Text of speech delivered by Texas Gov. George W. Bush
at the Northern White Mountain Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire
November 2, 1999
It is a pleasure to be here, and to join in marking the chamber's Business Appreciation Month. New Hampshire is a state of small businesses. Many of them here in the north country are prospering, and this organization has played an important part. I am honored by your invitation.
I am an optimist. I believe that the next century will be a time of incredible prosperity -- if we can create an environment where entrepreneurs like you can dream and flourish. A prosperity sustained by low taxes, unleashed by lighter regulation, energized by new technologies, expanded by free trade. A prosperity beyond all our expectations, but within our grasp.
But this hope, in the long-run, depends directly on the education of our children -- on young men and women with the skills and character to succeed. So, for the past few months, I have focused on the problems and promise of our public schools.
In September, I talked about disadvantaged children left behind by failed schools. The diminished hopes of our current system are sad and serious -- the soft bigotry of low expectations. Schools that do not teach and will not change must have some final point of accountability. A moment of truth, when their federal funds, intended to help the poorest children, are divided up and given to parents -- for tutoring or a charter school or some other hopeful option.
Last month, I talked about raising the academic ambitions of every public school in America -- creating a culture of achievement. My plan lifts the burden of bureaucracy, and gives states unprecedented freedom in spending federal education dollars. In return for this flexibility, each state must adopt a system of real accountability and high standards. Students must be tested on the basics of reading and math each year -- and those results posted, by school, on the Internet. This will give parents the information to know if education is actually taking place -- and the leverage to demand reform.
My education proposals are bound by a thread of principle. The federal government must be humble enough to stay out of the day-to-day operation of total schools. It must be wise enough to give states and school districts more authority and freedom. And it must be strong enough to require proven performance in return. The federal role in education is to foster excellence and challenge failure with charters and choice. The federal role in education is not to serve the system. It is to serve the children.
Yet this is only part of an agenda. Yes, we want our children to be smart and successful. But even more, we want them to be good and kind and decent. Yes, our children must learn how to make a living. But even more, they must learn how to live, aud what to love. "Intelligence is not enough," said Martin Luther King, Jr. "Intelligence plus character -- that is the true goal of education."
So today, here in New Hampshire, I want to make the case for moral education. Teaching is more than training, and learning is more than literacy. Our children must be educated in reading and writing -- but also in right and wrong.
Of course, every generation worries about the next. "Children today are tyrants," said one educator. "They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers." And that teacher's name was . . . Socrates.
Some things don't change. The real problem comes, not when children challenge the rules, but when adults won't defend the rules. And for about three decades, many American schools surrendered this role. Values were "clarified." not taught. Students were given moral puzzles, not moral guidance. But morality is not a cafeteria of personal choices -- with every choice equally right and equally arbitrary, like picking a flavor of ice cream. We do not shape our own morality. It is morality that shapes our lives.
Take an example, a Massachusetts teacher -- a devoted supporter of values clarification -- had a sixth-grade class which announced that it valued cheating, and wanted the freedom to express that value during tests. Her response? "I personally value honesty," she said. "Although you may choose to be dishonest, I will insist that we be honest on our tests here. In other areas of your life, you may have to be dishonest."
This is not moral neutrality. It is moral surrender. Our schools should not cultivate confusion. They must cultivate conscience.
In spite of conflicting signals -- and in spite of a popular culture that sometimes drowns their innocence -- most of our kids are good kids. Large numbers do volunteer work. Nearly all believe in God, and most practice their faith. Teen pregnancy and violence are actually going down. Across America, under a program called True Love Waits, nearly a million teens have pledged themselves to abstain from sex until marriage. Our teenagers feel the pressures of complex times, but also the upward pull of a better nature. They deserve our love and they deserve encouragement.
And sometimes they show character and courage beyond measure. When a gun is aimed at a seventeen-year-old in Colorado -- and she is shot for refusing to betray her Lord. When a seventeen-year-old student during a madman's attack on a Forth Worth church is shot while shielding a friend with Down syndrome -- and continues to comfort her, even after her own injury. We are finding, in the midst of tragedy, that our children can be heroes too.
Yet something is lost when the moral message of schools is mixed and muddled. Many children catch a virus of apathy and cynicism. They lose the ability to make confident judgments -- viewing all matters of right and wrong as a matter of opinion. Something becomes frozen within them -- a capacity for indignation and empathy. You can see it in shrugged shoulders. You can hear it in the watchword of a generation: "Whatever."
Academics like Professor Robert Simon report seeing many students -- nice, well-intentioned young men and women -- who refuse to make judgments even about the Holocaust. "Of course I dislike the Nazis," he quotes a student, "but who is to say they are morally wrong?"
At the extreme, in the case of a very few children -- lawless, loveless and lonely -- this confusion can harden into self-destruction or evil, suicide or violence. They find no elevating ideals -- from parents or church or school -- to counter the chaos in their souls. "We laugh at honor," said C.S. Lewis, "and are shocked to find traitors in our midst."
