Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the National Education Association in San Francisco, California

July 05, 1993

Thank you very much. Thank you for the warm reception you gave to the First Lady and to Secretary Riley. Thank you for inviting me back.

You know, last year when we were in Washington I was out in the crowd over there by the Nebraska delegation. Where are the Nebraska teachers this year, over there? And where are the teachers front Arkansas? Over there. Thank you. Always a rowdy group. [Laughter]

I want to thank all of you who teach our children, staff our schools, lead our communities, and build our future. I am very grateful for the support you gave in the campaign of 1992, grateful for the support and the work you continue to do as we work our way through the changes this Nation has to make in the Congress and in the country. But most of all, I want to say at the outset, what I tried to say all along the way last year: Perhaps more than any person who ever sought this job, I spent my apprenticeship in the schools of my State, in the schools of this country, listening to teachers talking with children, learning from principals, trying to inspire people everywhere to work together for reform. And I want to thank you most of all for your clear and simple devotion to the work of teaching.

While I was thinking about this speech, I received a quote from the novel, "The Prince of Tides." Secretary Riley gave it to me. I want to give him full credit. He'll probably have to take the blame for a thing or two along the way. [Laughter] But I love the "Prince of Tides"; it's my favorite novel I guess I've read in the last decade or so. And the main character is a teacher named Tom. There's a passage in the book that I remember vividly where he's asked why he chose to, quote, "sell himself short" when he was so talented and he could have done anything with his life. He replied, and I quote from Pat Conroy's eloquence: "There's no word in the language I revere more than 'teacher'. My heart sings when a kid refers to me as his teacher, and it always has. I've honored myself and the entire family of man by becoming a teacher."

I am delighted to be here with so many distinguished Californians, in addition to the teachers: Senator Boxer, Congresswoman Pelosi, Congressman Lantos, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, Speaker Willie Brown, controller Gray Davis, secretary of state March Fong Eu, insurance commissioner John Garamendi, Mayor Frank Jordan, Brad Sherman, and many others. To all those folks who are here in our administration and to Keith Geiger and all the people who work for you in Washington, I have a special word of thanks to the NEA for the gift of our Assistant Secretary for the Office of Education and Research and Improvement, Dr. Sharon Robinson, who is also here today.

For the past 5 months all of us have been working hard with you to change our country and to build our future. The film that you so graciously put together shows some of the progress that has been made; the family leave bill; the motor voter bill; a tough ethics set of rules for the executive branch; one House of Congress having already passed finally a lobby reform bill that requires all lobbyists to register and to report what they spend on Members of Congress; and a campaign finance reform bill that lowers the cost of campaigns and opens the airwaves to honest debate and reduces the influence of organized groups; a new environmental policy, which puts the United States at the head, instead of at the rear of the environmental movement that is sweeping the globe. We did reverse the gag rule and the ban on fetal tissue research, which was undermining diabetes and Parkinson's and other medical research so critical to the health and the welfare and the future of the United States.

There is much more to be done. Soon we will pass the economic program. Soon we will begin in earnest an attempt to provide health security and to control health care costs and to provide quality health care to every American family. Soon we will have the Vice President's recommendations on how we can literally reinvent our National Government so that we can reduce the amount of regulation and increase the empowerment we give to people at the local level and free up funds not only to bring our deficit down but to invest in people instead of the constant expansion of yesterday's Government.

These things are very important. And already, in spite of the fact that most Americans are still having a very tough time and are very insecure in this tough global economy, the fact that our economic program is two-thirds home has led to a dramatic reduction in interest rates, which has caused millions of people to refinance their home mortgages and save them a whole lot more money in lower interest than the middle class will be asked to pay to bring this deficit down and leave us some modest funds to invest in education and our future.

We have already seen in 5 months nearly one million jobs added to this economy. It is not enough. It is nowhere near where we should be coming out of the so-called bottom of the recession, now nearly 2 years ago. But it is a beginning, and it indicates that we are moving along the right track.

In a few hours I will be traveling to Tokyo to attend the annual summit of the world's largest industrial nations. A foreign summit with all of its protocol, its interpreters, its communiqu?s, seems awfully remote to most Americans' lives and probably seems remote to the work most of you do in our schools. But in fact, the work that I will be doing in the next few days and the work that you do every day are closely related, for we have entered an era where the line between our domestic policy and our foreign policy has completely evaporated.

