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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 18, 1997
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                             The East Room     

2:10 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much to our Teacher of the Year and all the teachers of the year and their friends and supporters and family members who are here, Senator Glenn, Congressman Chabot, Secretary Riley, and Vice President Gore. Thank you for being such wonderful partners to me.

Dick Riley -- next year, Dick Riley and I will have been working together for 20 years in one way or another, and we're about to get the hang of it. (Laughter.) And I really think he's done a wonderful job as our Secretary of Education. (Applause.)

I want to tell you, this Net Day idea that the Vice President developed -- we were just sitting around talking one day, and I was bemoaning the fact that he was doing some elaborate thing on his computer screen in his office and I still can hardly figure out how to turn mine on. (Laughter.) And we were all laughing about how our children were leapfrogging us in their capacity to deal with computers and one thing led to another and, before you know it, we have a goal that we'll hook up every library and classroom in the country by the year 2000 and then there's going to be a Net Day and, all of a sudden, one day we hook up 20 percent of the classrooms in California. And I never met anybody that was any better at taking an idea and turning it into reality than Al Gore. And this Net Day thing, it's going to revolutionize education in this country because we're not going to stop until we bring the benefits of technology to every single child in this country, and I think it's a wonderful thing. (Applause.)

I could have done without Secretary Riley telling that story that my -- (laughter) -- my 2nd grade teacher did. But I was sitting here -- I have no notes on this, so if mess it up you'll have to forgive me, but the truth is that Sister Mary Amata McGee, whom I found after over 30 years of having no contact with her. She was my second and 3rd grade teacher. I found her in Springfield, Missouri, one night when I came there near the end of the 1992 campaign. I had no idea what had become of her. I didn't know what had happened. So I reestablished my relationship with her.

But she was a little too generous. The truth is, I think she gave me a D in conduct -- (laughter) -- and I think she gave me a D not because I raised my hand but because I spoke whether I was called on or not. (Laughter.)

But if ever you wonder whether what you do matters, after Sister Mary Amata McGee in the second and 3rd grade, there was Louise Vaughn, Mary Christianus, Kathleen Scher, my 6th grade teacher, who was my steady pen pal until she died just a few days before she became 90 years old, when I was governor. And then in the 7th grade, my homeroom teacher was Ruth Atkins. And then there was Miss Teague, my civics teacher in the 8th grade. And Mary Broussard, (names spelled phonetically) my 9th grade English teacher, who was the only person in our class besides me that supported John Kennedy over Richard Nixon. (Laughter.) In the 9th grade.

And I could go through my whole high school list of teachers, through my college list of teachers. All the people around here have to put up with stories that I forget that I've already told once about specific verbatim things I remember that my teachers in college said in lectures over 30 years ago.

Now, don't ever think what you do does not matter. I remember them all as if I were sitting with them yesterday. And there are things that each of them gave to me that I am not even aware of today after all these years of having had a chance to think about it.

Every one of you made a decision that you would never be wealthy. (Laughter.) You made a decision that you would give yourselves to the next generation. You made a decision that you would do at work what we're all supposed to do in our families -- that you would always be thinking about tomorrow.

On New Year's Eve, someone asked me, in this meeting I was at, if I had to write a legacy on my tombstone what would it be. And I would say -- I said something like -- I don't remember exactly what I said, but something like that I had the privilege of leading America into a new century and keeping the American Dream alive for everyone, having our very diverse country live together as one America, and maintaining our leadership as the world's greatest force for peace and freedom and prosperity. If you think about that, every single one of those tasks requires that we do a better job of educating more of our people -- every single one.

You look around America today, we have 5.2 percent unemployment; it's a great thing. And it's also entirely misleading. Unemployment is virtually zero for people who have the skills necessary to meet the demands of the emerging economy if they live in a place where investment is coming in. What we have to do is to close the gaps and the skill levels. How do you do that? Give people better education and then provide incentives to invest in the places that have been left behind. The Vice President was in Detroit a few days ago, promoting our empowerment zone concept of trying to build communities and give incentives for people to invest where people are there willing to work and there is no investment.

