George Bush photo

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Students at James Madison High School in Vienna, Virginia

March 28, 1989

The President. I happen to believe that education is going to be the key to our future. You look at the whole world, and you see our need to compete, and it gets right back down to education. And then you see some of the problems in the less affluent areas in the country, and then you find out, well, the way to give a guy a break that's trying to get out of poverty is education. And it goes for everything. It goes right across the board. And you're hearing a lot more now on math and science, and I wanted to ask you about that because it is important. But I really kind of -- you learn from these visits.

Last week we were in a rural school out in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and then we went to a school attended mainly by the Amish kids, coming out of a very closely knit religious and family background. And who knows where we'll be next week? But I'm delighted to be here. And what I really wanted to do is ask you all how you view the importance of what you're doing, answer any questions that you might have. We can have a two-way street. I don't know how we want to get this thing going, but I'll be glad to respond to questions on the Government.

But let me ask you: How many of you all take math and science? Does everyone have to do that here, or is that -- --

Audience. Yes!

The President. You do. And is that considered among the tougher disciplines, or not necessarily? Is it hard?

Audience. Yes!

The President. How many do the computer stuff? How many are computer literate? About half. Is that considered hard, or is that considered advanced, or is it considered average kind of -- --

Audience. Average.

The President. Average kind of a course. Because as you look at it, I was impressed by what they're doing, the programming of some of your classmates, I guess. But the importance of it in the future is just -- you can't underestimate that.

How about questions? Anybody got any questions about my line of work? [Laughter]

President's Dog

Q. How are the puppies?

The President. They're doing just fine. [Laughter] They're doing fine. I'll tell you something about that. I don't want to get too clinical, but it was a very emotional experience seeing that take place.

President's Schedule

Q. How does the President have time to come to a high school?

The President. The question is: How does a President have the time to come to a high school? Very good question, because a lot of what you do is trying to formulate -- take education -- formulate the legislation or see that the various Departments of Government that have an input on this have the education package ready.

We're perfecting now an education package. I'll tell you how it works. In a campaign, you give certain themes of what you think is right for education. The reason I mentioned computers -- I think it is important that people be computer literate. I think math and science are important. I favor magnet schools. We favor trying to set up a system to reward the better teachers, even though the teacher pay and all is the responsibility of the local school boards.

But I think you learn something from every step outside of the White House that you take, and it's more that. It's symbolic in some sense, but you also pick up information as you go along. And last week we were in this school I mentioned in Pennsylvania, and here was a rural area where people think -- well, they don't have much to do about narcotics out there. And yet we found, in talking to some of the kids, that the pressures on the young people in that school were very high when it comes to this stupid use of drugs and substance abuse. So, you have to take the time to get outside of the White House, but you have to balance that in terms of your overall responsibilities.

Next week we're going to probably have several foreign leaders here, in that venue -- shift the emphasis to foreign affairs. But all the time -- every morning -- I meet, for example, with our national security adviser. So, we have an ongoing input on foreign affairs and what we're going to do and how we're going to handle our relations with the Soviet Union, or in this case next week, the emphasis will be on the Middle East. So, all of that goes on every day. This morning, I was talking to Brent Scowcroft [Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs] about the visit of these Middle Eastern leaders that are coming.

But you have a great responsibility in terms of taking the point on questions like education, so you have to find time to get out of there. It's not easy to balance, as a matter of fact.

Q. Do you enjoy getting out and being able to meet all the students and want to see -- --

The President. I do. I do. There's a certain recognition on my part that it's not the same as if a parent dropped in on a class or something. [Laughter] They don't come with this much attention. So, it's different. But you know, you can get a feel for things, whether it's in sports or education or wide array of other subjects.

I'll tell you one that really moved me -- and I think they liked the visit -- it was these DEA, Drug Enforcement Agency people that are working on the streets of New York. And I went up there and talked to 300 or 400 of them, people that are out there fighting the drug battle under DEA's banner, you see. But then afterwards, you meet with 6 or 8 of them -- some of them not much older than you -- who are people that, just out of belief they can help society, are out there putting their lives on the line trying to bust up these drug rings and trying to intervene in the sale of all these narcotics.

