Remarks and a
Question-and-Answer Session With Students and Faculty
The President. I know that two of your Congressmen, Frank Wolf and Stan Parris, are with us here today. I hope they haven't been talked into leaving their present occupation and -- [laughter]. Should we move the class outdoors? [Applause]
Well, you know, being here in school today sort of reminds me -- well, would you mind if I told you one of my favorite stories about schools? It seems a little boy had to take home a bad report card. And the next day back in his classroom he walked up to his teacher and said, ``Teacher, last night my daddy told me that if my grades didn't improve, somebody was going to be in big trouble. So, I'd be careful if I were you.'' [Laughter]
But it's not so very long ago that all of American education needed to improve, or we were all going to be in big trouble. Back in 1983 a report entitled ``A Nation at Risk'' -- that report itself said that the educational foundations of our society were being eroded by ``a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.'' Well, it was time to stem that tide, to get our educational house in order, or to suffer the consequences.
particularly pleased to have the opportunity to learn about what
By the way, if I could just interject something here, if there's anybody who proves that learning doesn't have to be dull, that education and fun can go together, it's our nation's Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett. Secretary Bennett has a law degree and a Ph.D. in philosophy -- that's pretty serious-sounding stuff. But he also happens to be an expert on something many of you probably know quite a lot about: rock 'n' roll. [Laughter] And I'll prove it.
Bill, who sang ``Rock Around the Clock''?
Secretary Bennett. Bill Haley and the Comets.
The President. Name the two lead singers of the Drifters.
The President. And what's at the top of this week's Top Forty?
Secretary Bennett. I don't have the foggiest idea, Mr. President.
The President. You mean, you don't know the answer?
Secretary Bennett. No, sir.
The President. But, Bill, everybody knows that this week's number one song is Michael Jackson's ``Man in the Mirror.'' [Laughter] But, don't feel bad, Bill; two out of three isn't bad. But there's a serious point here, one I hope you'll always remember. Learning and fun can go together. And in many ways, the more you know, the more fun you can have.
some of you may have heard that I've taken to visiting schools lately to find
out firsthand what's going on. I must say these trips have strengthened my
confidence in our country's future. The reason? When
you visit schools like Oakton, you realize that they just don't come any better
or any brighter than
months ago I visited
I've come to Oakton. I've done so to pay tribute to your school and to your
superintendent, Robert Spillane, for his outstanding
efforts on behalf of excellence in education in
You know, I have to tell you a little story, if I could, about a teacher that had an impact on my life. And this happens, and will happen to all of you, as the years go on. Yes, I remember a teacher. I was in his office one day -- and not by invitation -- by order. [Laughter] He was the principal as well as the English teacher in our school at that time. And in the course of his words to me he said, ``Reagan, it doesn't matter much to me what you think of me now. What I'm concerned about is what you'll think of me 15 years from now.'' Well, I guess I just took that in stride. But, well, after 15 years I had the pleasure of telling that man how much an impact he had made on my life and then, those many years later, how important he was to me in all the things that I was doing. And to increase the pleasure I get from that memory was that it was only a short time later that I heard he had departed, he had left us, died. But I was able to tell him, and he had been right about when I would remember about him.
I was very pleased the other day to read of a poll that shows a sharp increase among college students who intend to enter the teaching profession. And I'm curious -- having heard some remarks about this very subject just a moment ago -- could the students in this audience who are just thinking that maybe they might become teachers please raise their hands? I see from up here a scattering of more hands than you down there probably. So, well, good for you.
like to tell you something about an American hero, Sam Houston. He once wrote
-- in his lifetime, Sam Houston was a frontiersman, a soldier, a general, a
U.S. Senator, a Governor, and yes, even a President -- President of the
Republic of Texas. And for a while in
Now, just why have we seen this increase in teaching lately -- this increased interest, I should say. Well, in part, it's because we've begun to reward excellence in the teaching profession -- as you've been told already -- just as we reward excellence in any other profession. We've begun to introduce free-market principles like incentives and accountability in education. Listen, for a moment, to the recommendations of the ``Nation at Risk'' report: ``Salaries for the teaching profession should be increased and should be professionally competitive, market-sensitive, and performance-based. Salary, promotion, tenure, and retention decisions should be tied to an effective evaluation system that includes peer review so that superior teachers can be rewarded, average ones encouraged, and poor ones either improved or terminated.''
report also recommended that ``qualified individuals, including recent
graduates with mathematics and science degrees, graduate students, and
industrial and retired scientists could, with appropriate preparation,
immediately begin teaching in these fields.'' And you heard that that's taking
place here and is approved in your county. And it said that ``incentives should
be made available to attract outstanding students to the teaching profession.''