But the unemployment rate is absolutely meaningless if you're unemployed. If you're unemployed, the unemployment rate is 100 percent. (Laughter.) It's not one or zero or five or -- you know, that's what it is. So we can't create opportunity for all Americans unless everybody first has the educational skills.

We certainly can't learn to live together as one America, with all of this rich diversity we have, without being educated to it. Because for thousands of years, people have lived in tribal patterns that taught them to be suspicious of those that were different from themselves. Among the Teachers of the Year here today, we have an immigrant from Taiwan making a great contribution to the United States. Among the Teachers of the Year today we have a Japanese American whose parents were interned during World War II. My state had one of those internment camps. I've been down there to see it, and I still can't believe my country ever did that. We have African Americans and Hispanic Americans. We have people from different religious backgrounds.

You know that what unites us is more important than what divides us, and, once having recognized that, you know that what divides us makes us more interesting and far better positioned to do well in the world of tomorrow than countries that are less diverse than we are. But we can't learn to do this right unless we can not only feel our way out of this but think our way out of this. We have to know more than we now know.

And we certainly -- we certainly -- cannot take advantage of the opportunities that are there for us at the end of the Cold War to create a whole new order of peace and freedom and prosperity without much higher levels of understanding.

Or let me put it in another way -- the American Society of Newspaper Editors were here the other day, and one of the editors from out in the country stood up and I thought, you know, I'm going to get a question on whatever is going on in Washington. He said, I got a 10-year-old son in the 5th grade, and he wants to know what your advice is for him for the future. (Laughter.) And it was the hardest question I got asked all day. (Laughter.)

And I said, he should study hard; he should stay out of trouble and not defile his body with drugs or anything else; he should seek out people who were of different racial and religious backgrounds and get to know them and understand them; he should try to learn more about the rest of the world as early as possible -- as soon as possible; and he should begin right now taking some time to serve in his community to help people who needed help. Those are the five things I said. Why? Because I think that will give him a good education and give him opportunity, help us to come together as one America and appreciate our differences, and help us to maintain our leadership in the world. And you're doing that every day. The kindergarten teachers here are doing that.

Now, that's why I look so forward to this every year --because most of the time, frankly, we just sort of take you for granted, unless we get mad because we don't like the way the test scores come out or the comparative test scores or whatever else. And I think it is very important that we not lose the enormous significance of your collective impact. And I thought I'd stand up here today and try -- and I didn't know if I could do it, but I thought I could -- just remember all my teachers, just to show you the personal impact you have. See, I'll bet you a lot of you could do the same thing I just did, and that's probably why you're doing what you're doing today.

We do have some changes to make, and we do have to recognize that we have to keep moving to lift the standards and we have to realize that there are some senses in which we do what we do very well, and some senses in which we have challenges because we have so much diversity among our children that others don't have. But we can't use that as an excuse; we have to just deal with the facts and believe every child can learn.

At this brain conference yesterday that the Vice President mentioned that the First Lady and I hosted, I was stunned when we had these scientists there talking about 1 trillion networks being developed in the brain.

We've known for a long time -- I was taught in school that we only use a small part of our brain's capacity, but I never understood the extent to which the brain keeps developing all during childhood and how we interrelate to it. But what it convinced me of was what I already believed by conviction, which is that nearly everybody is fully capable of learning whatever they need to learn to get where they need to go.

And that's to me what this whole standards business is about and what the encouragement of all the states to develop standards that are nationally and internationally sound, challenging all the states to join in the 4th grade reading and the 8th grade math tests in 1999 is all about. It's not about another test. It's about saying, we believe all our children can learn, and we believe children learn according to the expectations placed on them, and our expectations are going to be high.

That's what this is about. And I hope everyone of you will support that because I think it is terribly important.

So far, in only a couple of months, the educational leadership of California has joined Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, and the schools of the Defense Department system in endorsing -- in saying they will participate in this standards movement. And I hope every state in the country will say yes before the time comes.

