Public Papers of George Bush, 1989

Author: George Bush  | Date: March 7, 1989

Remarks to Members of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
March 7, 1989

Well, thank you all very, very much; and Barbara and I are pleased, indeed, very pleased, to be here this evening. Yogi Berra, philosopher, said: "You can observe a lot by just watching." [Laughter] And I’m watching the Secretary of State [James A. Baker III] to see how in heaven’s name he can stay awake— [laughter] —because it wasn’t but a handful of days ago that he was covering 14 countries, or something of that nature, in Europe. A few days less than that, he and I embarked on a trip to Japan and China and then Korea. He’s only back 3 days, and off he goes to Vienna. And so, I will be watching him, observing to see how he survives. But I am delighted to be introduced by him in this building. He’ll be a great Secretary of State. And you watch, I made a good choice, a real good choice.

I want to thank Mr. Blitzer and Mr. Baroody, Dwayne Andreas, and all responsible for this lovely evening. Ever since I said I want to become the "Education President," I’ve had more than a few things to say about accountability in education. Well, Woodrow Wilson did once serve as president of Princeton University. And legend has it that one day a worried mother approached him and questioned him closely about what Princeton could do for her son. And he’s said to have answered—historians may dispute this, but nevertheless, he’s said to have answered—and here’s the quote: "Madam, we guarantee satisfaction, or you will get your son back." [Laughter]

Well, I’m very glad to be back amongst the Wilson scholars, an honor to be here, celebrating the anniversary of this wonderful institution. The law establishing this national memorial to Woodrow Wilson called for a "living institution" to express his ideals and his concerns. And this one certainly does. In this alliance of scholars, now world-renowned for exploring some of the most vital issues that confront mankind, Woodrow Wilson’s ideals find their highest and most effective expression.

The pursuit of knowledge and understanding that the center is committed to will be all the more crucial in coming years. We’re going to depend more than ever on the counsel of learned men and women in a world that is changing rapidly, a world interconnected as never before in history. New ideas, new technologies, and the diplomatic and trading relationships that they spawn, are developing at literally an outstanding pace.

Barbara and I went back to China—my fifth visit and her sixth since we left there in the mid-seventies, 1975—astounding the change and the excitement in that place. And Jim—just filling me in briefly on a chat that he has had with the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, Mr. Shevardnadze. This is an exciting era in which we are living: new ideas, new technologies—very important to what’s going on. And we weave a tapestry of shared concerns and relations worldwide. Threads are many—social, economic, environmental. Now world conscience—what the world conscience—has environmental questions out there, geopolitical, and really grows broader every day.

And much of what is occurring in the world presents us, I think, with remarkable opportunities. I said China is one. China really continues to experiment with free market capitalism—dramatic change. We’re carefully, but optimistically, watching these internal changes in the Soviet Union that many in this room are interested in and, indeed, an area where many in this room have pioneered. And all over the world, opportunitiesare rising for new directions in foreign policy and trading arrangements, and new challenges are being issued to our competitive status in world markets.

During this recent trip to the Far East, I had many opportunities to observe and think about competitiveness. And there are many theories about the reasons for the industrial success that some of our Asian friends are enjoying today. But no one questions the importance of one factor: the highly skilled, highly motivated, and educated work forces in those countries. And out of the devastation of war, they had the courage to recognize how their future was tied to the quality of educations that their nations provided. And as this country prepares to—what are we, 11 years short of a new century?—to enter that century, we, too, must recognize how essential the education of the next generations has become to our economic future. Perhaps the highest praise that coming generations might bestow upon us is that we understood the changes that are occurring in the world and that we prepared them for the challenges we knew they would face.

And so, you who comprise the Wilson Center are devoted to the life of the mind. And I imagine you’ll agree with me if I say that young minds will make or break the future of this and every other country. And I have two concerns about those young minds that I want to just share briefly this evening. The young people will have to be better educated than the previous generation. And to be so, they’ve got to be free of the scourge of drug abuse. You know, no matter what the problems we face, as I look at our country today, and really, indeed, internationally look around, this terrible scourge of drug abuse has got to be in the forefront. And it’s fundamental, these things affect us all. Their solution is not a question of "whether," it’s a question of "when." And so, I want to think—education, drug abuse—think of tonight as a celebration, but also a challenge. Consider what we’ve got to do.

Where the state of the schools is concerned, you’ve all heard the surveys. Last month’s report from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education over here put American seventh-graders—American seventh-graders—at the bottom of an international comparison of math and science skills. And who’s to blame? Too late; that’s not the issue. We all must be accountable for the quality of education in America. And to assure the competitive future of this nation and the overall standard of living enjoyed by its people will demand the best kind of collective effort. All of us must get involved.

I want to launch a crusade for excellence in American education. And, yes, we are living in a time of cramped resources; but we’ve got to do it. The crusade has to be driven largely by local energy and initiative, drawing on people from both the public and the private sectors, and determined to establish a culture of high expectations in our schools.