And some would say, well, there's a little show business in that -- the President meeting with these 8 agents, but I learned from that. I learned just from listening to this guy tell me about his software that he put in on a car rental business now into that computer. So, you pick something up at each stop of the way. And the President has to do certain things of that nature to be sure that you just don't get it all from your own staff.

Regional Conflicts

Q. You said, like, next week you're going to deal with the Middle East. Is that, like, the main issue with that chemical plant in the Middle East?

The President. No, it's a very important issue, but it's a peripheral issue. You're thinking of the chemical plant in Libya. And that Libyan leader, Qadhafi, does have a role, a very disruptive role, as a matter of fact, in Middle Eastern affairs. But what we're talking about next week is the -- Mubarak of Egypt and Shamir of Israel, the two top -- President Mubarak and the Prime Minister of Israel coming here. And we will be probing as best we can and making suggestions to them as to what the U.S. can do in trying to bring about peace in the Middle East.

As you know, and all of you know, I'm sure, that has just been in turmoil for years and years, particularly since the '67 war -- war that took place in 1967, and the resolution of which has escaped us all, escaped the world, even though things moved forward with the Camp David accords. Remember the Camp David accords? That was something that happened under President Carter. It was a step in the right direction, but you still see a lot of killing. You see on the television the Intifada [Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza] fighting on the West Bank.

And so, we have a particularly important role there. We are the only country that can be a substantial catalyst for peace there, and it's difficult. And so, I sit and talk -- the way it works on the thought process, the State Department will be coming with strong ideas, and our national security adviser, the trade people, and the Treasury fits into this in some ways, as we look at the economic problems of the countries involved. And then the administration comes together, and then the President is given some good thoughts as to what to present to the leaders. And they'll come in; we'll have one-on-one meetings with them. And then we'll meet with a group of our top Cabinet people and the top leaders from Israel or from Egypt.

And recently, there was an election down in El Salvador that you may have seen. And we are determined that that democratic process go forward. They had certifiably free elections. I say certifiably -- the President chooses a delegation in this case to go down to Nicaragua -- I mean, in this case, to Salvador, and watch the elections. And they came back, and Democrats and Republicans on the delegation all saying this was a very good election, very free.

Now we've got to deal with the newly elected President of Salvador and convince him that he should go down the democratic road, turn his back on the death squads, but give the man a chance, give him an opportunity to follow through on what he said in his campaign. And so, he'll be coming up here -- Mr. Cristiani.

That part of it is all very interesting, and it takes a lot of teamwork.

Congressional and Judicial Pay Raise

Q. How did you justify giving Congress a 51-percent pay raise when the budget and deficit are so huge right now?

The President. Very hard to do, and a lot of my thinking on it was that it was connected to the pay raise for the judiciary. My feeling is -- and I would like to have some proposal on this -- that the judiciary, particularly, needs an increase in pay. The justification for that very large increase was made on the basis of inflation. In my view, in retrospect, it was too big a bite at once, and the country didn't support it at all. So, to accommodate the legitimate needs for a raise it has to be done differently. And that was a good lesson out of that one.

War on Drugs

Q. Are you thinking of working to get -- like, in Washington, people were just killed -- --

The President. Oh, yes, question on the -- what do you do about fighting to see that more people don't lose their lives on this drug fight? This young -- well, fairly young -- in my school of thought, young; in yours, old -- guy that lost his life the other day in that hostage thing -- and it's happening, regrettably, across the country.

I had to hold my arm around the shoulder of a woman whose husband had -- at this DEA thing I mentioned -- whose husband had been gunned down the week before, just blown away by these narcotics people. And we just have got to keep working on not only the interdiction side, which is to try to keep the drugs from coming in, but on the education side. If as more people get caught up in the view that this is wrong and bad and terrible, then the problem will be well on its way to solution.