Today I want to take a few moments to explain to you what this trip is about, how it relates to what you do, and the goals that we all share for our country. Like your work in the schools, this trip is about crafting our future. Its goals are our prosperity and security in a tough global economy.

Forty-five years ago at the end of the cold war, President Harry Truman and a generation of visionary leaders realized we had entered a new age that demanded new policies and new institutions. They built NATO to deter Soviet aggression. They created international financial institutions to help to rebuild Europe and Japan and promote global economic growth.

Now our generation after the cold war must create a new vision, new policies, and new agreements to enable the world's nations to prosper. We cannot long continue to promote democracy when Europe is having the slowest economic growth in 20 years, Japan facing the slowest economic growth in four decades, and America over 3 million jobs behind where we ought to be at this point in our development, still with the strongest economy of all these industrialized nations. We can do better, and we must. You think about every one of your schools with every financial problem you've got. If every American who wanted a job had one, and we were growing this economy, the money would be there to pay our teachers, to invest in our schools, to give our kids a better life.

A generation ago, our students prepared themselves for a working world dominated by large corporations and heavy manufacturing industries which competed with each other and the United States, but suffered no foreign competitors and could dominate the international markets they chose to enter. Today they enter a high-tech information revolution spearheaded by flexible entrepreneurial firms, both large and small, that are networked through computers with their suppliers and their customers all around the world. They enter a world where everybody's job, directly or indirectly, is affected by global competition. In this economy, money and management and technology are incredibly mobile, and a nation's well-being depends largely on the skills of its work force and the capacity of the people to adapt and be productive.

A generation ago, students planned for lifetime careers with one company. Today's graduates can expect to change jobs six or seven times in a lifetime, even if they stay with one company. Before they reach retirement, always in conjunction with other workers in the world, they will be in constant competition. And we must face the hard fact that many of the people with whom we compete for the high-wage, highgrowth jobs are uniformly more thoroughly prepared to begin their work than our people are.

The European Community will require fluency in two foreign languages for high school graduates by the year 2000. Germany has one of the most well-developed youth apprenticeship programs in the world. The rigor of Japan's public school system is legendary. We know that we, too, have our strengths, and we know that we, too, are challenged in ways that no other nation is. No other nation with which we compete for this future has so many diverse cultures, so many diverse ethnic groups, so many diverse religious groups, and so many poor children that we are trying to educate all the way through high school. No other nation has anything like the system of higher education that we do, and we should be proud of that as well.

But if you look at the challenges we face, if you look at the results faced here in California by big companies and trying to secure qualified employees, if you look at the challenges faced by the children that go to school in this State in some of the toughest neighborhoods in America every day, we still have to say that these things can be challenges to us, but they can never be excuses. For the global economy is here to stay. We can't wish it away. We can't hide from it, and no political leader can promise to protect you from it. We simply have to compete, not retreat, and we have to do it while maintaining our position of world leadership. That means your job and my job are fundamentally intertwined. And unless we both do it very well, this country cannot be what it ought to be.

Now, there are people who believe that the situation is all bad and that our best days are behind us, and we're not going to do what we need to do. I think they're dead wrong. We are better positioned for this new world than most people think. The new economy is built on information and innovation. We are an innovative people with a passion for information technology that dates all the way back to the first telegraph and the first telephone and is found today in millions of American homes.

The new global economy is built on flexibility and constant change. We are a people whose open society and open political system embrace change more energetically than any other nation. The new global economy is based on interacting and doing business with the people all over the world, understanding their economies, their societies, and their languages. We are a nation of immigrants. We have two centuries of experience in building bridges across the lines of race and religion and culture. One county in this State has people from 150 different racial and ethnic groups. We can meet the challenges of the global economy, and we will.

This new economy is based on high productivity. And after faltering in the seventies and the early eighties, our productivity growth is once again making America the high-quality, low-cost producer in many areas. American automobiles in the last year have been regaining market share in the United States, something people thought would never happen. Why? Because they're the best cars at the most reasonable price. And we can do that in many other areas.