At the Federal level, I’ve made some proposals. I want to reward excellence and success by rewarding superior teachers, recognizing these Presidential merit scholars that make real progress in these merit schools. We will establish benchmarks for achievement and both commend and reward teachers and schools that succeed. I want to establish a National Science Scholars Program, to encourage students to succeed in science. It is incumbent upon us to restore the honor, indeed, the nobility, of good teaching in this country. And it won’t escape the eyes of the young if we can show them how much we value learning in the way we value teachers.

And secondly, I want to put resources where they count, targeting Federal dollars to help those most in need, to places where support can really make a difference. We will also use funds in ways that build the right links between the university and government and industry, research labs to promote scientific education and basic research. And I intend to hold firm in our effort to double the National Science Foundation’s budget by 1993.

And third, I want to promote choice and flexibility by devoting $100 million in new funding for magnet schools. These are the schools that increase choice, who expand opportunities for children, and generate healthy competition among the schools.
And lastly, I’m going to push for greateraccountability at all levels—among students, among teachers, administrators, and principals-to assure that students are actually receiving the highest quality education. For this is what excellence demands. It means setting high standards, standards that the rest of the world are going to look to. And it means constantly measuring yourself against those standards and not resting until you meet the standards. It means discipline-says, if we don’t get it right the first time, we’re going to try again and again until we do get it right.

But excellence in education will not be fully realized until we free our young people from that second problem I mentioned: the scourge of drugs, drugs that kill hopes and ambitions and kill kids. And to rid our schools and our streets of this scourge, I’ve proposed nearly a billion dollars in new outlays for anti-drug programs. I’ve got to confess, I wish it were more. That’s what we’ve proposed; it’s a lot of money.

With the help of our new drug czar, Bill Bennett, I’m going to be implementing a comprehensive national drug control strategy. He has 6 months from the day he’s confirmed to come up with a whole new plan. And our strategy will deal with both supply and demand, by educating and inspiring in our young an attitude of zero tolerance, reclaiming lives through more effective treatment, stopping drugs at their source, and enforcing tougher penalties.

You know, last week we did get some news on the drug front. In 1988, use of cocaine declined among high school seniors. In fact, student usage of almost every illegal drug, as well as alcohol, appears to be on the decline. So, in our schools the message is beginning to get out, but we have no reason to be complacent. The drug problem is much worse among high school dropouts. And international cultivation of the opium poppy and coca leaf increased sharply last year.

So, when I talk about a war on drugs, I mean more than a rhetorical war. I seek engagement on all fronts. And the Wilson Center is known as a vital point of contact between the thinkers and the doers of this country, and a number of scholars have shed new light on this drug problem. And I’ve heard great things about the conference that you all held on drug trafficking in the Americas last fall. And the proceedings of that conference provoked a great deal of thought. And for my part, the thoughts are haunting.

Sadly, the cores of many societies have been permeated by drug gangs and cartels and organized crime. Consider it economic; call it social; call it cultural; but consider it an international peril. And if we’re to stop it, we’ve got to stop it together. And I encourage you in this great institution to continue searching for long-term solutions. In a city that’s preoccupied by short-term policy issues, the Wilson Center encourages the longer view. And in a city preoccupied by politics, you draw support from all parties and all quarters, with funding from both the public and the private sectors.

And in this nation’s efforts to educate its young and see them clear of the threat of drugs, you’re in a position to help us make our battles winning ones. We need our young people to succeed. Our ability to empower them will reflect our character and our ideals as a nation. Woodrow Wilson put it this way: "The beauty of a democracy," he said, "is that you never can tell when a youngster is born what he’s going to do, and that no matter how humbly he’s born he has got a chance to master the minds and lead the imaginations of the whole country."

Well, I guess our challenge will be to give all young people the chance to fulfill their highest ambitions and their God-given potential. And I think it falls to us—and maybe more heavily on you all, interested in this marvelous center—to prove that Woodrow Wilson is right.

Thank you all. God bless you. Now the souffle, and then Senator Pat Moynihan. You’ve got it made. Thank you all very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:10 p.m. in the Dining Room at the Department of State. In his opening remarks, he referred to Charles Blitzer, William J. Baroody, and Dwayne Andreas, Director, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees, respectively.


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Chicago: George Bush, "Remarks to Members of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars," Public Papers of George Bush, 1989 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, George Bush, 1989 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1750-1751 190–191. Original Sources, accessed February 24, 2024,

MLA: Bush, George. "Remarks to Members of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars." Public Papers of George Bush, 1989, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, George Bush, 1989 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1750-1751, pp. 190–191. Original Sources. 24 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Bush, G, 'Remarks to Members of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' in Public Papers of George Bush, 1989. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, George Bush, 1989 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1750-1751, pp.190–191. Original Sources, retrieved 24 February 2024, from