And we got to change the way this problem has been looked at. For a while in our country, it seemed to be we condoned those things we should condemn. And we went through a period where the treatment, for example, of the use of cocaine in movies was done in a humorous vein or some kind of, well, harmless -- but made the user look like some kind of silly idiot, but nothing, not condemnatory. And so, we've got to mobilize the entertainment media, and say, "Look, don't put out great emotion in favor of -- or treat these -- in favor of cocaine or other drugs."

So, a lot of it is educational because this is not going to be solved from the White House. It's going to be solved by the American people, young and old, saying enough is enough. This is poisoning our society. So, when it comes to people that have lost their lives, we've got to show support for the police officers.

We're having a lively debate now about these automated weapons. And there's a lot of laws on the books that need to be enforced, and maybe there's a need for more laws. But you have to balance out all these interests. But the White House has a role; the President has a key role. But it's got to be a shared responsibility, with all the people in this country working the problem. And I think we can make headway on it. We've got to; we cannot permit narcotics and substance abuse to undermine the fabric of our society.


Q. Madison High School seems to be one of them that has been lucky about this, but in America the student dropout rate is 25 percent. What are your proposals to try and curb this number -- a quarter of our students not even completing high school?

The President. It's outrageous, and the answer is: Encourage people to stay in school, and excellence in education. And what we're doing at the Federal level -- you see, about 7 percent of the funds that go for schooling comes from the Federal Government, and the rest from State and local governments. For our part, we are emphasizing parental choice; we're emphasizing magnet schools. We're trying to use an award system for excellence so others will aspire to excellence. And we've got a program of about -- more emphasis on Head Start, more funding -- and a very difficult period for Federal money because of the question that was asked over here on, got close to asking, about the deficit. Very complicated, we've got to get the Federal deficit down. We do not have the money to spend on everything we want.

But in spite of that, we are proposing substantially more money for Head Start, which is the best antidote, I think, from the Federal level, for dropouts. And a lot of it happening in some of the minority communities. I know in the Hispanic communities in our State, my State of Texas, the dropout rate is disproportionately high. And that's one of the reasons I'd like to see continued support for bilingual education. You bring a kid in whose family speaks only Spanish, throw him into a school where he instantly has English only, and it's hard for him to keep up. And the dropouts have been high. I think we can do better in both Head Start, which gradually gets them into the system, starting early, and bilingual.

Q. What would you like to see students and faculty members in public schools do to help you curb the drug problem? What can we do for you?

The President. I think you can put the emphasis on the peers of the students, and indeed, the faculty can be very helpful in this: each student on his peers, in just rejecting this concept of drug use. I mean, we have condoned that which we could condemn. People used to talk about legalizing narcotics, and that was some very serious people. And I just think it's 180 degrees wrong.

And I know what peer pressure is, and I think a lot of it is education in the schoolroom itself about the damage that comes from substance abuse. And I really believe a lot of the answer is here. We're going to have a new proposal that I talked about in the campaign that we're just fleshing out now called Youth Entering Service. And it is a concept that appeals to the best in American kids, which is: Look, you're doing pretty good; now you ought to really get in and help those who aren't. It's the old propensity of one American to help another that De Tocqueville talked about when he came to America years ago. And it's this concept that young people who have the advantage of family -- good teachers teaching them against substance abuse, then they themselves taking that concept to others in other areas, in other school districts. So, the resistance to peer pressure, if peer pressure is leaning towards drug use, is very important; and then the outreach, reaching out to others, both in the education side and in the exhortation side.

Easter Balloons

Q. Just yesterday my church volunteered, and we were working on the balloons at the Easter Egg Roll. And we wanted to take some of the balloons to Ghana for our mission trip that we're going on. And they wouldn't let us take them because they were government property. I was just wondering what you do with 10,000 balloons that say, "A Family Easter at the White House, 1989"? [Laughter]

The President. If only I had known about it, you'd have been able to carry more than that one with you.

