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Public Papers - 1990 - October

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching


To our Secretary of Energy, Jim Watkins, delighted to see you sir; and Ted Sanders, the Under Secretary of Education; Fred Bernthal; Dr. Bill Phillips; and all of you here in the Rose Garden.

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to join you today and add my congratulations to those that you have already received. Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching have been presented for the past 8 years to secondary schoolteachers, but this is the first year that elementary schoolteachers have also received these awards. So, you are the pioneers in what will be a continuing effort to honor the achievement of this nation's many outstanding schoolteachers.

You are a very select group -- 107 teachers from the more than 1/2\ million elementary school instructors in this country. For many students, you represent their very first exposure to science and math, which gives you a vital responsibility. Most kids who go on to become scientists or engineers first became interested in those subjects in elementary school or junior high. And most often, the reason they do is because they are exposed to a teacher like you -- like each one of you -- someone who can speak their language, communicate with them, spark their imagination, and evoke the sense of wonder that is inherent in science and math.

Kids are natural-born scientists, but too many of them lose interest when their only exposure to science is through long lists of facts. And you've discovered how to bring out the fun in science and math, and in so doing, you provide a model and an inspiration for elementary schoolteachers everywhere.

You're also helping to meet a crucial national need. We live in an increasingly complex and competitive world, and the link between science and technology and our standard of living is stronger today than ever before. At a time when our international position in certain key industries is being challenged, we face impending shortfalls of qualified scientists and engineers. The students who can fill those shortfalls are in the classrooms right now, and we must ensure that they are given the education and the encouragement that they need.

Just a little over a year ago, I met with the Nation's Governors at Charlottesville for the first education summit, a first step towards building a strong partnership among this administration, the Governors, educators, parents and, indeed, community leaders. And this historic event resulted in a sense of direction and national goals for individual and collective efforts to improve the quality of education for all Americans.

Well, three of those goals directly involve science and math. By the year 2000, American students must demonstrate competency in five critical subjects, including science and math, with their progress measured in grades 4 and 8 and 12. We must also make American students the first in the world in science and math by the year 2000. And we must ensure that every adult American must be able to read and have the skills, including technological skills, to compete in a global economy.

So, these are ambitious goals, but they are faithful to the ambitions of this country. And as a people, we've set tough goals before: to send men to the Moon or to serve the cause of freedom abroad. And we know that when the challenge is great, great things happen in America.

Already, a great many things are happening at the Federal, State, and local level. The Department of Energy and NASA are opening up their research labs to students and teachers so that they can experience cutting-edge science firsthand. And the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation are working together and with the States on strengthening research, assessment, and curricula. Equally exciting are things that are happening in the States themselves.

But achieving the goals that I announced last January will require that everyone get involved. That means parents; it means teachers, school administrators, businesses, and universities.

Parents really are especially important. And it is very difficult for you as teachers to go out and do your job if you don't get help from parents, and that's why we want to see parental empowerment in education. We must make American education the best it can be, and that takes two things: greater parental involvement and, in my view, greater choice in education.

Reading about your accomplishments makes me confident that we will succeed. The letters of recommendation that helped bring you to Washington are really spectacular; and they give ample testimony to your ingenuity, your determination and, indeed, enthusiasm. In one letter, the parents of a kid named Woody write: ``When we used to ask Woody what happened in school, he would tell us about recess. And now he tells us about science.'' You know, that really is a wonderful, wonderful statement about Woody's teacher, it seems to me. Another one, another letter, writes of a teacher who ``studies with the mind of a scholar; perceives through the eyes of a child; and communicates with the voice of an understanding, compassionate, and energetic motivator.'' And all of the letters are unanimous about one thing: the enthusiasm that each one of you bring to the classroom, an enthusiasm that goes beyond the classroom, that touches everyone that you know.

You are truly remarkable people, and you're able to take children and lift them up and inspire them and broaden their horizons and then aim them off in new directions. So, the country owes you an immense debt of gratitude. But your real rewards can't be printed on some scroll, one piece of paper. The real rewards are the students who will remember you and what you have done for them for the rest of their lives.

Thank you all very much for being here today, and God bless each and every one of you for your wonderful commitment to the young people of this country. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Frederick M. Bernthal, Acting Director of the National Science Foundation, and William D. Phillips, Associate Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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