Of course, we have problems. We still lose a stunning number of our children to poverty, to drugs, to violence. Too many of them simply never learn enough to compete and win. Too many, indeed, can barely function in a highly organized and flexible society.

For more than a decade, our policies ignored these problems. We ran up huge deficits, not to invest in our children and our future but huge deficits that mortgaged our future, weakened our economy. And all the while we actually reduced our investments in education and technology and the things that make a country strong. We mortgaged our future by rewarding speculation over savings, by cutting taxes on the wealthy while we raised them on the middle class, by failing to invest in those things which really count in the long run.

But we are turning that around. We are getting our house in order. We are putting the steel back into our competitive edge. But the job that the President has in doing this is no different than the job you have faced in your classroom hundreds, indeed, thousands of times if you've been a teacher long enough. A lot of people don't want to hear what you have to say, to do what it takes to learn what they need to know. [Applause] Thank you.

How many times have you been in a classroom when you had to say something that was genuinely challenging and tough to a single student or to a whole class, and they would simply resist and resist and resist it. That's what's going on in this country today, isn't it? Our people have been told what they wanted to hear for so long, instead of what it really takes to make it, that there is a natural resistance, one which I understand and do not begrudge. For 12 years, voters have been spoon-fed pablum. They've been told that there was a free ride. There was a free ride. If only if we would cut somebody else's program, if only we would blame someone else, you can have it all. You can have your lower taxes and all the projects you want, and we'll just cut it somewhere else.

Well, the people of California know better. They know that we had to and we should welcome the opportunity to cut defense spending at the end of the cold war. But that means tough choices like closing bases and reducing contracts. And if there is no plan to invest in the people that are left behind, then an awful lot of unfair harm will be done. So if you're going to make the tough decision, you have to level with the people, and then forge ahead to try to make something good happen.

But I've heard all these siren songs about how "it's spending, stupid." Well, let me tell you something: In our budget, which cuts $500 billion from the deficit, half of it comes from spending cuts. We have a hard freeze on domestic spending over the next 5 years, even though we spend more money in some things you and I care about. We reduced defense spending as much as we should, and we have pushed the limit of that. We have cut and cut and cut the entitlements. We have cut the discretionary programs. We have cut the defense programs.

And when this program came up in the Senate Finance Committee, a fair program that raises 75 percent of its money from the top 6 percent of the income-earners whose taxes were reduced in the 1980's, and has $250 billion in spending cuts, over 100 cuts of $100 million or more—let me ask you a question that you can take home to the classroom of your community: The other side who kept screaming to America, "This is a tax-and-spend program, and the only problem is spending," had their chance to offer spending cuts in the Senate Finance Committee. How many spending cuts do you suppose they offered over and above the tough cuts that I had taken out of agriculture and veterans and every other program? Zero, that's how many. You couldn't find them when it got to be specific.

Let me tell you, for every $10 of deficit reduction in this plan designed to get interest rates down and spur growth, $5 comes from spending cuts; $3.75 from the upper 6 percent of American earners, as I said, whose taxes were lowered in the 1980's; $1.25 comes from the great middle class with incomes of between $30,000 and $100,000. Families under $30,000 are held harmless, and for the first time in the history of this country, if this program passes, people who work 40 hours a week and have children in their homes will be lifted out of poverty. That's the best incentive to get off and stay off welfare I ever heard. That's what's in this plan, and those are the facts.

I challenge you to embrace this issue with exuberance and joy and optimism. The only thing I question about the end of that beautiful film was when everybody said, "We've got to stick with the President, and it's hard to change." It was almost like a burden to carry. This is like teaching a new class to your students. This is no big deal. America will change if somebody will tell the people the truth instead of giving them the same old pablum.

In spite of all the cutbacks, this budget does invest more, in Head Start, in immunizations, in family preservation, in college loans, in national service tuition grants, in school-to-work transition, in defense conversion, to help all those people in the Bay area that are going to lose their jobs because of base closings, and in new technologies to create new jobs for the 21st century to take up for all the defense cuts. It sure does, but we still maintain a freeze on overall spending for 5 years because we've cut so much out of other things.

