Robert Dole photo

Remarks at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis

July 17, 1996

CARLSON: Brother Michael and all members of De La Salle, thank you ever so much. I'll tell you, there is nothing more gratifying to the heart than to see all those Dole signs. And let's get them up. Come on!


That's great.

Now, Brother, I want to thank you so much for your very gracious hospitality. All of us are honored to have the opportunity today to hear a major message on education from our choice for the presidency of the United States.


Senator, we in Minnesota pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge of educational reform. Traditionally, Minnesota tends to be at the top of the states in terms of high school graduation rates, percentage of students going on to higher education and in terms of test scores of college bound students.

Over the years in Minnesota, we have innovated programs that expand student and parent choice. We allow our high school students to take college courses. We have developed student choice among public schools.

And we started the nation's first, innovative charter schools.

Now, these were positive changes and they produced positive results. Now, as a state, we could rest on those laurels. But we chose not to. We chose, instead, to look at the job realities of tomorrow and to upgrade the requirements for high school graduation. we decided to test not only college bound students but also those that not anticipating on to higher education. And frankly, the results were alarming.

For instance, right here in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, a majority of our students failed 9th grade Math and English. And sadly, we know that if current projections continue, a majority of our students will drop out before they complete high school.

That is not acceptable.

Education, for centuries, has been at the heart of the American Dream. It defines who we are, what we are and where we are going.

Millions of people migrated to America understanding what freedom and opportunity were all about. That was their vision for this nation.

Those immigrants that went to Kansas and they made the rough Kansas prairie parts of the world's bread basket.

CARLSON: And the sweat of those immigrants took the great forests of Minnesota and made Minnesota one of the most diverse, economic successes in this nation.

And they poured into the great cities of the East coast and they built opportunity, they built freedom and they built success.

Education, more than any one, single component defines American success. A society that allows half its children to fail is not a successful society.


My parents migrated to the United States from Sweden. They were poor. And as a family, we lived in the Bronx of New York City. But they understood what opportunity was all about. And they understood that education was at the heart of opportunity. And when I was given a scholarship to a private school, it let me know, a kid from the Bronx, what opportunity was all about.

And I know that the President and Mrs. Clinton and the Vice President and Mrs. Gore have spent considerable time defining success for their children. They chose, and I support their choice, to send their children to good, private schools in Washington, D.C.


As parents, they wanted their children to have an opportunity to succeed. But when the time came to grant the exact same opportunities to children of Washington, D.C., they said, no.

And they said, instead, that those children must go to a fail school system in Washington. And that, we can not accept.


We can do better and we must do better. The same opportunities for choice that are available to the children of the president and the vice president must also be available to all of America's children.


But the airways clearly under our law are designed to promote the public interest. I can't imagine anything we could do that would better promote it than to put more quality educational programming for children on television. So I'd like to ask all of you to support that. And I hope very much that the Federal Communication Commission will finally act on it. ...

Well, these are some of things that I think we're facing as we move into the 21st century. We've got a responsibility, those of us in my generation — particularly those of us like me that had extraordinary opportunities be in place like where you are over 30 years ago — to try to create opportunity, to try to create a framework within which everybody will be expected to be responsible, and to try to bring this country together as a community.

But most of your lives are still ahead of you. And every one of you, if for no other reason than you're a part of this program, will have a disproportionate opportunity — a disproportionate opportunity to exercise leadership.

And therefore, you have a disproportionate responsibility to do a good job with it, every one of you.

Make no mistake about it, this campaign is about the future of America. it's about the American Dream. It's about opportunity for our children. And our candidate for the presidency has lived the American Dream. He knows what it is like to grow up in a family of modest circumstances.

He knows the expectation of hard, grinding work. And he knows the meaning of the word sacrifice.

CARLSON: And he knows courage and determination, as he struggled for 39 months to heal his war wounds, to walk, and to be able to ultimately rise to one of the most powerful and important positions in American society.


How fitting it is that this marvelous symbol of the American dream will be the one to represent the future of our children.

Ladies and gentlemen, we welcome America's profile in courage, the gentleman from Kansas, Bob Dole.


DOLE: Thank you.


Arnie, I want to say that was powerful statement. And I agree with every word of it.

I'm very honored to be here today, Brother Michael and all of our friends who are here today — parents, students, the young people behind us. I'm honored to have two former Secretaries of Education with us, Secretary Bennett and Secretary Alexander. They did an outstanding job, and we are very proud they are with us today.


