Post and Courier: Obama puts emphasis on education
By Robert Behre and Yvonne Wenger
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama held a wide-ranging discussion Friday about ways to improve education during his second campaign visit to South Carolina.
Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, vowed to release a specific plan soon about recruiting, training and retaining teachers. He said it would involve matching new teachers with experienced mentors, giving teachers more chances for professional development and identifying teachers who lag behind and finding ways to help them.
"There is no issue any more important than the issue of education in this country," Obama told the crowd of about 1,000 who filled South Florence High School's cafeteria. "I know what a good education means."
The only time the topic drifted away from education came when a young man asked Obama about what inspires him. Obama replied that he was inspired by God and past civil rights leaders, and then he talked a little about what doesn't inspire him.
"We've been focusing on Don Imus lately," Obama said, referring to the New York shock jock fired Thursday for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."
"I've got two young daughters, both of them tall, and I hope they get basketball scholarships. ... I don't need somebody on a radio station degrading that," Obama said, "but I think it's fair to say that there are a whole bunch of young rappers who look like us, who use the words that Don Imus does, who are on our radio stations. ... That doesn't inspire me.
"That does go back to education," he said. "Part of our best is instilling in our young people that you should be pursuing excellence and having high standards."
Gerald Griffin of Florence said he turned out to see Obama out of curiosity, as did Vicki Lowery, a receptionist with Florence schools. "This election is just historic, to have an African-American and a woman running at the same time," she said, referring to Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
Obama opened with a 15-minute speech, drawing chuckles when he talked about entering politics and how people would mix up his name. "They'd call me 'Alabama' or they would call me 'Yo mama.'?" About 15 minutes into the question-and-answer portion, a few people trickled toward the exits.
Later Friday, Obama was scheduled to speak at the state Legislative Black Caucus' annual legislative dinner in Columbia.
The caucus had a high-profile battle over whether to invite Obama or Clinton. Invitations were extended to both, but two influential senators who backed Clinton ultimately agreed to accept Obama, ending the feud.
"One of the No. 1 rules in a spring football game is that you play hard, you work hard, but you don't kill each other because, ultimately, in September you have to play together to work against the real opponent," said one of the two, Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Hopkins.
Having Obama speak at the dinner does not serve as an endorsement, caucus leaders said.
Support from black voters in South Carolina is considered a key to winning the Jan. 29, 2008, Democratic primary here. Four years ago, about 49 percent of that primary vote came from blacks.
Clinton will get her share of attention in late May when her husband, former President Bill Clinton, speaks at the 29th annual Freedom Fund Celebration of the state National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.