Now, those are the facts. We need your help to get them out. But most importantly, we need America's help to put this country on the right track. This deficit is like a bone in our throat. It is keeping us from investing in our people, in our growth, and in our future. And you can help to take it out by explaining to the American people what the facts are. This is not about labels and slogans. This is not about tax and spend. It's not about borrow and spend, either, which is what we've been doing for the last 12 years.

And it is not enough to reform our economic system. We must reform our schools, our welfare system, our health system, and our political system. We have to be about that, too. And we are. We have to do something for all these people who have been hurt by the base closings and the defense contract cutbacks. Here in the Bay area, the people here took the hardest lick from this, the third round of our base closures. They and the people in South Carolina and the people in a part of New York were hardest hit. It is wrong for us not to do something for them. So we propose to spend over the next 4 years $5 billion to speed up the environmental cleanup, to give preference to job-creating strategies around these base closings, to train people, to empower communities, to let people rebuild their lives in a new peace-oriented society where we still value the people who won the cold war. It is worth the money. We have to do that.

Now, what has all that got to do with education, and what has all that got to do with what I'm about to do? That is what I want to say to you in the last portion of my remarks.

I am leaving when I leave you to go to Tokyo to the G-7 summit. This will strengthen my hand, the progress we are making on the economic program. And every one of you, in lobbying your Members of Congress to support it, have helped that. Why will it strengthen my hand? Because for years American Presidents have gone to these meetings, and they have complained that other countries should open their markets to American goods, that other countries should trade with us more fairly. Do you know what the American Presidents have been told? "Don't talk to us about that. Your deficit is so big it is distorting the global economy. It is mandating your big trade deficit. Your Government deficit is messing up the whole works. Don't tell us to change until you change." Well, guess what? I'm going to be able to go for the first time in a decade and say, "We are changing. Now you must change, too. Work with us. Let's put some jobs back into this global economy. We can create more jobs and have more economic growth if we can open everybody's markets and if we can coordinate our economic policies." And now we'll be able to say, "You've been asking us to do this for 10 years. Here we are. Now help. Let's do it."

We cannot grow unless all the world grows. I will say again, Japan has its lowest rate of growth in decades. Europe has its lowest rate of growth in 20 years. Since 1987, over two-thirds of our new jobs have come from exports. Somebody has to be able to buy from us in order to create jobs that way. This is very important. And by helping us to pass the economic program, you have made a contribution to that.

I also want to say to you very frankly that I am going to challenge the other countries to work with us in a new cooperative effort to tackle the most troubling problem of this new era, and that is the stubbornly high rates of unemployment, even in times of economic growth. Even in times of economic growth. There are European nations that have had big economic growth and have still not been able to get their unemployment rate down below 9 percent.

We're supposed to have been out of the bottom of our recession 2 years ago. And yes, we have nearly a million jobs in the first 5 months of this year, but we're still over 3 million behind where we ought to be based on historical trends. This is a global crisis. The wealthy countries, even when they become more productive, even when they grow, are having trouble creating new jobs. We need to know why. We need to ask new questions, and we need to find new answers. We have to do this. We owe it to you, to your families, and to the future of this country.

Today I am announcing that I have asked my top economic and labor advisers to invite their counterparts from all these nations to come to the United States in the next few months to a meeting in which we search for the causes and possible answers for this stubbornly high unemployment. There are things each of us can do within our Nation, and we do it together, that will help us not just to grow the economy but to ensure that economic growth means more jobs for Americans and more jobs for the world. That is the way we have to do this, and this is a very important advance in the dialog going on among these countries. We've never really discussed this issue before, and we have to face it. I have called several of the other leaders of these other countries, and they are very enthusiastic because they're just as frustrated as I am that no matter what they seem to do for their economy, the jobs aren't coming along. And I will say again, if everybody in every one of your communities who wanted to work had a job, we wouldn't have half the problems we do today.

Finally, I want to emphasize in this area one other issue. I'm not just going to a meeting of the top industrialized nations, I'm taking my first foreign trip to Asia, to send a message that the Asian Pacific region has a very important role to play in your future. After the summit in Tokyo—thank you— [laughter] —I'm going to Korea as well. This region today is absolutely bursting with energy and growth. Already, over 40 percent of our trade is with the Asian Pacific region. Last year it exceeded $120 billion and accounted for almost 2 1/2 million American jobs.

