[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[August 31, 1998]
[Pages 1477-1479]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Opening Remarks at a Roundtable Discussion on Education in Herndon, 
August 31, 1998

    Thank you. First of all, let me thank all of you for that warm 
welcome, and Michele Freeman, thank you for welcoming me to Herndon 
Elementary School. All of you know, better than I, that this is the 
beginning of a new school year where parents and children are meeting 
their teachers for the first time, and there is excitement and 
anticipation of what everyone hopes will be a very successful year for 
the children, and insofar as it is, it's a good year for America.
    I have done everything I knew to do, for the last 6 years, to try to 
focus the attention of the American people on the whole question of 
education, because I think it is one of the big questions which will 
determine the shape of our children's future and the world in the 21st 
    If you think about the other major challenges we face as Americans--
reforming Social Security and Medicare so that we baby boomers don't 
bankrupt the country when we retire--[laughter]--providing quality 
affordable health care for all of our people; proving we can preserve 
and improve the environment and grow the economy; building one America 
across all the racial and religious and other lines that separate us, 
something I've been very involved in, in the last several weeks, as all 
of you know; trying to construct a world free of terrorism and more full 
of peace and prosperity and security and freedom--every single one of 
those challenges depends upon our ability to have educated citizens, not 
just educated Presidents, not just educated Secretaries of Education, 
but citizens who can absorb complicated information and all these things 
that are flying at them all the time and evaluate it and measure it, who 
can develop reasoned principles, passionate responses, to keep the idea 
of America going into this new century.
    That's why I wanted to come here today. Many of you know that I am 
leaving. When I go back from you, I go back to Washington and then the 
First Lady and I are going to

[[Page 1478]]

Russia and then to Ireland with a team of people to deal with the issues 
there, and I'd like to just say one word about it, because it's my only 
real opportunity to talk with you and through you, thanks to our friends 
in the press here, to the American people. Because this trip is an 
example of one of the most important lessons every child needs to learn 
in America from a very early age. And that is, we are living in a 
smaller and smaller world.
    This global economy, the global society, it is real. Information, 
ideas, technology, money, people can travel around the world at speeds 
unheard of not very long ago. Our economies are increasingly 
interconnected. Our securities are increasingly interconnected. I'm sure 
all of you have followed the events in the aftermath of the tragic 
bombing at our Embassies in Africa, and you know that there were far 
more Africans killed than Americans, even though America was the target. 
And you know that the person responsible did not belong to any 
government but had an independent terrorist network capable of hitting 
people and countries all around the world.
    So there's been a lot of good. We've benefited a lot from this 
global society of ours. We have over 16 million new jobs in the last 6 
years, and we're about to have our first balanced budget and surplus in 
29 years. We have benefited from the world of the 21st century. But we 
have a lot of responsibilities. And the reason I'm going to Russia is 
because we have learned the hard way that problems that develop beyond 
our borders sooner or later find their way to our doorstep unless we 
help our friends and our neighbors to deal with them as quickly and 
promptly as possible.
    Now, the Russian people are to be commended for embracing democracy 
and getting rid of the old Communist system. But they're having some 
troubles today making the transition from communism to a free market 
economy and from communism to a democratic society that has supports for 
people who are in trouble.
    What I want to do is to go there and tell them that the easy thing 
to do is not the right thing to do. The easy thing to do would be to try 
to go back to the way they did it before, and it's not possible, but 
that if they will stay on the path of reform, to stabilize their society 
and to strengthen their economy and to get growth back, then I believe 
America and the rest of the Western nations with strong economies should 
help them and, indeed, have an obligation to help them and that it's in 
our interest to help them.
    If you say ``Why?'' let me just give you a couple of reasons. First 
of all, Russia and the United States still have the biggest nuclear 
arsenals in the world. And at a time when India and Pakistan have tested 
nuclear weapons, we need to be moving the world away from nuclear war, 
not toward it. We have to have the cooperation and the partnership with 
the Russians to do that.
    We don't want terrorists to get a hold of weapons of mass 
destruction. A weakened Russia, a weakened Russian economy would put 
enormous pressure on people, who have those technologies and 
understandings, to sell them. We don't want that to happen. We know we 
need Russia's partnership to solve problems in that part of the world. 
If it hadn't been for Russia's partnership, we could not have ended the 
war in Bosnia, which all of you remember, a couple of years ago, was 
threatening the entire stability of Europe. Next door, in Kosovo, there 
is a similar problem today; we've got to have Russia's partnership to 
solve that. So if Russia will stay on the path of reform, I believe 
America and the rest of the West must help them.
    I'm also going to Ireland, which is the homeland of over 40 million 
Americans. We trace our ancestry there. And they've been working a long 
time on a peace process in which we've been intimately involved, and I'm 
going to do my best to advance that. I think we have a good chance to do 
so. But I want you to understand that I do these things because I think 
they are in America's interest. They're not just the right things to do, 
they're not just nice things to have happen.
    But every child--you look around this room and see how many children 
are here who come from different cultures themselves, whose ancestors 
come from different countries themselves. There is no nation in the 
world better positioned than the United States to do well in the 21st 
century, because we're a people from everywhere. If our values and our 
ideals can spread around the world, then we can create a peaceful, 
secure world. So that's what I'm trying to do.
    But to get back to the main point, the ultimate national security of 
any country rests in the strength of its own citizens. And for us, that 
means we have got to prove that no matter

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how diverse we are, we can still offer a world-class education to every 
single American child.
    I'm sure all of you know this, but virtually everyone in the world 
believes that America has the finest system of higher education 
anywhere. We are flooded every year with students and graduate students 
coming from every other country in the world to our colleges and 
universities because they think they're the best in the world, and they 
have made us very strong. But we now know that, in the world we're 
living in, it's not enough just to educate half the people very well 
through university; you must educate 100 percent of the people very well 
in elementary and secondary school.
    We know we've got a lot of challenges. Our kids come from different 
places. A lot of them have different cultures. They have different 
learning patterns. They speak different languages as their native 
language. A lot of them are poor. A lot of them live in neighborhoods 
that are difficult. And so this is a great challenge for us. But it is a 
worthy challenge. It's a worthy challenge for a great country to prove 
that we can take all this diversity, not just racial and ethnic and 
religious diversity but diversity of life circumstance, and still give 
every single child a shot at living his or her dream. That is what this 
is all about, and that's why I'm here today.
    This is just as much a part of our national security as that trip 
I'm taking to Russia, and I want you to understand that I believe that. 
So when we finish the roundtable, I want to say a little about what we 
can do to help and what's going on in Congress and what will happen in 
Congress over the next month, because it's very important. But the most 
important thing, as the Secretary said, is what's happening here. So I'd 
like to stop talking and start listening now, and we'll do the 
roundtable. And I think we should start with Michele Freeman and let her 
talk about this school and her experiences and her challenges and what 
she's doing about it.

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. in the gymnasium at Herndon 
Elementary School. In his remarks, he referred to Michele J. Freeman, 
principal, Herndon Elementary School; and suspected terrorist leader 
Usama bin Ladin.