Remarks During a Visit to Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center Near Orlando, Florida
Thank you very much. And I thank you very much for that very generous and kind introduction. And to prove how grateful I am, I, a Californian, will say to a Floridian, I have just returned from California, and this is the first time I've seen sunshine in 2 weeks. [Laughter]
Well, I'm delighted to be here. I'm especially pleased to acknowledge the presence today of a group of students from eight countries. They're participants in the World Showcase Fellowship Program which Disney World has generously established as part of EPCOT. This excellent program brings young people from Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom to EPCOT. It gives them the opportunity to experience American culture firsthand, to learn and, even more important, to teach.
This is just the kind of approach that we're encouraging through the President's International Youth Exchange Initiative which I announced last May at the White House. For those of you who haven't seen it—well, first of all, let me say I'm convinced that people-to-people programs like World Showcase and the International Youth Initiative are one of the best ways to build real understanding in the world.
I'm very happy to see so many young people here today, the math and science whizzes of central Florida, plus the students participating in the World Showcase Fellowship Program. And you adults are web come, too. [Laughter]
I just watched a program—I don't know just what to call it—a show, a pageant with several hundred of my junior high and high school friends here, and I'm pleased to announce I didn't get hit with one spitball. [Laughter] But this program does capture the vitality of what we represent as a nation. And as I'd started to say earlier, I was going to remark that earlier—for those of you who haven't seen it—at one point in the movie Mark Twain, speaking of America, says, "We soared into the 20th century on the wings of invention and the winds of change."
Well, in a few years' time, we Americans will soar into the 21st century and again it will be on the wings of invention and the winds of change. This afternoon, I'd like to explain how you, our young people, can ride those wings and winds of the future to a better life.
Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have said that the best thing about the future is that it comes only 1 day at a time. In this modern age, it often seems to come more quickly than that, I know. Our nation is speeding toward the future at this very moment. We can see it coming. We can see its shape. I know in your history books you've read about the Industrial Revolution. Well, today we're in the midst of another revolution, one marked by the explosion of technological advances. It's a revolution of microchips and biotechnology. And, yes, it is ironic that products seen only through a microscope can cause such large changes in our society.
We can see the benefits of this revolution already. Many of the advantages you can view right here at EPCOT Center, which itself is a celebration of tomorrow.
Other aspects of the transition are more difficult and painful to bear. A large number of people are unemployed, not because of the recession but because their former jobs were in declining industries. Their skills are not in demand in the postindustrial America. And, as you know, this has caused grievous hardship.
I don't want any of you young people to suffer what some of your parents are experiencing. I want you to have the training and the skills to meet the future. Even without knowing it, you're being prepared for a new age. Many of you already understand better than my generation ever will the possibilities of computers. In some of your homes, the computer is as available as the television set. And I recently learned something quite interesting about video games. Many young people have developed incredible hand, eye, and brain coordination in playing these games. The Air Force believes these kids will be outstanding pilots should they fly our jets. The computerized radar screen in the cockpit is not unlike the computerized video screen. Watch a 12-year-old take evasive action and score multiple hits while playing "Space Invaders," and you will appreciate the skills of tomorrow's pilot.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't want the youth of this country to run home and tell their parents that the President of the United States says it's all right for them to go ahead and play video games all the time. [Laughter] Homework, sports, and friends still come first. What I am saying is that right now you're being prepared for tomorrow in many ways, and in ways that many of us who are older cannot fully comprehend.
But those of my generation, and now I have to say and of your parents' generation, cannot just assume that you will adapt to the future. We must conscientiously prepare you for the years ahead. We must provide you with a good education, with solid math and science instruction. Not only will math and science serve you well in meeting the future, it'll serve the Nation.
We Americans are still the technological leaders in most fields. And we must keep that edge. But to keep it, we need scientists and engineers and mathematicians. Many of you here today are above average in math and science skills. You have won awards for your knowledge; and you will be among the brightest of tomorrow's work force.
But I want to give you some facts and figures here. And, by the way, I have been known to give a pop quiz now and then. [Laughter] But I want to show you the challenge that we as a nation face. Japan, with a population only about half the size of ours, graduates from its universities more engineers than we do. In Japan, specialized study in mathematics, biology, and physics starts in the sixth grade. Or take the Soviet Union—Soviet students learn the basic concepts of algebra and geometry in elementary school—that's elementary school. And then they get 4 more years of advanced mathematics in high school. I have a feeling the kids in the Soviet Union have to hit the books a bit more than American students.
Not surprisingly, the Soviet Union graduates from college almost five times more engineering specialists than the United States. The number of scientists and engineers engaged in research and development in the United States has increased by only 25 percent between 1964 and 1979. The increase in France was 90 percent, 125 percent in Germany, and 145 percent in Japan.
