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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks on Signing the American Education Week Proclamation


Thank you all very much. Before celebrating American Education Week, I was out celebrating a physical fitness day, so if I'm dripping from -- [laughter] -- I apologize, but I just ran my miles.

But first of all, I just want to thank all of you, and it's good to be back among so many leaders, from our own Department of Education to the American Legion to the ten professional education associations that have sponsored this American Education Week -- sponsored it for so long and with such dedication. Let me also thank and welcome the representatives of the many leading educational organizations out here in the audience today. And finally, I want to thank the students among us for unveiling this beautiful statue, this remarkable statue -- an inspiration for us -- and say to them, particularly, welcome to the White House!

As educators, I'm sure you'll appreciate the story about the scholar who was grading an exam shortly before Christmas when he came across this note from a student: ``God only knows the answer to this question. Merry Christmas.'' And the scholar returned the paper with this annotation: ``God gets an A; you get an F. Happy New Year.'' [Laughter]

Well, we are here today not to flunk our system but to earn a higher grade. As a nation, we proclaim that America is serious about lifting the hopes and the dreams of young Americans, serious about education and the future. And this concern with education is to be found wherever men and women seek to extend human liberty. Just yesterday -- that's why I'm wearing my Solidarnosc bracelet here -- I met with Lech Walesa and once again was deeply impressed by the changes that are underway in Poland and the fervent commitment of the Polish people to make that change permanent through education.

For Americans, this vital connection between education and a strong, free nation is symbolized by the Flag of Learning and Liberty. It was this same flag that Christa McAuliffe took with her on the Challenger. She appreciated this symbol, as only a teacher could. And now, recovered by NASA, it is being taken to every State in the Union.

Concern for education and democracy brought me together with the Nation's Governors in that recent summit there in Charlottesville, Virginia -- only the third summit of chief executives in our country's 200 years as a nation. As we worked together in Charlottesville, the handiwork of our first education President, Thomas Jefferson, was all about us. And it was Jefferson, after all, who forever linked American democracy with universal public education. He put the matter in a letter in 1816 with these words: ``If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.''

So, if there was a sense of urgency to this summit of ours, it was because, like Thomas Jefferson and then Christa McAuliffe, all the participants understood that the future of American education really is the future of America itself. That's why we worked at the summit to reach an historic agreement -- a compact, a Jeffersonian compact -- to protect our democracy by bettering our schools. Perhaps no one expressed our aspirations in a better way than a group of teachers in North Carolina who hung a little sign on the outside of their classrooms that read: ``Quiet, please. Teachers at work. Future under construction.''

It is to construct a better future that we agreed to define national goals in education. We agreed to loosen rules that restrict the creativity of States and schools. And then we agreed that everyone should be accountable for the results. It is in the spirit of this compact that I'm going to sign this document today. And some may ask: What difference, what possible difference, can a proclamation make? And it makes no difference whatsoever, if we're satisfied with a simple declaration; but I'm not, and certainly none of you are. So, we are not satisfied.

Secretary Cavazos is making a difference today, conducting a regional strategy meeting to determine how to best reform our schools with the principle of choice. And parents need the power to choose their children's schools. And schools need the power to choose knowledgeable members of the community through alternative certification of teachers.

The men and women here today are also using American Education Week to make a difference, to shine a spotlight on the millions of dedicated teachers, concerned parents, and active volunteers. And during this week, November 12th to the 18th, Americans will work together on school boards, in adult learning centers, in raising funds for higher education, and in countless other ways.

So, this will be a week of board meetings and open houses and of special projects, plays -- a week to reflect, to plan, and then to act. And to kick off American Education Week, Barbara is -- the Silver Fox, we call her -- is hosting a special show on the Disney Channel, introducing 31 outstanding teachers from around the country. So, just imagine that, the channel that features Mickey and Minnie now has a ``Silver Fox.'' [Laughter]

But what this week comes down to is not just a Federal effort, not just a State effort, not just a local effort. American Education Week is a national effort, and one that calls on every one of us to pitch in and to make a difference. And this really is, then, the true spirit of American education and democracy; and this is the fondest dream of the greatest American dreamers, from Thomas Jefferson to Christa McAuliffe. And this is what American Education Week, then, is all about.

And so, I really wanted to come over here and to thank you for all that you do. May God bless your work and you. And now it will be my pleasure to sign this proclamation designating American Education Week. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:38 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to a bronze statue depicting the Flag of Learning and Liberty. The proclamation is listed in Appendix E at the end of this volume.

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