Remarks on Goals 2000 Education Reform
Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Gore, Secretary Riley, Secretary Reich, Hillary, distinguished Members of Congress and educators, business and labor leaders, church leaders, community leaders, ladies and gentlemen, as I look out at this crowd, I see people in this audience with whom I was working on these problems more than a decade ago. I see people who have lectured me about what we had to do. [Laughter] Probably more than half of you have lectured me about what we had to do. I see my good friend Marian Wright Edelman over there. When Hillary was the board chair of the Children's Defense Fund, they said, "Well, you can't have these national education goals unless all kids start school ready to learn." Well, this is part of it. Now, when we make sure they all have health care, we'll know they're ready to learn when they start.
There are people here who work with me in the Education Commission to the States and the Southern Regional Education Board and the Carnegie Council. There are people here who have written books that I have read and learned from, whose lives have been a real inspiration to me. I'm hesitant to mention any of them, but I see Marc Tucker and Ernest Boyer, and I read their books, and now I'm trying to sell them. [Laughter] I read Governor Kunin's book, too; it's really good. But if you will forgive me a personal indulgence, I'd like to recognize one man who has been through a particularly painful time in his own life whose work has graced American education everywhere, our friend Jim Comer from Connecticut. Please stand up and be recognized. Thank you, sir.
I see Mike Cohen and Gloria Cabe, who stayed up all night with us in Charlottesville when we were writing the national education goals. All of you here today—I can barely contain myself—here you are clapping for things that matter. Here we are, all of us, the Members of Congress without regard to party, celebrating something that will move America forward. This is why I ran for President, not to pull this country to the right or the left but to move it forward, to get people together, to cross the divide, to face the problems, to deal with the issues.
In the next decade, more than 7 million children will enter our Nation's schools. That's the largest number since my crowd started; I'm the oldest of the baby boomers. That means that we have an especial responsibility to make sure that we have done everything we possibly can to guarantee real freedom and opportunity to our people through an education for all that will enable our people, without regard to their race, their income, their standing in life, or where they happen to live, a chance to compete and win, to live up to their God-given capacities. That's what all these goals mean.
These goals were just a way that people could put into words what it would mean if we actually produced results which guaranteed us the kind of educated citizenry that will keep America strong, leading the world well into the 21st century.
We insist, with Goals 2000, that every student can learn. We insist that it's time to abolish the outdated distinction between academic learning and skill learning. We know now that most academics has practical application and that more and more practical problems require academic knowledge. And I hope to goodness we don't do anything else—we've finally erased that divide so that we can teach our young people to learn in the way that best suits their own capacities and the work they have to do.
This law tells us that we need a national mobilization for education reform but that it has to be carried out at the grassroots level. The President, the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Labor, well, we can work together, but we have to put you in charge.
A lot of you have heard me say this for a decade because I've had the chance, I guess, to be in more schoolrooms than any person who ever was able to serve as President. But I am absolutely convinced that there is not a single, solitary problem in American education that has not been solved by somebody, somewhere. Now, that's the truth. And the longer you live with this and the longer you spend time with teachers and kids and parents and the more schools you visit, the more you know that is true.
What we have done as a nation is to resist learning from each other, to resist institutionalizing change, to resist, therefore, holding ourselves accountable for our results as a nation. Many of us who were Governors had tried our darnedest to do that at the State level, and we found that, even in every State, people would repeatedly resist learning from each other, borrowing from each other, capturing each other's best ideas.
The Founding Fathers were as smart a group of people as we ever got together in this country. And the seminar they had on how to get things done, which produced our Constitution, was just about as good as any we've ever attended. And when they conceived of the States as laboratories of democracy, they intentionally thought of a scientific model in which people would learn from one another what works and then build on it.
What we try to do here with Goals 2000 is to say: Here are the goals. You figure out how to get there. You learn from each other. Come up with aggressive plans. We will help you fund them and go forward, but you are in charge. That is the sort of partnership the United States ought to be engaged in. The Federal Government can't tell you how to do it, but we can help you get it done.
We do establish these national education goals. We also established a skills standard board, and I want to thank the Congress for that. We do need to know what skills are required of our people and our workers in the competitive world in which we are living and the one toward which we are going. We do seek to create the information superhighway that the Vice President's always talking about to bring to bear technology in all of our classrooms. But behind all of this, there is a simple moral premise, and that is that the promise of educational opportunity and educational excellence is for everyone. And we are determined to fulfill that promise in this time.
Forty years ago tomorrow, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Brown v. Board of Education. We are still striving to fulfill the promise of Brown. You can read articles that are accurate, talking about how we have not fulfilled the promise. You can know that there is still inequality of opportunity. You can know that some places are more segregated than they used to be. But no one can doubt we are better off than we would be had that decision not been handed down.
What this Goals 2000 movement, with the school-to-work program, with the adult education program, with the retraining program, and the reemployment program, what it all seeks to do is to give America a system by which at the grassroots level we can fulfill the promise of Brown v. Board of Education for all our people, not a set of national rules and mandates but a national set of goals, of objectives, and a sparking of an enormous grassroots reform effort all around this country, which will lead in every community in this country, in every school in this country, in every learning environment to more responsibilities for principals and teachers, to the courage for people who think they need to, to try new experiences and new experiments, everything from charter schools to other forms of management that will give teachers in many cases the chance to teach other teachers and to engage in operating their own schools more, that will bring parents into these schools where they have been shut out.
But I will say again: In order to make this work, we have to both foster reform and foster a humble, willing, listening attitude that permits us to learn from one another. The Founding Fathers knew that was one of the great strengths of establishing State governments and making us what we are as a federation with National, State, and local governments.
We must remember this: Goals 2000 is a new way of doing business in America. It represents the direction our Government must take in many problems in the 21st century. But I know the reason it has a good chance to work is because of you and the thousands and thousands like you who have been out here working on these same issues that are finally codified in law for 10 or more years. I thank you for that. Please leave this place with the determination to make this law fulfill its promise.
Thank you, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 3:55 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder, Children's Defense Fund; Marc Tucker, president, National Center on Education and the Economy; Ernest L. Boyer, president, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Madeleine Kunin, Deputy Secretary of Education; Mike Cohen, director of Goals 2000; and Gloria Cabe, educational adviser to the President when he was Governor of Arkansas.
William J. Clinton, Remarks on Goals 2000 Education Reform Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/219970