I know Susan Carlson is somewhere. Oli, right here. Susan.


I always look around the audience when I come in. I always feel I might find somebody that I know. And I see this guy sitting over here.


That's right. I want to get your autograph right after the program.



CROWD: Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!


DOLE: Well, let me say at the outset to all of you here regardless of your party — and I hope there are Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans in the audience, because I'm traveling across this country in a campaign to restore the American dream through a renewal of personal freedom and personal responsibility, and limits on government. That's what this campaign is all about.


DOLE: And probably no issue is as central to restoring the dream as the education of our children.

A few issues offer such major choices to the American people this November. And I came here to describe those choices by sharing my own view of public education as it is today, and of my vision — what it can be in the future.

This race is not about the president; it's about the future. It's about your children. It's about opportunity. It's about jobs.

It would be hard to think of any issue on which Americans have heard so much high flow and rhetoric from Washington, D.C. — and I can say that now because I'm out of the Senate.


And seen so few results.

The scores keep falling, as Arne said. The dropout rates keep rising, as the governor said. The education bureaucracy keeps getting bigger and bigger. And in many of our cities, public schools are danger zones. And worst of all, the people in charge of running the schools seem to grow more complacent as their vise like monopoly over the schools gets tighter and tighter.

No other nation spends as much on education as we do in United States. Yet, over our public schools hangs an air of failure, frustration and futility. And what makes this so tragic, is that once not so long ago, America's public schools were places of learning and order. They were a model to the world where kids of all classes and all races and all creeds were brought together. And for many of us, a quality education at public school was a first big break we had.

The schools instilled ambition and hope and discipline and decency and a common love would for our country and what is stands for.

But I was looking around the audience I said I think know this guy. I think his name is Rudy Boshowitz . Hey, Rudy. Good to see you.


But every conscientious teacher is a survivor in a system that seems to frown upon individual excellence and rewards mediocrity. Every student who works hard is making a victory against a culture of underachievement that pervades our schools.

And every parent who gets involved as work against the odds in the system that too often stifles free choice and disregards parental authority. And no one has spoken more fervently about saving our schools than Bill Clinton did back in 1992 when he came to Minnesota and all around the country as candidate. Yet his years in office have been the low point in American public education.

In every possible way, we have done worse.

SAT scores haven't gone up in more than a decade. And last year, of course, they were artificially boosted 100 points. But the dropout rate among college freshman was higher last year than any time in our history, higher last year than any time in our history.

And America, don't misunderstand me, still has some of the finest teachers in the world. Make no mistake about it, we have the finest teachers in the world.

DOLE: And one of the biggest academic movements in our colleges is remedial education. Because millions and millions of high school graduates arrive on the campus unable to write a simple essay or to solve a simple math problem.

Think about what that means for the economy when 90 percent — yes, 90 percent — of corporate executives in a survey said that one of the most serious problems among younger employees was functional illiteracy. Think about it.

This is our dividend on billions and billions of dollars invested in education: lower test scores, a higher dropout rate, massive remedial education, and an illiteracy rate growing by leaps and bounds.

And poor performance in many of our elementary and secondary classrooms is a key reason why real wages have been stagnant in recent years. We know from common sense that better skills, and more know how are directly tied to higher wages and growing salaries and better opportunities for young people.

That's why I have decided ...


That's why I have decided to make education an essential part of my pro-growth economic plan. We're talking about it here today. We'll be talking about it tomorrow in Milwaukee. We'll be talking about it again Cleveland on Friday.

Because as I view it, and as I see it, as we get the economy ready for the next century, education ranks right up there with tax reform and regulatory reform and all the other priorities we ought to have in American.

And at the center that afflicts our school is a denial of free choice. Our public schools are in trouble because too often they are no longer run by the public. Instead they are controlled by narrow special interest groups who regard public education not as a public trust, but as political territory to be guarded at all costs, not the public trust.

Now the president says he wants reform. He says a lot of things.


If I'm for it, he's for it. In fact -F carry around a big sign that says, "Me too."


It's always on my lap. If I'm for this, me too. If I'm for this, me too.

So he's for reform of education, but I would say this to him. You cannot reform our schools, Mr. President, and at the same time reap generous campaign contributions from the very groups who have run our public schools into the ground. You can't do both.