Along with Europe and the Western Hemisphere, Asia is where we must find much of our growth in the next few years. In recent years, when we looked across the Pacific, we focused on our trade difficulties with Japan. Well, the trade deficit with Japan is real, unacceptable, and we're working very hard to take some steps with Japan to deal with that. But our relationships with the Pacific for the most part are good for us, and we will benefit from them.

We must never forget how much we've already benefited from all the immigrants who have come to this Nation, many of them to this State, from all the nations of Asia. We can build on that for a brighter future.

I want to lay out ways in which we can make our relationship with Japan, with Korea, and with these other nations stronger. I hope we will have a new global agreement on more open trade before the end of the year. I hope we can coordinate our efforts with these countries because when we do that, it really affects jobs in your community.

These kinds of policies are important, but they're not sufficient, and that's where you come in. Our policies can open the door to new opportunities for the American people, but whether they can walk through the door depends on whether they are educated and trained for the new global economy. Without the knowledge, without the skills, without the temperament, without the drive to capitalize on opportunities, America will still not be what it ought to be.

One hundred years ago our Nation's wealth was based on raw materials. Fifty years ago it was based on the huge capacity we had for mass production. Today it's based on what our people know and what they can learn. That's why the very best investment we can make is in the one resource that remains firmly rooted within our borders, the people who live in the United States of America.

When I was a boy, education was touted, as it always has been, as America's great equalizer. It is still that. But today, it is America's great energizer as well, the best change agent we can possibly have. It binds us together, it draws our youngsters in, it moves them ahead, it builds their self-worth, it instills a sense of pride and civic responsibility. America's public schools have been the cornerstones of progress for over two centuries, from the little red schoolhouses, to land grant colleges, to hundreds of community colleges that gave the children of working parents a chance to make something of themselves. We have seen what education can do.

Now there are school-to-work programs launched in cities and suburbs and rural districts around the country that are giving people the real chance to compete for a lifetime. And now I go into educational settings, and I see people in their twenties, their thirties, their forties, their fifties, their sixties, sometimes their seventies, learning anew for the challenges and opportunities they face.

You know better than anyone else the immense challenges that you face in our schools because they have such ambitious goals and such difficult and challenging obstacles. No other nation, as I said before, tries to teach so many students from so many backgrounds and cultures and languages. You shoulder our country's hardest and most important work. That's why we need to make sure that you and your schools are ready for the 21st century. That's what the national education goals are all about, to ensure that every child enters school ready to learn, to get rid of drugs and violence and make our schools safe. Several weeks ago, our administration's "Safe Schools Act" was introduced into the House trod the Senate. It is a good beginning. We cannot expect the students of this country to reach high achievement when their very safety or the safety of their teachers is in danger.

In safe schools, we can make sure our students know what they need to know. We can make sure that our students lead the world in math and science achievement. We can make sure that we can compete in the global economy and live in the global village. As I head overseas, I'm reminded how much more we need to do. We need to give our students a thirst for exploration and a sense of widening horizons. As one college president puts it, we need to acquire global literacy. Our students need to understand not only the meaning of democracy but the spirit of Japanese culture and the richness of African history. We need them to know more about foreign languages than just how to order in a restaurant. Foreign languages in this era aren't simply a sign of refinement, they are a survival tool for America in the global economy.

And while I have said repeatedly all across this country, the magic of education is what occurs in the classroom and what the parents give if they do their job, it is still clear that your National Government has a role to play and must be your partner. Our job is to provide leadership, to set standards, to offer incentives that will help States and local school systems chart their own path to excellence with responsibility and accountability from all in the system. Most of all, we can do that if we are your partners. And I believe that the president of this organization would say we have had the partnership I promised in the campaign of 1992, and we will continue to have it through the work of Secretary Riley and Secretary Reich at the Labor Department and our entire Cabinet. We want the teachers of America to be the engines of reform. And we are convinced that they will be.

