In his annual Back-to-School speech to American school children, president Obama recounted his own studies and how they impact his work every day.

"When I was in eighth grade, I had to take a class called ‘ethics'," Mr. Obama told students at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School Wednesday. "Ethics is about right and wrong."

He spoke about the critical thinking he learned in the course, and while he may have preferred to shoot hoops at the time, he appreciates those lessons today. "Every day I'm thinking about those issues as I try to lead us as a nation."

Prompting kids to pay attention, the president encouraged them to engage in their studies. "If I had just tuned out because the class sounded boring, I might have missed out on something that I enjoyed and has served me in good stead rest of my life."

As he sells his jobs bill and promises to rebuild schools, hire more teachers and expand on technology learning in the classroom, the president challenged the students to follow their dreams. "That's what school's for: discovering new passions and acquiring the skills to pursue those passions in the future," he said to the entire Banneker student body and thousands tuning in online.

Lydia Dobyns, the president of New Tech Network, a non-profit to improve public schools, agrees. "President Obama is absolutely correct in encouraging students to take risks, work hard, and engage with the world," Dobyns said in a statement.

But the New Tech Network suggests a pep talk is just the beginning and that students need to be part of the dialogue about improving education. Dobyns writes, "we believe that it is the voices of students themselves however, that is sorely absent from most of today's education debates."

The president's Back-to-School remarks today were broadcast in public school classrooms across the country for the third year in a row. His first address to school children in 2009 drew criticism from Republicans and conservatives who accused the new president of trying to use American school children to promote his agenda. At the time president Obama was fighting to pass his health care proposal but the remarks to students never mentioned his health care plan.