Q. Can you sign my card for me?

The President. Sure. Bring it over here. No, I don't know what the bureaucratic hangup was on that because you're right. I saw a lot of them soaring off into the sky, so you might as well have them with you. They really wouldn't let you take them out? What did they say? What did they say the reason was, just for the heck of it?

Q. Government property.

The President. Government property?

Q. So, a bunch of bureaucratic -- --

The President. I see.


Q. In many of our government classes we've been studying a book called "Profiles in Terrorism." And in that you gave your definition of terrorism. I was wondering what type of programs you have in mind to combat terrorism overseas and if you have any worries that terrorism will start to occur on a larger scale within our own borders?

The President. We're always concerned about it. We have been through a period in our history where we had what I would call terrorism, and it's probably before you were born, or maybe about that time. You remember the hijackings of airplanes in this country to go to Cuba? We forget that, we forget that we went through a rash of those hijackings, which indeed are -- it's not international terror so much, but it's domestic terror. To hijack an airplane at gunpoint and instruct the pilot to go elsewhere, fly to Cuba -- that's international terror. So, we have been through that.

I want to get your name and how to get to you what I'm going to send you, because we have a good antiterrorist program. And a lot of it is insisting that we do better on interdiction -- I mean, on having people sent out from the countries where they're caught. It is very hard. Extradition it's called. It's very hard, for example, to get drug kingpins in Colombia extradited to the United States when the cartel down there goes in and murders a supreme court justice. I think you had 9 or 10 justices killed there. You had an attorney general fleeing for his life in Colombia, caught somewhere over in Hungary or somewhere in Eastern Europe and gunned down.

And so, we've got to do more in extradition. We've got to do more in the sharing of intelligence. We've got to do more in punishing those who practice international terror, if you can find them. It's pretty hard to track it down with definition. It is very hard to single out and punish the state leader that condones it. The attack on Libya did that, and I strongly support that. But in the rest of these cases, a lot of these cases, it is very hard to do. But we do have a good program, and yet I wish I could tell you I thought it alone would solve the problem of international terror. As long as you have a handful of people or a large group of people that use this relatively new instrument to effect political change, it's going to be hard to control, because it's like dealing with fog: You can't get a hold of it very well. And they're protected at times by governments, although the governments themselves don't sponsor it.

But let me send you -- if Tim will get the address, and maybe you can share it with others -- this policy. It will show you -- and a lot of good people went -- this was last year it came out, but it's still valid, as to what governments contend with when they try to formulate an antiterrorism policy. It's tough, but we've got to keep doing it.

We've got Americans held against their will right now -- hostages. Hard to even know where they are, as good as our intelligence is. And incidentally, it is still the best in the world, in my view. But when you're dealing with something like this, this new approach to changing things, it is very difficult for any government to singlehandedly cope. And even when you're working with friendly governments, it's hard to cope.

She has what they call a followup.

Q. Do you think by fortifying our own borders you'll be able to keep terrorism out of -- at least out of -- occurring within our boundaries?

The President. By what we're doing? You said -- --

Q. By fortifying our borders.

The President. No, I don't think that is an answer. I think being sure that the intelligence is widely shared of people coming in is very important. But I don't think fortification -- if I'm using the right picture of fortification -- of our borders is feasible, and I don't think it's appropriate. But interdicting at the borders in a better way, a more efficient way, of terrorists is very important. And that's where this sharing of intelligence is a key to doing what you've suggested. But I don't think living inside a fortressed America concept, where you have bristling armaments along the Rio Grande River, for example, or across Canada, makes sense for the United States.

Mr. Ryan. We have time for one more question.

The President. Then I want to know what's on for lunch. [Laughter] All right, I saw two hands up there -- one and then two, and then we'll go peacefully.

Aviation Safety

Q. I was wondering, this concern over the recent incidents in the aviation industry, I was just wondering what your thoughts were on our industry and aviation?

