar-activist, and he was incensed that President Obama used Dr. King's bible. He said that Dr.King's activism and radicalism (commitment to nonviolence and voluntary redemptive suffering (borrowed from Gandhi), his fight for the poor) was a challenge to all leaders, including Obama, and should not have been used at a political event. It was another view that had not occurred to me (not saying whether I agree or not). Again, live and learn.
patchitup1 January 22, 2013 at 04:25 PM
You know I didn't want to comment on this as I have the most respect for Dr. King, however the part of the "kids in school should be exposed to politics at an early age really bothers me! Who are these liberal teachers fooling? Children of that age are very easy to influence. Let's leave politics to the people who are old enough to vote.
Natalie Davis (Editor) January 22, 2013 at 04:40 PM
Patchitup1, sir, I grew up in the social justice tradition in the Catholic Church and worked on campaigns from a very early age. That's how my family did things, and when I was old enough to vote, it was as a registered Republican. With all due respect, you don't know that the teacher is a liberal. I don't know that either and would not deign to assume such a thing one way or the other. I saw a teacher teaching kids civic responsibility, not criticizing the mayor or any school principal: He was telling them that in a nation by, of and for the people, the people are in charge, not the politicians, and that means the people have a duty to be active, informed citizens. That's standard social studies, civics education, and it is a truth that is neither red nor blue, not Dem, GOP, Green or Tea Party. School is the primary place where many kids learn to be good citizens, period. And what did the kids get out of it? One kid wants to go into law, another wants to fight hunger, a third wants to help animals. Beautiful. Careful, one might assume your assumption reveals a political motive of its own.
Natalie Davis (Editor) January 22, 2013 at 04:43 PM
Oh! One more thing, the teachers at BMS yesterday told me that Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen will be making another visit to the school soon. Is that acceptable?
Citizen Jane January 22, 2013 at 06:23 PM
So, do you figure that if Romney had been elected the plans would be different? I doubt it, I remember watching Reagan and Bush do the same thing. I look at all of them as a celebration that we can disagree about candidates and move on as a country. My kid takes civics at PHS with Mr. Kyle, and loves talking about topics they don't get to discuss in the typical social studies class. Couple of things that might make you want to rethink your position - many seniors in HS can vote, and even if they are one of the rare ones who are not 18 when they graduate, it is still in everyone's best interest if we produce active and involved citizens. And although my kid is liberal in his political beliefs, he is often assigned a conservative viewpoint for debates - it never hurts to consider other people's viewpoints.
patchitup1 January 22, 2013 at 11:22 PM
Natalie I want you to go to wiki and look up liberalism. Then rethink your attack on me. I do believe these children are too young to be involved in politics. High school yes but middle school? I hear you and your point is noted.
Natalie Davis (Editor) January 22, 2013 at 11:43 PM
Sir, there was no attack, merely an explanation of civics education and the truth that we don't know the teacher's politics. Again, with respect, we do not. And I do not, would not, will not attack you or anyone. Just pointing out the facts (which are questionable on Wikipedia, given that anyone can edit the 'definitions'). I was there, sir, and the teacher was not promoting any political opinion whatsoever. If you believe middle schoolers are too young for civics education, that is your right to hold and express it. But the teacher did not promote any viewpoint at all.
Ben Walek December 10, 2013 at 09:54 PM
And how true Natalie was and not you Mr. Patchitup1 and how ignorant your remarks were now thats an attack from a 8th grader buddy

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