You cannot be a leader in education, and at the same time be the pliant pet of militant teachers unions who are fighting reform.


DOLE: That's like showing up at a fire with a flame thrower instead of hose it doesn't work.


And I was talking about this with Secretary Bennett and Secretary Alexander on the way out from Washington this morning.

We've got to make this distinction.

Under this administration, only the producers of education have a voice. We're always hearing from the unions and bureaucrats with their armies of lawyers and lobbyists, but who speaks for the consumers? Who speaks for the parents? They don't have political action committees like those who bankroll the Clinton campaign. They can't afford to cut big checks for candidates who do their biding. But they are the ones — yes, they are the ones who help pay more than $250 billion dollars every year to support our public schools. They are the consumers. They are the consumers.


And if you pay and you pay and you pay as you do as consumers, you ought to have some say at how the schools are run. You ought to have some say at how the schools are run and that's what this debate it all about.


So, I say that public school parents deserve what I call an education consumers warranty — education consumers warranty. A set of assurances that they receive in exchange for contributing their hard earned money and entrusting their children, their children into the care of the public school system. And if I am elected president of the United States, and I will be, here are some of the basic principles that will guide every education policy.


These principles will guide every education policy I pursue and every education dollar we invest. It starts with the principle that every student has a right to be safe in school. Every student has a right to be safe in school, that's number one.


And in my view, and I know the secretaries are experts on this, it's just staggering to hear some of our education experts today object to basic standards of discipline in the name of children's rights. You can't do it because it offends their rights.

President Clinton's expressed concern about the problem of violent and interruptive students. But every time someone proposes clear standards of discipline, his supporters and the unions have fought it tooth and nail.

Now meanwhile, studies show over 5,000 teachers are attacked each month in our nation's schools. Think about it — 5,000 teachers.

Now, many schools have instituted effective disciplinary codes.

DOLE: When I am president, I will establish within the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department a clearing house of disciplinary codes that have worked in different states and in different kinds of schools, and are supportable in a court of law.

And then we'll invite — we're not going to mandate — we will invite school districts voluntarily to use or adapt these codes to their needs. And if necessary, my Justice Department will be ready to assist school districts in legal challenges to effective and proven codes.


And we must also ensure that solid and meaningful subjects are taught in our schools. One study found that is the typical American student only spends about 40 percent of study on academic subjects.

Students in other developed countries spend nearly all their class time on the basics. Every frustrated parent knows what I'm talking about, and there may be some in the audience.

Many children are taught global awareness and diversity before they can locate Europe on a map or name the country on our southern border.

Something has got to change.


And something is wrong when kids who have just walked through a metal detector to get inside their school are taught to be value-neutral — not to worry about moral questions or their consequences.

In short, while students in Europe and Japan are learning math, science and language, our kids are learning to get in touch with their feelings. To get in touch with your feelings.


And even when they do teach the basics, many of our educators today display an amazing gift for making simple things complicated. Let's take reading. You and I just about everyone else learned to read by the phonics method — at least we did in Russell, Kansas.

First we learned our ABC'S. It took a while. Then we learned to match sounds with letters. And soon we could write simple sentences. Before long we new English.

Now, phonics isn't fancy or intricate, but it works and has for hundreds of years. But along came our modern education experts and suddenly phonics is being discarded. In its place we have something called the whole language method. It's very interesting. It's very sophisticated, very new and exciting. The only problem is it doesn't work.


And they've been trying it ...


Let me tell you — give you an example. They have trying it in California's public schools, and as a result California now has some of the lowest reading levels in America. And they are going to change it in California. They don't want their children to fall behind any further.

So what do we have?


A multi-million dollar industry has risen up to provide phonics instructions to our kids. Because our own schools aren't doing the job, parents have to turn elsewhere.

And I was amazed to learn recently that some schools don't even allow spelling bees anymore.

DOLE: You know why? Their theory is that such competition can only deal a blow to self-esteem to those who don't win.


Now, if we are going to do it there, we ought to do it in politics, too. [applause]

... Elapsed Time 00:25, Eastern Time 14:20 ...

Because I don't want Clinton to feel a loss of self-esteem when he loses in November of 1996.


And we have some out there that even encourage something called inventive spelling. You just spell words any way you see fit.


What such ideas spell for America's public schools is all too clear, f-a-i-l-u-r-e, failure. And no matter how creative the word is spelled it still means the same thing.