Well, today we can see that
one topic in this regard that's of special importance to Nancy and me: putting
an end to drug abuse. When it comes to drugs and education, let me just say
this: If a school has a drug problem, then we might as well stop and forget
about improving education through qualified teachers, a solid curriculum, high
expectations, performance-based pay, or any other reform measure. If students
are using drugs, then no education can work. If kids are using drugs, they
won't learn. It's that simple. It's that awful. And so, we need to get tough on
drugs, on drug pushers, but also on drug users. We need to get drugs out of our
schools and our neighborhoods. We need to get drugs out of our children's
lives. So, I commend
know, let me just say something to you here and issue a challenge. You stop to
think: not only the drugs and the effect they have on people and the
destruction that they can create but that there are some soulless people who
are living in the veritable lap of luxury, with literally billions of dollars,
at the highest standard of living, and paying no taxes or supporting no
worthwhile operation. They are supported by those who are their customers. Why
shouldn't your generation -- now with the changes that we've tried to make in
your behalf -- why don't you make up your minds that your generation is going
to be the one that decides there will be no more drug customers in this country
of ours, that you are going to eliminate drugs by taking away their customers?
Your generation will be the one that makes that change overall in the
talked quite a lot about teaching this afternoon, and there's one story that
just about says it all when it comes to the importance of teachers. The story
comes from Robert Bolt's play, a drama called ``A Man For
All Seasons.'' It's about Thomas More, a great man who lived in
Well, that isn't a bad public. It's our teachers' public. And I've come here today to pay tribute to you for your efforts. And to you here at Oakton High who have done so much to foster good teaching and an understanding of teaching's importance, on behalf of a great many people in this country, I thank you.
Now, it so happens that in order to give Secretary Bennett that pop quiz I did a little homework myself. And to tell you the truth, I was really struck by Michael Jackson's song, ``Man in the Mirror.'' It's a wonderful song. It's full of energy and drive and, of course, that helps to make the point that I was talking about earlier: learning and fun go together. After all, Michael Jackson and the others involved have spent years training as musicians, learning to read and write music, mastering vocal techniques, becoming highly skilled at playing various musical instruments. The result of all this training and education? Well, as I said, the result is a wonderful, powerful song. But the song has a powerful moral as well: ``I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways.''
Well, it's true -- whether the problem is improving education or eliminating drug abuse or helping the homeless -- whatever the challenge, individual initiative and responsibility is always part of the answer. And so, as I thought about the message I'd like to leave with you, as I considered what word I could give to you, in your youth, and for many years, well, I decided that this week's top song would do just fine.
My young friends, you've given me such a gift today -- the gift of your energy, your exuberance, and your love of learning. And, always to remember: ``No message could be any clearer. If you want to make the world a better place, just start with the man in the mirror.'' Thank you, and God bless you all.
Ms. Thomas. Thank you very much, Mr. President. The students have a few questions that they would like to ask you if you would be willing to answer them.
The President. I'd love to.
Mr. President, do you feel that the pressure to achieve and the competition
between students in the
The President. Is it as great today?
Q. Yes, sir.
The President. Yes, it is because the
period that I was referring to -- back then, we had not entered into that
decline that seemed to come upon us in later years. I don't know what caused
it, but it did happen. But, no, we had curriculums that were stiff and required
courses that you had to take. And you find out later that they were very
beneficial -- in taking them. And also, we had a great feeling about our land.
Maybe part of it was because I'm old enough that that was in the immediate
postwar era, post-World
Q. Mr. President, the Secretary of Education's decision to place emphasis on math and science programs took away the strength of the arts program. How can we achieve a balance between the subjects?
The President. Well, again, I could
refer to the past. I think you can have that balance -- depends a lot on you.
