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Public Papers - 1989 - April

Remarks to Participants in Project Educational Forum in Union, New Jersey

1989-04-13

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much, Secretary Cavazos. Dr. Cavazos is doing an outstanding job as our Secretary of Education, and I'm so pleased he came up here with me today.

I want to pay my respects to your Governor, who has been a great inspiration to me, not just in education but in many other ways. And when I think of the Governors across this State, no one has a greater claim on doing a lot for education than your own Tom Kean. He has been outstanding, and I'm delighted to have him here today.

I want to salute the three Members of Congress who are here today and those who are actively involved. I know some are here who are actively participating in the political process -- Democrats and Republican alike. You have a Governors' race up here, and several of those candidates -- here with us. And I want to congratulate them and say to the young people here: I hope when you finish school and then go on and finish your education that you will save time for public service and participating in politics. So, let's welcome those who not only are Members of Congress but others who are so -- participating right here with us today. [Applause]

And of course, I listened carefully to the four superintendents who were selected to represent the point of view of the superintendents. And I can understand why there's a great new hope in the United States today for quality education. They did an outstanding job, and thank you, gentlemen. Thank you very, very much.

You know, when you come here, walking into the building or being here in the room, you can't help but feel that you don't really have to worry about the future of our young people. I see staunch advocates -- met with some dedicated professionals and determined students -- who know what an education in America can be. And today is about excellence -- and I am told that the brightest and best achievers, many of them in the school level, are right here in this room -- but it's also about hard work.

And I wanted to mention a little visit we had on the corner with one of Union's own, Gina Marie Sisco. She wrote me a letter. It's a surprise I got the mail. That's the way it's working these days. [Laughter] But nevertheless, she said, ``I'm a resource room student for math and English, and I have a learning disability. And there are many kids like me,'' she goes on, ``and we all have to work harder than most kids.'' But she said, ``Union is showing you their best in intelligence, but Union also has the best in trying the hardest, like us kids in resource room.'' So, it's excellence, and it is hard work.

I'm delighted that Barbara Bush is with me today. She got a good, clean bill of health yesterday from Walter Reed Hospital, I might add. But I'm taking another look at our doctor. He told her, ``It's okay to kiss your husband, but don't kiss the dogs.'' [Laughter] So, I don't know exactly what that means. [Laughter]

No, America can be the very best in education. I know a few skeptics have doubted that. For instance, somebody once asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought in general about Western civilization, and he said, ``I think it would be a good idea.'' [Laughter]

You know, this nation was founded by people who sought out unexplored frontiers. At first that meant, as you history students know, perilous ocean crossings. And then the West in the United States offered the challenge of vast, new, uncharted lands, expanses. And recently, we've found new directions in space exploration and astrophysics, taking us to the farthest reaches of the universe. And we've always taught our children about these frontiers. They're part of the American world view, part of our idea of human progress, part of our picture of ourselves. But we must now draw the attention of a new generation to a larger, almost limitless horizon: the frontier of the mind. Our goal for education must be as ambitious as it's been for the West or for space or for any other American frontier. And we have a new manifest destiny: to develop America's young minds to their fullest, because if we lose the mind and we lose the spirit of even one young person, we will have lost something precious, forever.

Many of our students are among the best in the world, and I'm told many right here in this room fit that description. Let's hear it for yourself. You've got it. [Applause] But all aren't so fortunate, and Barbara knows this because of her dedicated work for literacy. Too many still graduate unable to read their own diplomas. Too many don't get the skills they'll need to fill the jobs for the future. And let's not forget, as well, that there's a lot that's right about American education, and we heard from four superintendents that spelled that out loud and clear right here today.

So, how do we build on the good and eliminate the bad? The way to do it is with people like you in this room, through partnerships at the State level, with the National Governors' Association, teachers, administrators, parents, private industry councils, local businesses, and then the students themselves. And by thinking ahead, by working creatively, we can build a culture of high expectations. We can open up the frontier of the mind to every kid who enters a classroom.

And you know, somebody once asked Mae West what she wanted to be remembered for. And she said, ``Everything.'' [Laughter] Well, my goal is a little more modest. But I do want to be remembered, as Secretary Cavazos mentioned, as the education President -- someone who used the bully pulpit of the White House, the bully pulpit of the Presidency of the United States, to help you all improve American schools. And my ideas about education are based on four principles -- tapping the kind of creativity that's already at work in local communities like this one.

First, our administration will reward excellence through awards to schools that demonstrate significant improvement, rewards for good teachers -- and God bless our teachers -- and a new scholarship program for outstanding math and science students. Our schools have always recognized athletic excellence. And that's great. But it's also good to hear about groups like the Montrose Academic Booster Club and the Presidential Academic Fitness Awards, which reward excellence in scholarship. Some of those winners are with us today.

