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Public Papers - 1990

Question-and-Answer Session With High School Students at a Biotechnology Demonstration at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville


The President. What year of high school are we talking about?

Q. Junior and senior.

The President. Juniors and seniors? Well, let me start before she reads me her Gettysburg Address here and before she unloads on me, too. [Laughter]

Are you all in high school? Are you beginning to get more emphasis on science courses? Everybody? I mean, that's a common thread here. You wouldn't be here if you weren't already taking -- what? -- chemistry, biology, physics. What else, what other subjects? Math -- yes, math would be fundamental. Have most of you made up your mind, when you go to college -- going into science or math? You've already determined?

Dr. Monty. That's why they are here. They are those who have been selected because they are interested in science or mathematics.

The President. Okay, you get equal time. Go ahead. [Laughter]

Education Reform

Q. I loved your State of the Union Address on improving education. I was wondering, do you have any plans to get ideas internationally to improve education?

The President. Well, I'm going to kick that one right into the end zone of the Secretary of Education. But, yes, we have all -- he travels a good deal, goes abroad. We have a lot of people in the Department that does that. We're having an international -- this is not as much education as dealing with the environment -- a big international conference coming up. And we get it all the time -- exchanges of ideas.

But I think we've got -- we set out there -- and I want to give credit to your Governor McWherter and to your former Governor Lamar Alexander -- we've gotten great ideas for a national goals program from -- in this country -- from the Governors who were responding to, maybe, the principal of your high school, for heaven's sake. But I think we now don't need as many of the ideas from abroad as we do to implement these broad goals that are now set in place. Not that we can't learn from others, because some other countries are doing a whale of a job in education. But I think we've got our priorities set.

I still believe that a lot of the emphasis has to be at the local and State level. The Federal Government cannot dictate to your high school the curriculum or exactly what your teachers have to teach. We've learned a lot from those who have been successful abroad, but now I think we've got the information; we've got to go forward -- is about the way I answer that.

Q. I would like to know, what plans do you have to fund scholarships for students who excel in math and science?

The President. Well, I'll give that one to him. But we have stepped up that in our budget; we've stepped it up. But go ahead, Larry.

Secretary Cavazos. We certainly have -- quite a bit. That's one of the key points in the President's Excellence Act in Education: to identify outstanding students in mathematics and science, and provide scholarships for them for 4 years of college. That's the first step. But actually, it's right down the line. On top of that, we have increased funds for Pell grants, as well as for guaranteed student loans. So, we're certainly looking to that aspect of it and putting major emphasis on math and science.

The President. The first part, Jeanine -- we haven't got it through yet. We've made the proposals. I think we've got a good chance in the Congress, but we have not got it passed. I think the Federal Government has a legitimate role there, just as we do in -- you guys are past this stage -- but in Head Start. One of the things that -- when I first got working on this was back when Lamar Alexander was Governor. He kept talking about ``ready to learn.'' And as I say, you all are past that, but there's a lot of kids out there that need to be ready to learn when they go to the first grade. So, along with the things that Jeanine was asking about, we think we must do better. And this is one of our national goals in terms of Head Start -- getting people ready at the very beginning.

Who else has something they want to say? Yes, Stephanie.

Q. I was wondering if you were planning on starting the younger students in school with math and science, getting them a stronger base before high school and further education.

The President. We're trying to do that. Again, the curriculum must be set by the schools; but the emphasis -- the goals of fluency in math and science, if you would -- at an early age is out there now. And what the President should do, our Secretary, and then a Secretary like Secretary Watkins -- whose whole success of the Department of Energy relates to -- an awful lot relates to science and, thus, math feeding into that -- is to exhort. I don't think we can dictate to the school level, the early school levels. We can't do that. But when you set the goals -- and the Governors, for the most part, are on board. I think Governor McWherter approves of our broad goals. And all of us have a job of encouraging what you're talking about. So, I think we'll see that result if our national goals -- as they move towards implementation, I think we'll see those things come into play.

I have a technical question here. I wonder why it's only the women, only the girls, that ask questions. Now, Daniel, I don't know whether you've got one.

Q. Is the Federal Government increasing in spending for special interest education programs?

The President. Let me ask the Secretary.

