Chicago Public School Principals


JUNE 3, 1998

Thank you. Thank you very much. I am just delighted to be here formany different reasons to see this beautiful room filled with all of youwho are on the front lines of improving public education and doing such atremendous job for the children of Chicago.

As the mayor said, I've been in a number of your schools -- not nearlyenough -- and I hope I will be able to visit more in the next severalyears. And I've seen the changes; I've seen them slowly but surely, reallytaking root. I know that the work that is being done in all of the schoolsrepresented here can only happen because there are leaders like you inthose schools, and in this public education system.

I take nearly any invitation I am given to come back to Chicago.Especially during the NBA Playoff season. (Laughter) I have to say though,Sunday night I thought I was going to lose ten or twelve years off my life.I don't know about you, but when I watch a sporting event ontelevision--that I have any emotional investment in--I have to get up andleave the room from time to time. I've become convinced that in sometotally bizarre way that the reason we're not scoring is because I'mwatching. (Laughter) So rest assured that I'll leave the room a lot in thenext days.

But it is great to be here to help celebrate the accomplishments ofthis city and, particularly, the accomplishments of this school district.I want to thank the extraordinary Commissioner of Culture, Lois Weisberg.I don't know that she's gotten exactly the credit she deserves for all thework she does, but I try to give it to her every time I'm in Chicago, andin this Cultural Center, and doing anything in the city that Lois has hadany role in. She's made such a difference. She celebrated my 50thbirthday here at the Cultural Center. I could have gone without having acelebration of my 50th birthday. But, between my friends--some of whom arehere from my school days in Park Ridge both elementary, junior high, highschool, and in between--Lois, who celebrates everybody's birthday, takesany occasion to do so. Which, I happen to think is a fabulous idea topromote the celebratory aspects of living in this city. She's done a very,very good job. (Applause)

I'm also always pleased to be with Maggie Daley. Maggie Daley hasbeen such a voice for children, and for the arts, and has reallyspear-headed one of the most influential and creative projects that I knowof anywhere in the country, called Gallery 37. (Applause) It has made anextraordinary difference not only in the lives of individual children andartists, but also in the artistic landscape of this city and other places.If you come to the White House, and come to my office sometime, you'll seea lot of the benches that the young people who work at Gallery 37 make anddecorate. I'm always proud to point out that they were made in Chicago.

I too am very impressed by, and grateful for, the leadership ofthis city by the Mayor. It is so exciting for me every time I am with theMayor because he has about a million ideas a minute. I always feel that hecould, on his own, probably supply the power for a small city for a year,because the electricity and the energy is just coming out. But I so enjoythat, because we do know how to solve our problems. We do know what makessense. We do know that as tough as things are, we can make a difference.Who would have thought that 5 years ago we'd be able to say that crime hasfallen 5 years in a row? Well, the President and the mayor thought so.That's why they adopted strategies like community policing, instead of justringing their hands and talking about how bad things were. (Applause)

Who would have thought that we would have, in my opinion, the mostsuccessful Democratic convention ever in 1996 because the city was asbeautiful and hospitable as it is now. (Applause).

But the real crown jewel in what you, and the mayor, and this city isdoing, is what you've done in the schools. I want to pay a special word ofthanks to everyone who is associated with the school board, with theschool's administration, but particularly to all of you. Because that'sreally why I'm here. Because I know that we're lucky to have a Presidentwho cares about education. And Chicago is very lucky to have a mayor whocares about education and who can recruit talented people to come and workon this problem. But none of the progress that we are seeing could havebeen possible without each of you. There is absolutely no doubt aboutthat.

You've given a lot of us around the country hope. I go to a lot ofcities that are still trying to figure out how to make heads or tails aboutthe problems they have in their schools. And I'm always saying, look atthe decisions that they're making in Chicago. Look at how they're facingup to their problems. Look at the results that they are beginning to get.It didn't happen overnight, but they didn't point fingers at each other.They didn't spend their time in anarchy, engaging in the blame game. Theyrolled up their sleeves and they decided to do what needed to be done.

You have proven that we can adopt sensible strategies that will onceagain make our public schools the kinds of institutions we can be proud of,because of the products they are producing and the children's lives thatare being turned around.

