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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 21, 1996
                            TO THE NATION

The Roosevelt Room

THE PRESIDENT: In just a few days we celebrate the miracle of Christmas -- the gift of light and hope that has lasted for nearly 2000 years. I'd like to talk about how we can share that gift by shining the light of literacy on millions of precious children and families.

Literacy is about reading, but it's about much more, too. It's about opportunity, giving people the tools to make the most of their God-given potential. It's about preparing people for the 21st century, when a fully literate work force will be crucial to our strength as a nation. Without literacy the history books and job manuals are closed, the Internet is turned off, and the promise of America is much harder to reach.

To achieve our full potential as a nation we must make sure everyone can read -- adults as well as children. I'm proud that we're increasing the assistance we give to states for adult education and literacy by more than 50 percent, the largest increase in more than 30 years. This will help hundreds of thousands of adults to rise to the obligations of family and community, and to make the most of their own lives.

When it comes to children, the first teachers must always be their parents. Hillary and I still talk about the books we read to Chelsea when we were so tired we could hardly stay awake. I urge all of America's parents, make sure there are books beneath your Christmas tree. Share the joy of reading as a family.

Of course, parents can't do it alone. Our country has outstanding teachers and educators on the front lines of the literacy crusade, but all the rest of us must work with them to make sure that every child and every adult can read.

This summer in Wyandotte, Michigan, I announced a national literacy campaign called "America Reads," that begins with a clear national goal: Every American child should be able to read on his or her own by the third grade. I proposed to meet that goal by using 30,000 reading specialists and volunteer coordinators to mobilize a million volunteer reading tutors all across America.

This week I announced that my Domestic Policy Advisor, Carol Rasco, will move to the Education Department with Secretary Riley to head this effort, to make absolutely sure we have the highest level attention to get the job done.

We know that individualized tutoring works. Here in the Nation's Capital there are many remarkable tutoring programs, such as the St. Anne's Infant Home; Growing Together, which helps public school children to double their rate of learning; and the Academy of Hope which teaches adults to read.

Yesterday some of these students joined me for my annual reading of "Twas The Night Before Christmas," and they're here with me now. If more Americans could see their joy in reading and learning we'd have our one million volunteers overnight.

Today we're taking the next major step in our America Reads campaign -- to build our army of reading tutors on college campuses all across America. This fall, at my request, Congress created over 200,000 new work-study jobs on America's college campuses. Work-study helps young people to work their way through college, often by serving their school. I want a large portion of work-study to be devoted to community service, and especially to teaching our children to read.

Today I'm happy to announce that 20 of our nation's leading college presidents, from San Francisco to Texas to Southern Illinois, are unleashing the energy and enthusiasm of their students to help every eight-year-old learn to read. As members of a new America Reads College Presidents' Steering Community, they will each dedicate half of their new work-study slots to students who work as reading tutors. Right away this should give us thousands of new tutors, a down payment toward our goal of enlisting 100,000 work-study students to help America read.

The Steering Committee members will also recruit at least five more college presidents to join the effort. To help them I am making an important change in the work-study program. If a student works as a reading tutor, colleges will no longer be required to pay one-quarter of that student's work-study costs. With today's actions by these college presidents, and with the steps we are taking to help them, college students can now work their way through school by teaching our children to read. That is how we will take more responsibility, create, more opportunity, and build a stronger, more united community for all Americans.

These students will create a whole new culture of service, working alongside our AmeriCorps volunteers who will be doing the same, inspiring hundreds of thousands of Americans to tutor not just children, but adult learners as well.

There is simply no better way to serve your country and your community than by helping children and adults to read. And there is no better time to start than Christmas, the season of enlightenment. By reading to your own children, by giving your time so that others might learn to read, you can light a spark that keeps the spirit of Christmas burning every day of the year.

Thanks for listening.