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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks on Signing the National Literacy Act of 1991

1991-07-25

The President. Please be seated, everybody. And let me welcome our two Secretaries here and also Barbara Bush, who's long been interested in literacy, and the Members of Congress.

As a Nation, we have great educational needs. And those needs don't stop at the schoolhouse door. In this America 2000 strategy that Lamar and I and Lynn and others here and from the Congress have been working on, we're committed to a world-class education for today's and tomorrow's kids. And we're just as concerned with today's workers and parents.

Eighty-five percent of America's workers for the year 2000 are already in the work force, and many of them need help to improve their job skills, to learn how to be better parents, neighbors, citizens, community leaders, friends. And that means recommitting ourselves to literacy for all Americans.

Education is not just about making a living; it's also about making a life. And literacy is where education begins. I first understood the truth of that statement by watching Barbara in her work that still continues, working her heart out for literacy. And I understood it even better when I stood at the National Literacy Honors Celebration last year and shook the hands of grown men and women who changed the course of their lives by learning how to read. I've learned that the tears of joy in their eyes are only the beginning of the difference that literacy makes for all of us, as individuals and as a nation.

And that's why the Governors and I established a national education goal for adult literacy and lifelong learning. Goal 5 states that by the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skill necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Well, that's an impressive goal, and one that we move closer to reaching today.

And so, I am delighted to sign into law our first major step toward a fully literate America, an historic national commitment to literacy. This bill is truly national. It creates a network for literacy that starts here in my Cabinet with the cooperative effort of every Agency that has a real stake in literacy. And it reaches out into every region and State of our country because literacy is a need that knows no boundaries.

A literate work force is crucial to the future of our economy. And the future of our children rests on the literacy of their parents who are their first teachers. The future of our democracy depends on an informed, literate populace.

Thomas Jefferson said that ``a nation that expects to be ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be.'' And I'm happy to say that this piece of legislation -- and you can tell that from this unlikely array of Congressmen and Senators joined together here -- [laughter] -- but it's really important. This is bipartisan in the best sense of the word. And it was developed with the wise counsel of the American people -- educators and business leaders, some of whom are with us today, public officials and private citizens.

And it is my great hope and belief that this legislation will provide the means for us to become the most literate, productive nation on Earth. And it is another step the administration and Congress will be taking toward the full implementation of America 2000.

And now, therefore, it is my pleasure to sign into law H.R. 751, the National Literacy Act. And I'd like to invite the Senators and Members of the House that are with us today to kind of come up here, if you would, while we do this. It's painless and short. [Laughter] Thank you all very much for coming.

[At this point, the President signed the bill.]

Senator Simon. And I think Barbara ought to get the pen, Mr. President. [Laughter]

The President. Great idea.

Note: The President spoke at 5 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and Secretary of Labor Lynn M. Martin. H.R. 751, approved July 25, was assigned Public Law No. 102 - 73.

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