Secretary Watkins. Well, the answer is yes. And the President will be presented from his Domestic Policy Council with an entirely new initiative: that we in the Federal Government open our hearts and minds a lot more than we have in the past. For example, we have 23,000 scientists in our national laboratories -- two-thirds of the intellectual potential of the Nation in science. And therefore, the reason you see them so involved with you, in Oak Ridge and here in Knoxville, is that we have this kind of capability to bring new motivation and excitement, particularly to minorities and young women who in many areas of the country have been really denied math and science. And in fact, many are afraid.

And so, this whole program is going to be set up to get us involved, open our facilities to the local school districts -- not to set curriculum, as the President said, at all but to get us involved. His Thousand Points of Light program -- that's what we're talking about: getting our scientists to teach in the classroom, to teach teachers, to provide you with opportunities to go to the laboratories and see the excitement of science and be involved in it.

This decade will be the decade of science and research. And the President has opened that door with the most incredible research program and enhancement of education -- and leading the way in the Nation with your speech before the joint session of Congress the other night.

So, this is the excitement. We're very much involved. You'll see much more coming up as this begins to unfold.

The President. I'm sure I would have got a lot better audience for the State of the Union, but I made the mistake in scheduling when Vanderbilt was playing Tennessee in basketball. [Laughter] So, I'm sure all you students watched the State of the Union, but I don't know. [Laughter]

Stanley, what do you got?

Q. I would just basically like to know that, since the population of black male students enrolled in colleges has dropped over the past decade, would that mean greater or lesser chances of us receiving money from the Government?

The President. I think what Dr. Cavazos was talking about will impact heavily in some minority areas that had not had too good a shot. And also, some of that depends on how the output goes not just for black people but white as well -- how they do in the elementary schools.

So, as we move toward programs in -- I mentioned Head Start. A lot of kids coming out of the background where they haven't really had much dough in the family, or a broken family, or something -- those kids really need Head Start more than others. And so, I think if we get the whole elementary thing moving so that the kids -- a lot of the kids you're talking about are like you, who have demonstrated an ability and have demonstrated excellence. I think you'll find there will be just more acceptance under existing programs. But I think we have some emphasis here that will benefit minority students, whether it's blacks or Hispanics or whatever.

Secretary Cavazos. There's quite a bit of it. It's there. And of course, as you point out, Mr. President, we're looking at the whole stance, from early childhood right on through the other end of college and on into adult education. And we have to put a special emphasis -- you are so correct. The numbers are going down in terms of black males in colleges. We have to turn that around. We're losing a lot of very, very fine potential students out of the system, so we have to stop and back up to the beginning. So, we will find -- dedicating in that direction.

The President. One thing we've done that really isn't directly responsive, but I've long been interested in historically black colleges, and we've stepped up the help for them, their endowment funding, which a lot of the black presidents of these colleges feel is very, very important. I think it's gone way up this year, maybe by 66 percent or something.

So, anyway, that's another -- but it's not directly responsive, but it's so -- the idea that everybody should be able to get a good education.

Dr. Monty. Mr. President, we probably have time for one or two more questions. Two of those here are outstanding math and science teachers, and they're probably holding back, trying to give the students a chance.

The President. I'd love to hear how you think it's going. I'm on a listening mode here on this trip, so I'd like to know -- or if you had any specific suggestions as to how you see our departments interacting.

Q. Mr. President, there's tremendous positive advances taking place. But in education, we sort of get a mixed message sometimes. There's much discussion in many circles about catching up with European countries as far as science and math education is concerned. As a rule, that's related to standardized test scores. So, we're getting, on the one hand, that we need to increase standardized test scores and, then on the other hand, we need to increase problemsolving and creative thinking skills at the same time.

Now, they are certainly compatible to teach at the same time. But as a rule, it takes experience and training to take the subject matter and teach creativity mutually, or at the same time. And I'm wondering if there are any plans for special training that would be related to special programs? But it's a mixed message. And for clarification, particularly for inexperienced teachers, I think it's going to take some kind of a training program.

The President. Special training for teachers? Larry, do you have anything on the Federal side on that?

Secretary Cavazos. Well, in terms of the current budget that we have in front of us, we have about a 62-percent increase in the math and science education area, and it approaches almost 0 million that we'll be putting in next year in this direction. We're also going to have another program that we've requested money for -- to also prepare principals, give them a special education, because, obviously, they're the people involved in the curriculum and the kinds of things that go on on a day-to-day basis.

So, this is a partnership. And we really have a commitment to help out in the area of math and science and the preparation of those teachers -- but we're also going to include the principals.