The President. Aviation generally, you mean? Or are you talking about the safety of the skies for international travelers?

Q. Yes, I guess so. [Laughter] I can't believe I'm talking to you, that's why I'm just -- [laughter].

The President. No, but you ask a good question, because modernization of the facilities for air control is very important. And there's funds now in our budgeting to accomplish that. In terms of one of the hot subjects, of warnings of -- you know, when you get a phone call saying that some terrorist act is going to take place, you have to sort through that in an intelligent way, because you cannot have some crackpot shutting down the air travel in this country, some prankster calling in, and thus the Government insisting that flights not take off. So, again, I come back to the sharing of intelligence, and the best possible intelligence is the answer to that, to the tranquillity of the skies, and in terms of securing for the traveler not only the best information available but not scaring them to death in the process.


Q. During your campaign I heard a lot of people wonder and talk about what exactly you mean by the Thousand Points of Light? [Laughter]

The President. Some of the opposition weren't quite bright enough to get it, so let me help -- [laughter] -- I want to help them.

Q. All right.

The President. A Thousand Points of Light -- you could make it a million. It's a good -- no, it's a very good question she asked, because what I'm talking about in a Thousand Points of Light -- I talked about it just a minute ago -- didn't define it as such. You going out and helping some kid that may be tempted to use narcotics. Somebody else mentioned her church group doing something. There's a second point of light. And you can go on and on and on. It's the Red Cross; it's day care centers of a voluntary nature; it is the Boy Scouts; it is Christian Athletes. It is almost anything you can think of that comes under the heading of voluntarism.

Now, when a President talks about voluntarism, there are a few cynics around who suggest he's trying to escape the responsibility of the Federal Government, he's trying to say let somebody else do it. I'm saying, and I believe it with fervor, that this narcotics problem in this country is not going to be solved without the Thousand Points of Light. Not just a thousand organizations, but literally a million efforts to get out there and try to work the problem. It isn't going to be done by the Government. We aren't going to care for the poor. And in education, there's a lot of room. As I mentioned, this Youth Entering Service -- that's a point of light. It's a new concept; it's a government-private foundation that we're going to be proposing here very soon, which I've already talked about in the campaign.

But you're right, and the reason you have that in your mind is that it was somewhat ridiculed. And maybe I didn't express it clearly in the campaign. It was somewhat ridiculed in one of the debates we had. And yet I have a feeling the American people know what I'm talking about, because family is involved in this, religious institutions are involved in it, outreach of all kinds in the communities are involved -- one American helping another; groups of Americans helping others. And it's true in the law enforcement; it's true in the poor; it's true everyplace -- this idea that we are a giving nation, we're a caring nation, and we're going to help each other. And that's what I mean by it. And I think it's getting a little better focus now than it did in the campaign. I think people are beginning to understand it more. And I'll be talking about it a lot from the White House, because it is very, very important.

And every time you bring in somebody -- I had a group of marines in there that help with presents for kids, underprivileged kids -- it's a point of light. And then they'll leave, and it will be somebody else with something. So, we've got to keep emphasizing it. We can't make you; we can't say you've got to go out after school and help this kid learn to read. But somehow it's moving, and people say, "Look, we're a giving nation; we're a caring nation; we're going to help."

Persistence gets the last one.

Q. It's just a quick question. How busy is your schedule around the 15th of June? Because if you're not too busy, we'd really be honored if you'd speak at our graduation. [Laughter]

The President. Thank you for the invitation. I don't know how busy it is. I don't even dare look till tomorrow, but thanks for the invite. Thanks a lot.

Note: The President spoke at 11:20 a.m. in the school library. Prior to his remarks, he visited an advanced-placement computer science class. In his remarks, the President referred to Special Assistant to the President Timothy J. McBride. Following his remarks, the President had lunch in the cafeteria and then returned to the White House. Edward J. Ryan was the principal of the school.

George Bush, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Students at James Madison High School in Vienna, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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