And second, we want to promote flexibility and choice through magnet schools and by removing some of the overregulation of education. And I listened to those superintendents as they called for regulatory simplification. We seek alternative certification for good people who want to teach, but are now kept out of the classroom by needless regulations. And we're considering more school-based management to give the local control that you heard these superintendents call for. This government will in no way -- the Washington administration will in no way try to dictate curriculum. Let's not get too experimental. I worry that somebody is going to produce a new-age ``Hamlet.'' [Laughter] And the famous oration will start like this: ``To be, or what?'' [Laughter] We don't need to set the curriculum in Washington, DC. It's better done right here.

And third, we want to help those most in need, targeting Federal resources -- restricted and limited though they must be in these days of budgetary deficit -- targeting those where they can do the most good. And we want to waive some of the regulations for poorer communities, allowing them to pool State and Federal funds in exchange for higher accountability and performance -- a kind of performance-driven, partial deregulation of education, if you will. And we'll give you the flexibility, and you show us the results. And I bet they'll be outstanding.

And fourth, we need to promote accountability in education for everyone. And that means teachers. Yes, and we want to work with educators -- how to objectively and fairly measure results. But it's much broader than that. The problems our schools face won't be solved by assigning blame or applying a puff of smoke here, some bolt of lightning there. Only a united effort can lead to the kind of education reform that lasts.

And this means that all of us are accountable for the quality of American schools. And that means business leaders, who understand that their ability to compete depends on the quality of the new talent that they help develop and who set up outstanding public-private ventures, like the Sci-Tech Center in Liberty State Park, where students will learn about science and engineering, but in a hands-on way. Accountability also extends to superintendents who can create a clear mandate for improvement and gain support for their priorities. And parents who get involved through programs like ``Books and Beyond'' in Paramus, where reading at home to the kids has cut time in front of the TV by over 70 percent, or the ``Very Important Parent'' award to Jersey City parents who get involved with their kids' local schools.

And there are other unexpected sources of untapped talent that can help improve our schools. In New York City, where thousands of volunteers are helping in hundreds of schools, my wife Barbara met with a group helping Cambodian children learn English. And while she was there, one older lady told Barbara how desperately lonely she had been until she volunteered. And her eyes filled up with tears at the memory. Then her face lit up as she told Barbara, ``I have never been lonely a day since.'' Helping others made this woman's life have so much more meaning.

One need matches another, and a wonderful thing happens: you come up with an answer that money simply cannot buy. And that's one reason we need to rely less on the collective wallet, and more on our collective will. A society that worships money or sees money as a cure for all that ails it is a society in peril. But we're not that kind of people. And we must do more than wish we had more to spend, because the challenge of education reform suggests something much more fundamental than money.

As a nation -- this may surprise you -- but as a nation, we already spend 0 billion a year on education. And that's more than we spend on national security, on defense. We devote more money per capita to education than any of our most advanced competitors. That includes France and Germany, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and Japan. A billion here, a billion there -- as Everett Dirksen once said, ``It all someday -- pretty soon adds up to real money.'' [Laughter]

One lesson I learned in school is that sometimes there's more than one right answer. More spending isn't the only right answer or even the best answer. What we need is a better value for what we spend. And what we need, and what this conference is all about, is a shared determination on the part of every American to get involved with our schools. We must reestablish the value of teaching and learning in this country.

Like every new landscape we've explored in American history, the frontier of the mind will be won by individuals of courage and determination. And you know, frontier stories are full of tales about brave individuals. So, let me just share one little story with you that I heard -- a study, if you will, in determination.

This week I heard about a young woman who'd been poor and on welfare all her life. And she enrolled in a program for pregnant high school girls in Memphis. And things were going fine until the last day of the exams, when she realized that her baby had other plans for her that day. And she wouldn't leave. And she took her last two final exams in the nurse's office. And only then did she let them rush her off to the hospital. And she made B's on the two exams. And she had a boy. And she'll graduate in May. And she's landed a job at a university, with child care, where she's also going to take classes. Now, if the rest of us can summon even a fraction of that kind of courage against the odds, we can make sure that every young American gets a solid education.

Good schools in America are a social responsibility and, yes, in this competitive age we're living in, an economic necessity. And we share the conviction that there is no such thing as an expendable student. We will never accept the notion that vast numbers of illiterate and undereducated Americans can be offset by a well-educated elite. That is not the American way. You know, every young American deserves the best chance. And I'm asking you to join me, in renewed determination, to help this generation -- and every generation -- develop and triumph in the frontier of the mind.

Thank you for what you are doing, and thank you for what you will do. And God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:40 p.m. in the gymnasium of Union High School. In his opening remarks, he referred to Representatives Marge Roukema, Jim Courter, and Matthew J. Rinaldo; and school superintendents James Caulfield, of Union, NJ; Harry Galinsky, of Paramus, NJ; James Wilsford, of Orangeburg, SC; and Edgar Melanson, of White Mountain, NH. Following his remarks, the President traveled to Kennebunkport, ME, for a weekend stay.

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