Obviously, we must do better or we will be overtaken. In math and science instruction, the United States is a slow learner among the major industrial nations. Like millions of other Americans, I'm a firm believer in the back-to-basics movement, because it is the basics that will best prepare us for the future. I think you would agree that if a young person doesn't receive adequate math and science teaching by age 16, he or she has lost the chance to become a scientist or an engineer.
There's a story about a boy whose math homework paper was less than inspiring. Now, I know that yours are never like that. [Laughter] When the boy's paper was handed back, the teacher said, "I never saw so many errors in my life. I just can't understand how one person could have made all these mistakes." And the boy said, "One person didn't; my father helped me." [Laughter]
Well, your generation will need better math and science skills than your fathers' generation. And the America of tomorrow will also need those skills more than the America of today. Since the future is technological, we simply must educate more people in the technological areas. And that's one reason I'm delighted to see more women going into scientific and engineering fields. I am especially pleased that eight women have been selected as astronauts for the shuttle flights—all with advanced degrees, Ph. D.'s in engineering and physical sciences, two have medical degrees. And late this spring on a launch pad not far from here, a woman named Sally Ride will have the ride of a lifetime—she'll blast off in the space shuttle, becoming America's first woman in space.
The relatively short supply of technically qualified people in the United States is not because we don't have enough students, men or women, interested in tomorrow's job opportunities. In fact, engineering schools have to turn away many qualified students. The principal reason is the shortage of engineering faculty in universities and qualified math and science teachers in the secondary schools. This shortage cannot continue. And I know you'll be happy to hear that we intend to improve the quality of math and science education. And right now we're working with the Congress to determine the funding necessary to begin reducing this shortage. We seek a fiscally responsible initiative in this area—fair not only to your educational future but your economic future, as well.
Private industry is also recognizing the problem and seeking ways to correct it. The American Electronics Association's goal is to obtain contributions from its high technology companies equal to 2 percent of their research and development budgets. I also know businesses around the country are loaning computers and other equipment to schools to prepare students for the new age. It's this kind of commitment from the private sector that will eventually help us meet the math and science shortages that we face. That's a great thing—if our visitors will forgive me for being chauvinistic-that's a great thing about our country. Once we've determined what the problem is, we take out after it.
I know you young people are bombarded hourly with the problems the Nation faces. And, yes, we do have problems which all of us are working to solve. But you can't become paralyzed by these obstacles. This sounds like something you'll hear at graduation, but you really do have a wonderful future ahead of you. Don't be afraid of it. The future is what America has always represented. My generation wishes it had the years left to us that you have left to you. The things you'll see, the changes that you will experience—we just can't imagine them all.
Hang on to the American spirit of adventure as you head into this future. Remember the quote by Thomas Wolfe that we heard in that program we've just seen, "To everyone a chance, to all people, regardless of their birth, the right to live, to work, to become whatever their visions can combine to make them." This is the promise of America.
You, too, are the promise of America. And I came here to tell you today that I believe very much in you. I believe in your intelligence and your courage and your determination. And when the time arrives, the people of my generation will be very proud to turn America over to your care.
May I just, in the spirit of that program that we saw, also say something about the presence here of our gifts, of this exchange program where you, of the same age, will meet with those from other countries and get to know each other as human beings and as individuals. I have always believed that a lot of the problems in the world come about because people talk about each other instead of to each other. And maybe one day, with programs of this kind, you are setting the stage for the dream that has lived with mankind from the first and earliest days of history, and that is the dream of peace; that one day, knowing each other, it will be impossible for someone to say to you that there must be a war or that you must take arms and do away with these people that you have come to know so well.
And we shall do everything we can to see that this program prospers and goes forward and increases the ability of young generations like your own to meet and become acquainted with others around the world.
I've used up all of my time here, and I know they have other things for me to do, but I don't know that they will be as much of a high spot as this has been. And I just want to say to all of you, thank you, and God bless you all.
Note: The President spoke at 1:52 p.m. in the Amphitheater at the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) Center. He addressed outstanding math and science students from the central Florida area and guests of the center, after an introduction by Richard Nunis, executive vice president of Disney Enterprises.
Prior to his remarks, the President viewed "The American Adventure," a film and animation presentation depicting a three-century rediscovery of America. The film was presented jointly by the American Express and Coca-Cola Companies and is the centerpiece of World Showcase, that portion of EPCOT which, through pavilion displays, recreates the architecture and culture of nine countries.
After the presentation, the President visited with students participating in the World Showcase Fellowship Program, an educational and cultural exchange program designed to enable outstanding young adults to represent their various countries for 1 year in the pavilions of World Showcase. The fellowship program is part of the President's private sector initiative on international youth exchange.
Ronald Reagan, Remarks During a Visit to Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center Near Orlando, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/262872