Remarks at a White House Ceremony for the Elementary School Recognition Program Honorees
The President. Secretary [of Education] Bennett and I welcome you to the White House. Please be seated. Yes, this is a chance. I have spent some rather unhappy moments in a principal's office from time to time. [Laughter]
I think before we get into the brief remarks that I have here, in case you have
been away from the news disseminating forces in this last hour or so, I should
tell you that as of now our hostage in Moscow, Mr. Daniloff,
has been transferred to the custody of our Ambassador and will be in the
Embassy there. The Soviet spy in our custody will be transferred to the care --
pending his trial -- of his Ambassador here in the
But now we'll get back to, well, some good news that I want to mention before we get into the great job that your schools have been doing. Today there is every indication that our country's waking up to a problem that has been ignored and denied and buried away for too long. Last month a Gallup Poll found that for the first time Americans now consider drugs the number one problem in our schools. And in a recent survey conducted by Weekly Reader, elementary schoolchildren said the very same thing.
are those who might be dismayed by these poll results. No one likes to hear
about problems such as drug use. But what these polls suggest to me is that at
long last we're ready to face a major challenge to our society. You know better
than anyone else what drugs can do to our children's minds, bodies, and lives.
I'll be addressing the Nation on this issue.
By recognizing schools like yours, we're underscoring the critical nature of those first few years of a child's education. Elementary school is where the skills of reading and writing are learned and where children can gain a fundamental knowledge of our country and our common heritage. It was a great shock the other day to see that study that revealed how many high school juniors could not, on a map, point out where England, France, or Germany are. And it all begins with what you are doing -- and now doing so well. It's where they develop the habits and values and demeanor that will make them not only successful students but, eventually, successful mothers, fathers, workers, neighbors, and citizens.
who is one of Secretary Bennett's favorite philosophers -- [laughter] -- once
said that ``the beginning is the most important part of the work,'' and that
certainly applies to education. And that makes you in our elementary schools
the most important players in the game. [Applause] Much attention -- [laughter]
-- you're welcome. But much attention is given to other levels of education, but
I'd suggest that, next to the family, elementary schools are the most
influential institutions in our children's lives. Why is it that at this
advanced point in my life, I can still remember pretty clearly that first grade
at the school in
many of you are aware, Secretary Bennett last week issued a report he wrote
called ``First Lessons.'' It's a report on the state of elementary education in
Now, I realize all of you are on the frontlines in the battle to accomplish the things I just spoke about. In fact, you're heroes in that battle. Every American, for example, can be proud of schools like the Futures Academy in Buffalo, where students have been preparing for citizenship by conducting trials and class elections; and Caloosa Elementary in Cape Coral, Florida, where students recently wrote books in English class and then bound them in art class; and Johnson Elementary in Bridgeport, West Virginia, where 90 percent of the students read at or above grade level and 99 percent are at or above grade level in math. We're proud of you, and we want the rest of the country, especially your peers, to know of your accomplishments. If every elementary school would just aim for the heights that you have already achieved, education in this country would be taking one giant step forward.
One thing more, before we get to your story. It is evident that if
our youngest children are nurtured and educated, in our families and in our
schools, then a great number of social ills can be averted before they arise.
You know, sometimes when I've had an opportunity to speak to young people about reading and books, I've tried to tell them from my particular vantage point, age-wise, that you can never be lonely if you've got a book to read. My idea of the worst thing in the world that can happen to me is to be caught in a hotel room some night with nothing to read. [Laughter]
God bless you all, and thank you for what you're doing. Thank you again.
Reporter. Mr. President, how are you going to get Daniloff out of the
The President. The only news subject I'm touching on right now is the subject of good education.
Note: The President spoke at in the Rose Garden at the White House to principals of the 270 schools that were recognized for excellence. In his opening remarks, the President referred to the arrest of U.S. News & World Report Moscow correspondent Nicholas Daniloff by the Soviets on August 30.