Our education agenda is ambitious, and its heart is Goals 2000, which enshrines into law the national education goals and world-class standards. We must reach them by the turn of the century. The legislation we need to make it happen, enshrining Goals 2000, is awaiting action now in both Houses of Congress. It has bipartisan support, thanks in large measure to the Herculean efforts of the Secretary of Education.

Goals 2000 will give parents and students and teachers a clear assessment of classroom performance. It will encourage schools to be more creative in organizing classrooms, training teachers, and motivating students. It will help students to prepare for work after graduation. It will provide funding to support the reform efforts that are blossoming all across America. It will mean that the investments we propose to make in Head Start and other early childhood programs, like immunization, will actually be able to bear fruits so that the gains from preschool will be able to be made permanent instead of being lost if we have the right sort of goals and the fight sort of standards and the right sort of partnership and support. That is what we seek through Goals 2000.

I intend to fight hard for this bill's passage. And I intend to fight hard against anything that will water it down, weaken it, or divert it from its essential mission: partnerships with people at the State and local level. We cannot run the schools of this country from Washington, DC. We need to empower you to run them.

I also want to mention our school-to-work initiative. Today half of America's young people don't go on to college. We know from now the census data in the 1980's that every high school graduate who gets at least 2 years of post-high school education at least has a decent chance to get a good job with a growing income, and that every high school graduate with less than 2 years of post-high school education or every person who drops out of high school has an excellent chance of being unemployed or getting a job with a declining income. I think it is clear what our course should be. Every student ought to finish high school, every high school graduate ought to have at least 2 years of school-to-work transitional education and training so they can successfully learn for a lifetime. That has to be our objective. Our legislation forges a remarkable and heretofore unprecedented partnership between the Departments of Education and the Department of Labor and then working with people at the local level. We must do this.

This is not a controversial issue. It may never blister across the headlines of America. But I'm telling you, if we want to raise the per capita income of Americans, we've got to make every worker literate, we've got to make everybody have the equivalent of a high school degree, and we've got to give people the chance to get at least 2 years of further training. That will raise incomes and increase jobs in the United States.

Now, my fellow Americans, as I leave you and head off to Japan, I want to say again that there is a common challenge that spans your work and mine. For the challenge we face in the global economy is about more than interest rates and trade balances. And the challenge you face in your own classrooms is about more than discrete subjects and SAT test scores. The fundamental question of our time involves a matter of national character, the question of whether we will apply our heritage and values to the demands of a new and rigorous time. I am confident of the answer. I am concerned still that so many of our people seem to lack the same confidence. I know life is tough for most Americans, as much because it is uncertain as because of the real difficulties of the moment. But both are real. Still there is no nation with more resilience, more creativity, more love for freedom and devotion to progress than the United States. So now it is time once again to show what we are made of.

Yesterday in Philadelphia on the 217th anniversary of the United States, I had the astonishing experience of being an American President sitting in the middle of the President of South Africa and the president of the African National Congress, the President of a nation once known as the most vociferous symbol of apartheid in the world and the man who had been the symbol of the struggle against apartheid, having lingered for 27 years in jail as a political prisoner there together to receive in common a political medal from the founding city of the United States of America because they put their differences behind them, agreed on elections, agreed on a nonracial democracy. And by next year we will have that in South Africa. Now, that, that is a symbol. That is a symbol of what people can do when they suspend their cynicism and they suspend their bitterness and they overcome their difficulties and they act on their beliefs. And what has that got to do with us? Because what is bringing them together are democratic ideals forged in the American Constitution, a commitment to a bill of rights like the American Bill of Rights to protect the rights of minorities as well as majorities and to enable people who are different to live in peace and to pursue progress.

If we can inspire that in that country, how can we not still be a nation of builders and believers here at home. You and I are joined in common cause, and I believe we will succeed. You in the classroom and me in my classroom. And so, now I go abroad grateful for your support, grateful for your commitment to our children, and more confident than ever that together we can do our jobs and make life for all Americans what it ought to be.

God bless you, and God bless America.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:02 a.m. at the Moscone Center. In his remarks, he referred to Brad Sherman, chairman of the State Board of Equalization, and Keith Geiger, president, National Education Association.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the National Education Association in San Francisco, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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