But that principal that I spoke about that had such an imprint on my life --
because not only the principal and the English teacher but by virtue of that
particular class -- he also directed all the school plays and the drama club
plays. And many years later in
Q. Mr. President, do you feel the problem of the homeless is one the Federal Government should tackle? And if not, how can it be resolved?
The President. Frankly, I think the problem of the homeless, like so many other problems, actually belongs at the local community and State level, with the Federal Government ready to help in any way that it might be able to in which something would come properly under the Federal Government's province. But you see, that's one of the great secrets of this country that we tended to forget for about 40 or 50 years. As we started going into more and more Federal domination and Federal interference in local programs, including education, we played a hand in the decline of education by thinking that in addition to doing some added funding we could use that as an excuse for the Federal Government trying to run the public schools. The schools for a long time have been run in this country best when they're closer to the people in the communities where the parents and the students are. And so, I have to say that in this particular thing that you've raised, the problem of the homeless, is best known by the people in the community where it's taking place -- why they're homeless, can see them as individuals instead of a mass of faceless people that the Federal Government just thinks of in numbers. So, as I say, if there is a way in which the Federal Government's help can be used, whether it is in financing or what else, actually the administering of this belongs right back where the people are.
Q. Thank you, Mr. President.
Mr. President, because of the recent uprising in
The President. No, we're going to abide by the Canal treaty, and we're not going to be the big Colossus of the North once again coming into our smaller neighbors' places of living and business and trying to guide and direct them. They have a very difficult problem there. We think that they're moving toward solving it with the reaction of the people to the man that has caused so much of this problem. We want to be of help in any way we can, and so we've helped them in that regard in the economic restraints that we've put down there so that there can be pressure focused on this particular individual. But, no, there's no danger of us coming in with our power and muscle and saying this is the way it has to be.
President's Future Plans
Q. Mr. President, what are you going to do when you step down from the Presidential spotlight?
The President. Hmmm. [Laughter] I'm a little old to be a teacher, in spite of what I said earlier. [Laughter] Well, I tell you, I do have some ambitions for when that time comes. There are some things that I would like to crusade for that I could not crusade for while I'm President -- some I could but some others that I couldn't -- because it would seem as if I was selfishly doing it in my own interest.
For example, I would like to start calling to the attention of the people of this country the flaw in the 22d amendment to the Constitution, passed a few years ago, which says a President can only serve two terms. Now let me explain something here. The reason I have to wait is because, as I say, I couldn't dare open my mouth and do this in my own behalf while I'm here, and I don't want to. But what I want to call to the people's attention is: The President is the only one in government who is elected by all the people, and it seems to me that that constitutional amendment, which was born out of vengeance against Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- I think that that amendment is an infringement on the democratic rights of the American people, who should be allowed to vote for who they want as long as they want and -- [applause].
also, I'm going to crusade for some other things, too, like the line-item veto
and the -- [laughter] -- 43 Governors had it. I had it when I was Governor of
California. I line-item vetoed out of budgets 943 times in 8 years and was
never overridden once. Now, in
So, those are some things that I'd like to go out and get on what I call the mashed-potato circuit and -- speaking and -- because when you, the people -- [laughter] -- no, when you arouse yourself and -- [laughter] -- when you decide that there's something you want done, I think your two Congressmen over here -- [laughter] -- will tell you, they hear in Washington.
Invitation to Attend Graduation
Mr. President, will you honor
The President. There was some laughter between you and me before, and I didn't hear your question. [Laughter]
Q. Will you honor us with your presence at graduation?
The President. Was I -- what? [Laughter]
Q. Will you honor us with your presence at graduation in June?
The President. Oh! [Laughter] Well, I don't know whether that's possible. You know, you've heard that the President is the most powerful man in the country, if not the world and so forth. I have to tell you something: Every day they hand me a piece of paper that tells me what I'm going to be doing that day -- [laughter] -- for every 15 minutes of that day. And long before graduation time, I'm sure that my schedule -- first, I suppose, I should ask you the date of your graduation.
Q. June 15th.
The President. June 15th. It is very
possible that I will be in
Audience Members. Awww!
The President. If it were possible, I would be most happy to join you.
Q. Okay, thank you.
Spillane. Mr. President, on behalf of the entire
staff of this school and all of us in
The President. Well, thank you very much.
Note: The President
spoke at in the