Public Papers

Remarks to Recipients of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching


Welcome to the chilly Rose Garden. I don't know whose idea this was, but -- [laughter]. In any event, we are just delighted to have you all here. And it's great to see Lynn Martin, our Secretary of Labor; Dr. Massey; Dr. Wong; and most of all, let me welcome 108 very special men and women chosen from over one-quarter of a million secondary teachers in their fields. And congratulations to all of you in receiving this Nation's highest honor for math and science teachers.

As teachers, you know firsthand what the spirit of innovation has brought to this country, though we're not always ready for change. Sometimes I think that if Edison were to invent the light bulb today, newspapers would headline the story ``Candle Industry Threatened.'' [Laughter] The one I like best, though, is one Lyndon Johnson used to tell about. Pointing down to the Potomac, he said, ``If I walked across the Potomac, the press would say `LBJ can't swim.''' [Laughter]

You have shown the kind of excellence that will help this country meet the ambitious goals that we've set for our Nation in this America 2000 education strategy, goals worthy of the talent you have and of the potential of these wonderful young kids that you teach. We know we've got to be competitive in math and science in a changing world. Our economic health, our economic strength, our survival, depend on how we educate ourselves to face the challenges of the next century. We've called on our kids to be number one in the world in your subjects by the turn of the century. And it's teachers like you who will help us reach our goal, set an example, and help America to excel.

As you know, we're helping to develop world-class standards for national assessment in five core areas, including math and science. And we've set a deadline for the first phase of the American Achievement Test, the start of the 1993 - 94 school year.

All told, we have requested more than billion in Federal spending on math and science education for next year's budget. And if my math is correct -- and with this crowd it better be -- [laughter] -- 8 million of that is for pre-college. That's an increase of 123 percent in the last 3 years.

But I believe that the single most important thing we in the Federal Government can do is to simply help you do your jobs. For instance, also in next year's budget, I have proposed an expanded program of federally assisted training for math and science teachers, in part using Federal labs, Federal laboratories and Federal personnel. Innovations like this will help us create a world-class corps of teachers.

We also want to bring new technology into the classroom, so that kids can interact with astronauts and explorers and scientists; so rural schools can have access to state-of-the-art resources; and so all American kids can be exposed to the cutting edge technologies and ideas that will shape their future.

The Federal Government can do a lot. We can do an awful lot, but we cannot do it all. Real excellence demands commitment from everyone in every community as we work to create a new generation of American schools. And together, we are literally going to reinvent the American school community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, all across this country. You're showing us the way. You're leading. You're showing how we can break the mold, take our bearings by what works. And you're here today because you're not afraid to reach for excellence. And that's why I salute you all.

I salute winners like Julie Csongor, of Philadelphia -- where's Julie? Somewhere, right there -- who fled the persecution of her native Hungary, unable to speak English. And now she gives of herself to a generation of American kids. And listen to this; she says, ``I have my cake in my classroom every day. This award is the icing.'' Welcome and congratulations. Well, I salute you, and I envy you. And you share in our kids' sheer joy of learning, of making something work, of understanding the world.

Think of the scientist or engineer who will one day discover the cure for cancer or who will use technology to push back the frontiers of space, maybe wipe out hunger. Today that man or woman is a student, maybe in your classroom. A kid who will catch a spark from you, a spark that will change his life, change her world. That's your gift. A teacher affects a lifetime.

I'm proud to be with you all here today because you demonstrate what it will take to make our students the best in the world. You encourage students by giving them direct hands-on experience. You foster curiosity not just in your students but also in their parents and in your colleagues. You still have the joy of discovery, the excitement of optimism. And you still ask questions and try new ways. Above all, you believe in your students and in the future of this country. And that is the spirit we all need.

We all know the real rewards of teaching aren't their certificates that you received here, but they are something much more important. Sir Thomas More described it in the play ``A Man For All Seasons.'' At one point, he suggests to a young man that he would make a fine teacher. ``And if I was,'' the boy asks, ``well, who would know about it?'' And Sir Thomas replies, ``You, your pupils, your friends, God; not a bad public, that.''

Well, thank you all so much for what you do for the young people of this country. Thank you for your excellence. And on behalf of a very grateful country, let me just extend my personal thanks also. Keep up the good work and the good works. And may God bless you all. And now get out of this cold so you can thaw out. Thank you all for being here.

Note: The President spoke at 2:33 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Dr. Walter E. Massey, Director of the National Science Foundation; Dr. Eugene Wong, Associate Director for Physical Science and Engineering in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President; and Julie Csongor, a geometry and calculus teacher at St. Maria Goretti High School in Philadelphia, PA.