Our public schools today are suffering from a generations worth of bad ideas that have little or nothing to do with giving kids a decent education. Even worse, these fads have been unwritten by the taxpayers and you are the taxpayers.

You are underwriting this f-a-i-l-u-r-e, failure, failure, failure. And I hope and I believe I speak for mothers, fathers and students across America when I say to the education establishment if you want more tax money, start putting the money where we can give it to a better use, help our children's self-esteem by giving him something to be proud of. Work with us and not against us to prepare our-children.


Work with us and not against us to prepare our children for lives of achievement and good citizenship. Let's drop all of politically correct nonsense and give our kids a decent education, a descent education.


Finally let me say this, there is no more basic right than every right of a parents in this country to choose which school their own child will attend.


As the governor said, the president believes this, he is right. The vice president believes this, and he is right. But President Clinton's administration has done everything in its power to kill the school choice movement.

As the governor pointed out to and alluded to, even when we tried passing a modest, very modest school choice bill for the District of Columbia, the president opposed it. Here we have poor families in Washington, D.C. with no choice but to send their kids off every day to most mismanaged, overstaffed, incompetent and dangerous schools in America. And all those poor parents ask was a chance to start making choices of their own.

To bring a little life and competition and freedom into the Washington school system. But the national education association said, no.

DOLE: And faced with choice between these lobbies for status quo versus the president and the children, the president sided with the lobbyists as he has done every time.

And I say it's time the federal government started standing up for the parents and standing up for the children and standing up for the taxpayers of America. That is basic, a basic difference.


We need a president that is willing to extend tax breaks to lobbyists and more willing to show them a little backbone. We need a government that gives the parents of America fewer orders and more options and enhances their ability to choose where their children go to school public, private or religious.

And I know, as the governor has pointed out, that school choice is very important in the state of Minnesota. And Governor Carlson's has made his mark as a national movement to allow children to go to the schools their parents choose.

As I said, I will be in Milwaukee tomorrow to take the next step and talk about opportunity scholarships for your children. I really believe all Americans will have school choice some day.

But we're already having something called voters choice.

First we have to have voters choice. See what the voters think about Bill Clinton's education record come the 5th of November. And before the age of big government, the public school system, as I said earlier, was based on freedom and common sense. On a belief in standards and ability that children to meet the standards. And perhaps above all, on trusting parents who do the right thing for their children.

You know what? The system worked.

And it can work again with such innovations as competency testing for teachers and an education consumers warranty that outlines what all American families should expect from the system: a safe school, the ability to learn the three R's through proven methods and to acquire an understanding of American history and our democratic values, freedom from needless bureaucracy and red tape, the right to know whether the meet is meetings its obligations, a diploma that signifies readiness for college or a job and the ability to choose the school that's right for them.

When I am president of the United States, the education consumers, you the parents, and the consumers warranty will be guarded by leaders who know the territory.

I have asked Bill Bennett and Lamar Alexander to identify current federal laws and regulations and executive orders and spending programs and court decisions that violate the consumers education warranty. And they will find these roadblocks, and together-we will knock them down one after another until they are gone, gone forever in America, the roadblocks are gone.


So without a warranty, let's remember the importance of parental involvement and parental responsibility. Even the best schools are no substitute for parents leadership. Education, as always and always will begin at home.

Wherever I go in this campaign, I hear about parents who are worried about popular culture today and its affects on their children.

DOLE: Well, when all else fails there's only one thing that can lift a child's mind to better things and that's the parents' leadership. Parents, leadership.

So when we talk about education reform, let's remember it doesn't begin in Washington or the state capital, it begins right in our own kitchen and our own living rooms. And never in human history have children had as many opportunities as our children have today

And never have good schools and the virtues they instill been so crucial to our future. And I believe we're up to the challenge. I'm an optimist.

Preparing our children for those opportunities is not the job of distant bureaucrats or education theorists. It is the job of every parent, son and daughter in America, of free people who take responsibility for themselves and demand that the government reflect their values and common sense.

Education, someone has said, is not filling of the pail, it's the lighting of a fire. Not filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. With enough vision and enough resolve we can and will light that fire anew in every young heart and restore the dream that made us the greatest nation on the face of the earth.

Thank you very much and God Bless America. Thank you.


Robert Dole, Remarks at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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