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Remarks on Presenting the Teacher of the Year Award

April 28, 1995

Thank you very much, Secretary Riley, Gov-many friends of education. I cannot mention ernor Knowles, to our distinguished Teacher of them all, but I would like to mention a few: the Year. We're fortunate to be joined here by First, my longtime friend Gordon Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers; Scholastic, Inc., CEO and president Dick Robinson and senior vice president Ernie Fleishman; president of the AFT Al Shanker; and I know that Keith Geiger, the president of the NEA, was on his way here— I don't know if he's here yet; Assistant Secretary of Education Tom Payzant, I'd like to thank him for his work and for coming here from a school district to make sure we keep grounded in the real world. I want to say a special word of welcome to all these fine teachers here who represent, along with our Teacher of the Year, 46 of the total honorees throughout the United States. We're very, very glad to have all them here, and I think we should give them a hand this morning and a welcome. [Applause]

Before I make my remarks about the Teacher of the Year and the importance of education today, I want to say one word about our ongoing efforts to protect the American people from ever again having to endure what the American people have endured in Oklahoma City.

Sunday I announced the first in a series of new steps to combat terrorism in America, whatever its source. Wednesday I invited Republican and Democratic leaders from the Congress to the White House to do more. I announced at that time I would send to Congress new legislation designed to crack down on terrorism. These new measures will give law enforcement expanded investigative powers, increased enforcement capacities, and tougher penalties to use against those who commit terrorist acts.

I'm encouraged so far by the response from Members of Congress in both parties. And I say again, Congress must move quickly to pass this legislation. The American people want us to stop terrorism. They want us to put away anyone involved in it. We must not allow politics to drag us into endless quibbling over an important national item. We must not delay the work we have to do to keep the American people safe and to try to prevent further acts of this kind. We must allow the American people to get on with their lives, and all of that is caught up in this measure. I have put tough legislation on the table. It reassures the American people that we are doing all we can to protect them and, most importantly, their children. We must not dawdle or delay. Congress must act and act promptly.

All Americans have responded with great spirit to this awful tragedy. Law enforcement has been swift and sure. The rescue efforts have been truly heroic and not without their own sacrifices. Communities have come together as we reach out to support the people who have endured so much. Now, working together, we are going to do more.

The thing that I notice most, perhaps, about the Oklahoma City tragedy was how moved all Americans were by the plight of innocent children. It is hard to think of anything good coming out of something so horrible. But if anything, I think the American people have reaffirmed our commitment to putting the interests of our children and their future first in our lives.

In the brief time since he took office, the Governor of Alaska, Tony Knowles, who is sitting here behind me, has already worked to do that in Alaska. Alaska, as you know, is vast and faces unique problems and challenges. Those challenges are being met through satellite technology the Healthy Start program which ensures that children start school well-nourished and ready to learn. That is a sort of commitment that all of us now must take into our lives, into our States, into our schools, into our communities.

I ran for President to make sure that the American dream would be available to all of our children well into the next century. I wanted to make sure that we could deal with the challenges of today and tomorrow presented by the global economy, presented by the revolutions in technology in ways that gave everybody a chance to live up to the fullest of his or her God-given capacities. We know that more than anything else today, that requires a good education.

We know that the technological revolution and the global economy, with all of its pressures, have begun in every wealthy nation to put unbelievable strains on the social contract, to split apart the middle class. That is happening more in the United States than any other country, and the fault line is education. If you look at what is happening to adults, working people and their families, in their workplaces all across this country, those who are well-educated are doing very well in this global economy, and those who lack an education are having a very difficult time.

We owe it to the children of this country to make sure that every one of them has the best possible education. And in doing that, we are being a little bit selfish because this country itself will not be strong into the next century unless we dramatically improve the reach and depth of our common efforts to educate all of our people.

As I have said many times in many places, we face two great deficits in this country, a budget deficit that is the product of too many years of taking the easy way out and an education deficit that is the product of too many years of ignoring the obvious. We have worked hard to try to address both over the last 2 years, reducing our deficit by $600 billion over a 5year period and increasing our commitment to education.

We must do more on both, but we dare not sacrifice one at the expense of the other. The answer to the budget deficit is not to reverse the gains we have made by expanding Head Start, by expanding opportunities for young people who don't go to college to move from school to work with good jobs and good futures, by expanding our commitment to childhood nutrition and the health of our children, by expanding our efforts to give people the chance to go to college through more affordable college loans and the AmeriCorps national service program. We cannot cure one deficit at the expense of the other.

And indeed, in some areas we should plainly be doing more. The Goals 2000 legislation for the first time set America on a course of national excellence in education, while giving teachers like the ones we celebrate here today more opportunities working with their principals to have flexibility from cumbersome Federal rules and regulations to do what they know best in educating their children. We should be putting more money into our schools with less rules and regulations, but higher standards, higher expectations, and honest measurement of educational progress.

We should be doing more of what we've been doing in the last 2 years, not less. And we can do it and bring the deficit down. We must attack both deficits at once and not sacrifice education on the altar of deficit reduction.

We must also realize that the work of America is a work that is not done by government alone or even primarily by government. As I used to say over and over again when I was a Governor and much closer to the schools of our country, nothing we do in government will matter at all unless there are people like the teachers who are being honored here today. What we do in Washington only empowers people to do better by our children in every school in the country. What happens in the home and what happens in the school and how they relate to and reinforce one another will have the deciding influence on the quality of education in the United States and the future of this country as we move into this new and exciting age.

Many of you remember Jesse Stuart, who taught in a one-room schoolhouse in the rural South and wrote a wonderful book called "The Thread That Runs So True," in which he said, "A teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever, and the teacher is immortal." Well, just like Jesse Stuart, the 1995 National Teacher of the Year has taught in a one-room schoolhouse, but hers is in rural Alaska, where it's a little colder in the wintertime.

Elaine Griffin's work at the Kodiak Island schools of Akhioc and Chiniak over the past 20 years has significantly expanded the educational, social, and cultural environments for the students in her K-through-12 classroom. With her husband, Ned, she brings in members of the community to share their talents with the students. And as the students learn about their own history, they are also being taught to understand distant lands. Many of the students have participated in foreign exchange programs. And I must say that Elaine and Ned have created their own cultural exchange with their three remarkable children, whom I just had the privilege of meeting in the Oval Office, whom I know that she will introduce in a moment.

College attendance has increased significantly among their students. In Akhioc, a remote village where teen pregnancy, alcoholism and suicide were common, Elaine expanded the K-through-8 program so that it included high school. Today, 90 percent of the children in that remote village graduate from high school. And America is better for it.

Elaine, it is my pleasure to present the 1995 Apple Award honoring you as the National Teacher of the Year and to thank you on behalf of all the American people for your dedication to your students and to the best in this country. You are truly a model for all the teachers of this country but for all the citizens as well.

Congratulations, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:05 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Presenting the Teacher of the Year Award Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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