But something is changing in this country. Perhaps we have been sobered by tragedy. Perhaps the Baby Boom generation has won some wisdom from its failures and pain. But we are no longer laughing at honor. "Values clarification" seems like a passing superstition. Many states have instituted real character education in their schools, and many more are headed in that direction. After decades of drift, we are beginning a journey of renewal.
Above all, we are relearning a sense of idealism for our children. Parents and teachers are rediscovering a great calling and a heavy burden: to write on the slate of souls.
We must tell our children -- with conviction and confidence -- that the authors of the Holocaust were evil men, and the authors of the Constitution were good ones. That the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not a personal opinion, but an eternal truth.
And we must tell our children -- with clarity and certainty -- that character gives direction to their gifts and dignity to their lives. That life is too grand and important to be wasted on whims and wants, on getting and keeping. That selfishness is a dark, dungeon. That bigotry disfigures the heart. That they were made for better things and higher goals.
The shape of our society, the fate of our country, depends on young men and women who know these things. And we must teach them.
I know this begins with parents. And I know that is easy for a politician to say. Mark Twain once commented, "To do good is noble. To instruct others in doing good is just as noble, and much easier." But the message of our society must be clear. When a man or woman has a child, being a father or mother becomes their most important job in life. Especially when a child is young, a parent is that child's whole universe -- all its tenderness, or all its betrayal. Not all teachers are parents, but all parents are teachers. Family is the first school of manners and morals. And the compass of conscience is usually the gift of a caring parent.
Yet parents should expect schools to be allies in the moral education of children. The lessons of the home must be enforced by the standards of the school -- standards of safety, discipline and decency.
Effective character education should not just be an hour a week on a school's virtue of the month. Effective character education is fostered in schools that have confidence in their own rules and values. Schools that set limits, enforce boundaries, teach high ideals, create habits of good conduct. Children take the values of the adult world seriously when adults take those values seriously.
And this goal sets an agenda for our nation.
First, we must do everything in our power to ensure the safety of our children. When children and teenagers go to school afraid of being bullied, or beaten, or worse, it is the ultimate betrayal of adult responsibility. It communicates the victory of moral chaos.
In an American school year there are more than 4,000 rapes or cases of sexual battery; 7,000 robberies; and 11,000 physical attacks involving a weapon. And these are overall numbers. For children attending inner-city schools, the likelihood of being a victim of violence is roughly five times greater than elsewhere. It is a sign of the times that the same security company used by the U.S. Mint and the FBI has now branched out into high-school security.
Surveying this scene, it is easy to forget that there is actually a federal program designed to confront school violence. It's called the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. The program spends about $600 million dollars a year, assisting 97 percent of the nation's school districts.
What's missing from the program is accountability. Nobody really knows how the money is spent, much less whether it is doing any good. One newspaper found that federal money had gone to pay for everything from motivational speakers to clowns to school puppet shows to junkets for school administrators.
As president, I will propose major changes in this program. Every school getting this funding will report their results -- measured in student safety. Those results will be public. At schools that are persistently dangerous, students will be given a transfer to some other school -- a safe school.
No parent in America -- no matter their income -- should be forced to send their child to a school where violence reigns. No child in America -- regardless of background -- should be forced to risk their lives in order to learn.
In the same way, it is a federal crime for a student to bring a gun into any public school. Yet this law has been almost completely ignored by federal prosecutors in recent years. Of some 3,900 violations reported between 1997 and 1998, only 13 were prosecuted. It is easy to propose laws. Sometimes it is easy to pass laws. But the measure of our seriousness is enforcing the law. And the safety of our children merits more than lip service.
Here is what I'll do. We will form a new partnership of the federal government and states called Project Sentry. With some additional funding for prosecutors and the ATF, we can enforce the law and prosecute the violators: students who use guns illegally or bring guns to school, and adults who provide them. And for any juvenile found guilty of a serious gun offense, there will be a lifetime ban on carrying or purchasing a gun -- any gun, for any reason, at any age, ever.
Tougher enforcement of gun laws will help to make our schools safer. But safety is not the only goal here. The excellence of a school is not just measured by declines in robbery, murder and aggravated assault. Safety is the first and urgent step toward a second order of business -- instilling in all of our public schools the virtues of discipline.
More than half of secondary-school teachers across the country say they have been threatened, or shouted at, or verbally abused by students. A teacher in Los Angeles describes her job as "nine-tenths policeman, one-tenth educational." And many schools, intimidated by the threat of lawsuits, have watered down their standards of behavior. In Oklahoma, a student who stabbed a principal with a nail was suspended for three days. In North Carolina, a student who broke her teacher's arm was suspended for only two days.
In too many cases, adults are in authority, but they are not in control.
To their credit, many schools are trying to reassert that control -- only to find themselves in court. Generations of movies from "The Blackboard Jungle" to "Stand and Deliver" cast as their hero the teacher who dares to bring discipline to the classroom. But a modern version of this drama would have to include a new figure in the story -- the lawyer.
Thirty-one percent of all high schools have faced lawsuits or out-of-court settlements in the past two years. This is seriously deterring discipline, and demands a serious response.