The President. Now some of the States are doing -- go ahead. You were going to say something.

Q. Just in followup. If there was a direction, should it be toward the problemsolving and creativity -- the kind of creativity and creative thinking that it takes to come up with solutions to problems -- developing this kind of research? Or should it be in the direction toward the standardized test scores, where basically, it's just the foundational material that -- --

Secretary Cavazos. I think a lot of that can be worked out as we develop these programs with the people. However, my own instincts toward problemsolving and comprehension -- as you recognize, our students can read, but oftentimes when we look at our national tests, they don't comprehend at adequate levels. And I think until we can really comprehend and understand what we're dealing with, all the rest of this will give us no purpose.

The President. Mary, do you want to add something?

Q. Well, I would just follow up to Tom. I, too, am concerned about the quality of teachers that we're going to be getting into science and math. And that has such far-ranging implications for just the quality of the high school, but also for elementary education -- getting kids interested in science and math. And I, too, am very concerned about just the quality of teacher that we're going to get into science and math, and encouraging young people to go into the science- and math-related fields, but also to go into teaching, too.

The President. Again, just so you know where I'm coming from philosophically, I think we can encourage; but I think it's the responsibility of the States and then of the local organizations to actually sign people up and -- I just don't want to see our federalizing our elementary, secondary, and higher education. The Federal Government has a distinct role, but I don't want to misrepresent to these kids that I think the Federal Government should undertake all the training for teachers, for example, or set the levels of pay for teachers -- I worry -- or curriculum. And I think we've got a pretty good balance right now.

Let me say to you kids, because we've got -- I know you know a lot about the Government, but you met with -- this is Secretary Cavazos, who is the Secretary of Education; Secretary Watkins, who is the Secretary of Energy. But I don't know that you met -- we have four Members of Congress here. You guys may be math and scientists, but I'm a political guy, see. So, I've got to -- but I hope sometime you will save a little time for the public service kind of things that -- but over here is Congressman Quillen, Congressman Duncan, and Congressman Sundquist, and over here, Congressman Lloyd. So, they, too, are along with us today and are very interested. They don't happen to be all from Tennessee, but I wanted to put in a plug for them down the line -- and public service as well.

I don't want to undermine all these Oak Ridge scientists here and get away from the subject at hand, but I'm very pleased these Congressmen are with us.

Q. I would like to commend the State for having our school. School of the Sciences made science, many times, fun. It showed that science is not just a textbook study: it's something that can change the world, literally. And I think it influenced a lot of the kids here who were going to school. I think it made us more interested and got us enthused to go forward in science and not just hold back.

The President. See, here, that's a very important point he's just made, because now, with the encouragement of the State, encouragement of the university, then other States and other communities -- we were talking about this coming in in the car with the two Governors -- other States and other communities can see the example here.

This is, I think, a first, actually -- at least the summer program that you're talking about. I'm glad that you feel that way because it gives me the thought that if we can just get the message out, others on their own will take up this kind of a program -- kind of approach, you mean, to science and math.

Dr. Monty. Mr. President, I feel like a schoolbell, but I've been asked to tell you that it's time for you to move on. These are exceptional students and exceptional teachers, and we're privileged that you would take time, along with the Secretaries, to visit with us.

The President. I'm glad you all came. Thanks. Thanks for taking the time.

Do you all know exactly where you want to go to college and exactly what you want to do? [Laughter] No? I never did, either -- really. But anyway, thank you all for your time. I bet we had some other questioners or speakers we did not hear from.


Q. I'd just like to ask, what role will computers play in the school system in the future?

The President. More and more. And I don't even know how to turn one on -- hardly. [Laughter] But, no, I can do that. I can write a letter. But, no, I think you're going to see that everybody is going to have to be computer literate. I think that's a given in the nineties, absolute given, for whatever you want to be -- liberal arts, science and tech. So, I think you're going to see that just all over.

All right. Thank you. Thanks a lot.

Note: The President spoke at 2:25 p.m. at Carolyn Brown University Center. In his remarks, he referred to Kenneth J. Monty, professor of biochemistry; high school students Jeanine Fulton, Stephanie A. Burriesei, Daniel H. Chang, and Stanley Dean; Mary Boldon, biology teacher at Maryville High School; and Tom Ferguson, biology teacher at Farragut High School. Prior to the demonstration, the President met with university professors and scientists at the center.

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