American History – Reagan Challenger Speech
For this analysis, you are going to view footage from two separate, but related events. You’ll watch one clip, then answer questions, then watch the second clip and answer more questions. Background: In January 1986, NASA planned to launch a teacher – Christa McAuliffe – into space as an ambitious outreach to a generation of Americans who were too young to remember the moon shot. For weeks before the launch, teachers around the country received and developed lesson plans for their students that would coincide with what McAuliffe would be teaching from space. Schools and parent groups raised funds to buy televisions so as many classrooms as possible could watch the launch and the lessons. On the morning of January 28, 1986, classrooms and auditoriums across the country were full of children of all ages as everyone tuned in to watch the launch live. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4JOjcDFtBE January 28th was also scheduled to be President Reagan’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. Out of respect for those lost, it was agreed that the State of the Union should be postponed, and the President addressed the country in brief remarks on TV that evening. After watching the launch footage, but before you watch Reagan’s speech, answer these two questions. 1.Reflect upon how presidents usually respond to national tragedies in your experience or memory. Write down a few phrases or words you would expect a president to use for it to be considered a good or appropriate speech. 2.Check in with your textbook to get in an 80s mindset, then put yourself in the shoes of one of the speechwriters helping President Reagan craft his speech. What issues would you encourage him to mention? What points do you think it would be critical for him to make? What audiences should he be sure to think about as he speaks? At 5pm on the evening of January 28, 1986, less than six hours after Challenger exploded, President Reagan addressed the nation from the Oval Office in the White House. He was broadcast live on television and radio. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qa7icmqgsow After watching the footage of the speech, answer the following questions. (If you want to read the speech or refer back to it without re-watching, you can find a transcript here: https://history.nasa.gov/reagan12886.html) 3.Look back at what you wrote for #1. Did Reagan’s speech use the phrases and words you expected? What stood out to you most, either that you were right about or wrong about? 4.In what way was Reagan’s speech affected or influenced by the Cold War? 5.Speechwriter Peggy Noonan – a virtual unknown at the time – was requested specifically by President Reagan to contribute to this speech. Thirty years later, she said one of her main concerns in the moment was: “The president is going to have to do a speech that is aimed at those who are 8-years-old, and those who are 18, and those who are 80 without patronizing anybody.” Do you think the speech succeeded? Why or why not?