Because we have a record number of students in our schools and they're growing rapidly and now we've got for the first time -- it's rather humbling for me and the Vice President -- we finally have more kids in school than we had during the Baby Boom. (Laughter.) We're going to have to find in the next ten years 2 million new teachers. And that's going to be quite a challenge. And we have to train them for the challenges that they'll face today and the world their children will face tomorrow.

So I want to thank you for your willingness to think about that and for helping to encourage teachers to achieve new levels of excellence. I know many of you are participating in Secretary Riley's national forum, which gives you a chance to share ideas with educators all across the country about the best way to train teachers. This is an issue that is very hard -- it will never make the front page on any day; there will always be something more immediate. But there are very few things that are more important than how we train our teachers, and how we continue to learn as teachers in the classroom and in the schools, and how we can all learn from each other. That's one of the reasons I encourage teachers all over the country to seek board certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

And we now have 500 of these teachers, nationwide. Governor Hunt from North Carolina, who is well-known to many of you, has been working on this as an obsession for years. But in our balanced budget plan we've got $105 million that would put 100,000 master teachers in our nation's classrooms. And the idea is not really -- it's just like you; you're the Teacher of the Year, but you know, you're really standing in the shoes of every other good teacher in your state. But if you can put this training in the hands of one teacher in every school building in America, which we ought to be able to do with this, it will upgrade the performance of all the teachers in the schools, and it will change the culture of the schools. So I hope you will support that as well.

There are a lot of other things in our education program, but I wanted to focus on those two things, plus our efforts to wire the schools -- to focus just on the public schools today. We're also trying to help the schools that are terribly overcrowded get some financial help so it will reduce the cost of new construction and repair work when the local districts are willing to do their part, and I hope that initiative will pass.

But the main thing I want to tell you is, what you do really matters. It matters to the country as a whole, it matters to individual kids, and if any -- if at all possible, it matters even more now to our society at large than it did when I had all those teachers whose names and faces and voices and manners and stern rebukes I still remember. (Laughter.)

Today we honor especially Sharon Draper. She happens to be one of our nation's first master teachers, and a member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards -- and I'm especially pleased about that.

For 27 years she has inspired students with her passion for literature and life. The standards to which she holds her students at the Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati are legendary -- so much so that the seniors wear tee-shirts that proclaim, "I survived the Draper Paper" -- (laughter) -- when they finish their senior thesis. I was intrigued when I read that and I asked her for one of those tee-shirts, and I was denied because I haven't yet survived it. (Laughter.)

Her gifted teaching has not gone unrecognized. She received both the National Council of Negro Women Excellence in Teaching Award and the Ohio Governors Educational Leadership Award. She is an accomplished author in her own right. She was honored with the American Library Association's Coretta Scott King's Genesis Award, and it's annual Best Books for Young People Award. She has devoted her career not only to teaching and to writing, but to helping other teachers improve their skills as well.

Sharon Draper is more than a credit to her profession, she is a true blessing to the children she has taught. And it gives me great pleasure now to present her with the National Teacher of the Year Award and ask her to come forward and say whatever she'd like to say. Congratulations. (Applause.)

MS. DRAPER: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Secretary, honored guests and my parents -- Victor and Katherine Mills.

I am so proud to be a teacher. I am proud of all the students that I have had -- students whose paths have crossed mine, students whose lives have changed mine. And to all of those students, wherever you are, I want to say, thank you; and I want to say, I love you.

I'm proud of my colleagues, 3 million of us, who strive everyday in the classrooms across this country to make a difference in the lives of the students. This apple, which shines with bright intensity, represents the wisdom of the past, the knowledge of the present and the hope of the future. For it's the teacher who holds up the mirror to the past for us to learn; it is a teacher who takes us through the paths of intricacy of modern life; and it's a teacher who will stand ready in the 21st century to take us to visions as yet undreamed.

I want you to imagine a child -- any child -- every child -- who sits in a classroom today, hopeful, curious, enthusiastic. In that child sits the hope of the future. And it's the touch of a teacher that will make a difference.

Thank you so much. (Applause.)

END 2:30 P.M. EDT