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Public Papers - 1989 - June

Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of University Women


Sarah, thank you very much for that introduction -- and all of you for that warm welcome -- and congratulations to you as you complete your distinguished term as president of AAUW. And welcome to Sharon Schuster, the new president. And may she run the meetings with the same iron hand -- [laughter] -- and put-down of dilatory proceedings, such as free debate -- [laughter] -- that Sharon did. I say all that because she told me coming in here that there was a harmonious meeting, and one that -- plenty of substance discussed -- that went very, very well indeed. So, congratulations!

There's another AAUW president, a past president, that I'd like to say hello to, from Des Moines, Iowa, and now the head of your educational foundation: Mary Grefe. Is it really Grefe? I didn't want to say grief. [Laughter] I pronounced it my way. [Laughter]

In America today, there is no greater imperative, moral or practical, than providing equal opportunity to every man, woman, and child. And this means equal opportunity in housing and jobs, and flexibility and parental choice in child care and education. And it means equal protection from hostile elements, whether criminal or environmental, and equal opportunity in service and community action, whether through public, private, or nonprofit organizations.

And today I'd like to talk about two issues in particular: education and public safety. Both are important to this association and to any thinking person who cares about the quality of life and opportunity in America. And both are the subject of major administration proposals now pending before the United States Congress.

And there's a third issue that I know you're familiar with: community action -- what I have called a Thousand Points of Light. And last week I traveled up and down the eastern seaboard, issuing a call to action for community service. And we carried the message from Main Street to Wall Street, enlisting young and old, black and white and brown -- America's diversity -- to join a movement predicated on one simple idea: From now on, any definition of a successful life must include services to others. For over a hundred years, your predecessors, and now you in this room, have built successful lives through community action. You were ahead of the curve, way out ahead of the power curve, by about a century. And often your service has addressed the very issues we're talking about today: education and public safety.

The AAUW foundation that Mary Grefe -- [laughter] -- now directs -- what is it about me and Iowa, where I'm always having trouble? -- [laughter] -- began handing out educational fellowships in 1888. And it's a great tradition, at once combining America's values of service and education. And the scholarships you provide are more than just money in the hands of deserving students: They are money in the bank for the future of America. And your association represents 140,000 reasons why America will succeed.

Your contributions are important, and equally important is the recent and renewed commitment to an old-fashioned American idea: partnership between the Government and the community in seeking educational excellence. Government, and especially Federal Government, cannot provide all the answers, but it has an obligation to lead.

And earlier this year, I sent to Congress the Educational Excellence Act of 1989. And it proposes solutions based on some sound and time-tested ideas: rewarding excellence, helping those in need, accountability -- and one that's close to the traditions of this organization -- parental choice and flexibility. To achieve these goals, my new initiative proposes a seven-point plan: first, cash awards for merit schools; second, merit awards for America's best teachers -- [applause] -- a little dissent on that one -- [laughter] -- third, a new program for high school science scholarships; fourth, 0 million to boost magnet schools; fifth, new money for new teachers, using alternative certification to expand the pool of skilled educators; sixth, emergency grants to help our schools become drug free; and seventh, expanded Federal help to our historically black colleges and universities.

Given the number of experienced educators right here in this room, it will come as no surprise to learn that many of these initiatives were developed from the classroom success stories of teachers like those in your association. And other guidance came from people like Sarah Harder, who I met with in Washington following my election as President. And my administration is grateful for the benefit of your experiences and your views.

And today I'd like to talk briefly about four of these initiatives in particular. Two of the points call for merit awards -- cash incentives for our most successful schools and the top teachers in every State. I want the best teachers our educational system can attract, because teachers shape the minds that shape the future of the country.

Last year, at the centennial celebration of the first AAUW educational fellowship, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor received your Achievement Award. And when we talk about merit schools and merit teachers, there could hardly be a better example than this year's winner, the founder of the Westside Preparatory School in Chicago's inner city, Marva Collins. Says Marva, ``Any child can learn if they are not taught so thoroughly that they cannot.'' [Laughter] Think about that one, now.

She got results, working with students who have been written off by the public schools. It's said that 98 percent of her students go on to high school and then college. And her students got results. It was reported that one of Marva's 6-year-olds could recite Jesse Jackson's 1988 convention address from memory. [Laughter] Hmm. [Laughter] Now look, Marva, Jesse is a very gifted speaker, and you're being too tough on those kids. [Laughter] Give them my convention speech, and I bet they can do it at age 3. [Laughter]

But I've also heard of one young girl who began pounding her lunch box on the desk in the middle of the class. Marva told the girl, ``No, darling, no one is going to be handing out good jobs to people who pound their lunch boxes on their desks. President Bush does not pound his lunch box on the desk.'' [Laughter] Obviously, Marva's never been to one of our Cabinet meetings. [Laughter]

America needs results, too. So, another part of my education plan calls for a similar kind of new incentive: science scholarships of up to ,000 for more than 500 of our best high school seniors. And this is an idea that also resonates in your association. Last year you founded the Eleanor Roosevelt Fund -- what you call an intergenerational partnership -- to address the underrepresentation of women and girls in math and science.