In school districts receiving federal school safety funds, we will expect a policy of zero tolerance for persistently disruptive behavior. This means simply that teachers will have the authority to remove from their classroom any student who persists in being violent or unruly. The days of timid pleading and bargaining and legal haggling with disruptive students must be over. Learning must no longer be held hostage to the brazen behavior of a few.
Along with this measure, I will propose a Teacher Protection Act to free teachers, principals and school board members from meritless federal lawsuits when they enforce reasonable rules. School officials, acting in their official duties, must be shielded from liability. A lifetime dedicated to teaching must not be disrupted by a junk lawsuit. We do not need tort lawyers scouring the halls of our schools -- turning every classroom dispute into a treasure hunt for damage awards.
Safety and discipline are essential. But when we dream for our children, we dream with higher goals. We want them to love learning. And we want them to be rich in character and blessed in ideals.
So our third goal is to encourage clear instruction in right and wrong. We want our schools to care about the character of our children.
I am not talking about schools promoting a particular set of religious beliefs. Strong values are shared by good people of different faiths, of varied backgrounds.
I am talking about communicating the values we share, in all our diversity, Respect. Responsibility. Self-restraint. Family commitment. Civic duty. Fairness. Compassion. The moral landmarks that guide a successful life.
There are a number of good programs around the country that show how values can be taught in a diverse nation. At St. Leonard's Elementary School in Maryland, children take a pledge each morning to be "respectful, responsible and ready to learn." Character education is a theme throughout the curriculum -- in writing, social studies and reading. And discipline referrals were down by 70 percent in one year. At Marion Intermediate School in South Carolina, virtues are taught by studying great historical figures and characters in literature. Consideration is encouraged; good manners are expected. And discipline referrals are down by half in one year.
The federal government now spends $8 million on promoting character education efforts. My administration will triple that funding -- money for states to train teachers and incorporate character lessons into daily coursework.
We will require federal youth and juvenile justice programs to incorporate an element of character building.
Our government must get its priorities straight when it comes to the character of our children. Right now, the Department of Health and Human Services spends far more on teen contraception than it does on teen abstinence. It takes the jaded view that children are nothing more than the sum of their drives, with no higher goal than hanging out and hooking up. We owe them better than this -- and they are better than this. They ask for bread, and we give them a stone.
Abstinence programs show real promise -- exactly because more and more teenagers understand that true love waits. My administration will elevate abstinence education from an afterthought to an urgent goal. We should spend at least as much each year in promoting conscience of our children as we do on providing them with contraception.
As well, we will encourage and expand the role of charities in after-school programs. Everyone agrees there is a problem in these empty, unsupervised hours after school. But those hours should not only be filled with sports and play, they should include lessons in responsibility and character. The federal government already funds after-school programs. But charities and faith-based organizations are prevented from participating. In my administration they will be invited to participate. Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the YMCA and local churches and synagogues aud mosques should be a central part of voluntary, after-school programs.
Schools must never impose religion -- but they must not oppose religion either. And the federal government should not be an enemy of voluntary expressions of faith by students.
Religious groups have a right to meet before and after school. Students have a right to say grace before meals, read their Bibles, wear Stars of David and crosses, and discuss religion with other willing students. Students have a right to express religious ideas in art and homework.
Public schools that forbid these forms of religious expression are confused. But more than that, they are rejecting some of the best and finest influences on young lives. It is noble when a young mind finds meaning and wisdom in the Talmud or Koran. It is good and hopeful when young men and women ask themselves what would Jesus do.
The measure of our nation's greatness has never been affluence or influence -- rising stocks or advancing armies. It has always been found in citizens of character and compassion. And so many of our problems as a nation -- from drugs, to deadly diseases, to crime -- are not the result of chance, but of choice. They will only be solved by a transformation of the heart and will. This is why a hopeful and decent future is found in hopeful and decent children.
That hope, of course, is not created by an Executive Order or an Act of Congress. I strongly believe our schools should reinforce good character. I know that our laws will always reflect a moral vision. But there are limits to law, set at the boundaries of the heart. It has been said: "Men can make good laws, but laws can not make men good."
Yet a president has a broader influence and a deeper legacy than the programs he proposes. He is more than a bookkeeper or an engineer of policy. A president is the most visible symbol of a political system that Lincoln called "the last best hope of earth." The presidency, said Franklin Roosevelt, is "preeminently a place of moral leadership."
That is an awesome charge. It is the most sobering part of a decision to run for president. And it is a charge I plan to keep.
After power vanishes and pride passes, this is what remains: The promises we kept. The oath we fulfilled. The example we set. The honor we earned.
This is true of a president or a parent. Of a governor or a teacher. We are united in a common task: to give our children a spirit of moral counsel. This is not a search for scapegoats -- it is a call to conscience. It is not a hopeless task -- it is the power and privilege of every generation. Every individual can change a corner of our culture. And every child is a new beginning.
In all the confusion and controversy of our time, there is still one answer for our children. An answer as current as the headlines. An answer as old as the scriptures. "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things."
If we love our children, this is the path of duty -- and the way of hope. Thank you.