And I know that many of you are familiar with ``Workforce 2000,'' which concludes that almost two-thirds of the new entrants to the labor force in the next 11 years will be women. To stay competitive in a competitive world, we must provide incentives and opportunities for this new generation of women to get the education and training they need to be second to none. And if we cannot compete with other countries in the classroom, we cannot compete with them in the boardroom.

And the last of our education initiatives calls for drug-free schools. And we've asked Congress to finance urban emergency grants to help our hardest hit school districts. And if we want to stop our kids from putting drugs in their bodies, we must first put character in their hearts and common sense in their heads.

Let me just stop here a minute. Barbara and I were up in Covenant House the other day in New York, and Barbara's good at this -- she can handle the emotion of the young kids; her husband is not. But if you'd seen it, and I expect some of you had, these kids -- the matrix joining the meeting was narcotics use, prostitution, and hopelessness, really -- and it was tragic. And it brought home to me, loud and clear, how much we have left to do in terms of offering hope, through education, to the young people afflicted by this scourge of narcotics. We've got to succeed as a nation.

So, as with education, the subject of drugs and crime, as well -- especially violent crime -- has been on my mind in recent weeks. And last month, I was out standing before the U.S. Capitol on a somber, rainy afternoon to call on Congress to join me in a new partnership with America's cities and States to take back the streets. And at the Federal level, we're going to do our part by taking violent criminals off the streets. And it's an attack on all four fronts: new laws to punish them, new agents to arrest them, new prosecutors to convict them, and new prisons to hold them. And incidentally, I feel just as strongly about the white-collar criminal that traffics in narcotics as I do about the street criminal.

The comprehensive initiative that I'm talking about here is directed at violent crime and, in particular, the explosion of urban gunfire that often accompanies drug trafficking. But all too often, violent crime also means crime against women, and I am angered and disgusted by the crimes against American women and by the archaic and unacceptable attitudes that all too frequently contribute to those crimes. Whether it involves spouse abuse at home or violence in the street, these are evil acts that transcend racial and class lines. This war against women must stop, and I hope we can prove to be a constructive force for ending it.

Our cities and States must step up their efforts to combat violence against women, to treat victims with compassion and respect. And they must follow our Federal example of enacting tougher laws -- backed up by more police, prosecutors, and prisons -- to put away every violent offender.

Fundamentally, violence against women won't subside unless public attitudes change. We must continue to educate police and prosecutors, judges and juries. And we must engender a climate where the message our children get -- from television and films, from schools and parents -- is that violence against women is wrong. A kinder and gentler nation must protect all its citizens. And no matter how equal the opportunities in our schools and workplace, women will never have the same opportunities as men if a climate of fear leaves them justifiably concerned about walking to the campus library at night or reluctant to work late hours for fear of getting out of some parking lots safely.

I have a daughter and four daughters-in-law. And when we talk about what kind of schools and the kind of society we are shaping for the next century, I think about my own 11 grandchildren -- seven are girls. And it is unthinkable that any opportunity should be available to my pride and joy, our oldest grandson, George P., that isn't also out there for his cousin Jenna Bush.

And one opportunity -- and maybe I'm preaching to the choir here -- [laughter] -- that some women in this room should not overlook is rolling up your sleeves and running for public office. I encourage you to do that, and it is challenging and enormously satisfying. This day and age there seems to be more public flak and all of that, but believe me, I still feel strongly that public service is an honorable calling. And we've got to inculcate that into the life of every single child in this country, and you can help by running for office.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with many talented leaders like Carla Hills and Elizabeth Dole and Sandra Day O'Connor and Nancy Kassebaum, and their record of public service -- like the work of so many in your own association -- confirms the long-ago observation of one of the patron saints of community service, Alexis de Tocqueville. He wrote, ``If I were asked to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of the American people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: to the superiority of their women.''

I am pleased to be the first President to address the AAUW and very honored -- maybe I'm getting a little out ahead of the power curve here -- to be awarded an official membership. [Laughter] Wait a minute! So, technically that makes me the first AAUW member to be President of the United States, but I know I won't be the last.

Thank you all, and God bless all of you. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:27 a.m. in the Sheraton Washington Ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Sarah Harder, president of the association; U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills; Secretary of Labor Elizabeth H. Dole; and Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas.

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