It's happening all over the city. In fact, Paul Valance told me atlunch today that some of the biggest turn-arounds are happening in thoseareas of the city that have the poorest kids. I want to commend you,because I am sick and tired of hearing people in education elsewhere in thecountry say to me, "Well what do you expect? Look at the kids we get."That is a cop-out. That is an absolute cop-out. (Applause)

A hundred years ago we took people from all over the world that wereflooding into this city and cities like it. We took people who were comingup from the South who had been slaves, and the children of slaves, and whohad never been educated. We started putting them in public school, andmaybe they only went to the sixth grade, or the eighth grade, or the tenthgrade. But, nobody made excuses for them. Nobody sat around and said,"Poor old Joe. He's just come over with his parents from the boat. Orpoor old Mary, she's just one generation from the fields." We had a beliefthat if we worked hard enough, and if we worked together and if we didn'tgive up on any kid, we wouldn't make geniuses out of them. They weren'tall going to be Nobel Prize winners, or Pulitzer Prize authors, but they'dfind a place in this society. And they'd lead honorable, respectablelives, and they would raise kids, and they'd make a contribution.

And then times changed on us, and we lost a little bit of control. Wecouldn't quite figure out how we were going to do the work that needed tobe done when the economy was changing so fast. Because there used to be alot of jobs; I remember growing up here when there were jobs in the factories onthe south side. There were jobs in the meat packing plants. There wereall kinds of jobs, where you didn't need a whole lot of education, where astrong back, and a willingness to work would get you there. But all thatbegan to change and the public education system didn't keep up with it, atfirst. And how could it? It was overwhelmed by the changes. With theeconomy moving so quickly, and jobs disappearing so fast, and the demandfor more education coming at such a rapid rate, how were we going to meetthe obligations to the next generation of children?

I understand--and I think we all do--why we lost our way for awhilethere. Because it was difficult to figure out exactly what we were doingin terms of educating. For what? For what kind of future?

But finally it dawned on us. That there weren't going to be many,if any, jobs left for good, hard working decent people, who were willing toget up at the crack of dawn and work, 8, 10, 12 hours a day. There justweren't going to be those jobs, and we had to do something to enableeverybody to be as well prepared as possible.

And I'm beginning to see the country and the people kind of catchup with that awareness as well. We're seeing a lot of success, forexample, in people moving off of welfare. Because, a lot of people arerecognizing that they've got to set an example for their children. They'vegot to go to work. They've got to encourage their children to go toschool. We're seeing a lot of people who never thought that their kidneeded to go to college, all of a sudden recognizing that they do need toget as much education as possible.

So the circumstances were poised for the hard decisions that needed tobe made, but we had to have leadership. We had to have people at alllevels of the education system. We had to have leaders in the business andlabor community. We had to have political decision makers, citizens andparents who all reached a new consensus about the importance of education.

That's what I think is happening now. And I believe Chicago isleading the way in forging that consensus. And I'm always telling people,we'll go see what they're doing in Chicago. And when I travel around thecountry, and people talk to me about things like vouchers for schools, Isay, "Go to Chicago!" We don't need vouchers, we just need a publiceducation system that works for every single child. (Applause)

So now that we have a strategy, and you all are leading the way herein the country by what you're doing in Chicago. What does that mean, andwhere do we go from here?

Well, we need to do more to give you the tools to do the work that youknow needs to be in each of your schools. The President has an educationagenda that he's worked out with people like the Mayor, and the people whoare involved in running the Chicago schools. He knows that we have toreduce class size, and we have to repair school buildings and build newones. We have to insure safer schools. We do have to set high standards.We have to do what needs to be done to expand after school programs andpre-school programs so the kids are both prepared and able to get the extrahelp they need.

Now this agenda--particularly the President's call for 100,000 moreteachers, which echoes the call he made in 1993 for 100,000 more police.Because how are you going to make the streets safer if you don't have morepolice on the streets? And how are you going to lower the class size andgive a lot of these kids more attention, as you know better than I, if youdon't have the teachers to do the job? And its not just a Chicago issue,it's an American issue, which is why the federal government should step inand help provide the funding for 100,000 more teachers. (Applause)

And what kind of message does it send to a youngster, if we're tellingthis young person, maybe a first generation American, or certainly a childof hard working people who never went to college, or a child of somebodywho has just gotten off of welfare. What does it mean if we say, we reallybelieve in education but, by the way, we really want you to attend thatschool that's fallen down around your ears? That school that hasn't beenrepaired, the one where the toilets don't work, we want you to go there.We want you to believe we care about you and your education.

Well, most kids I know are smarter than that and most teachers deservebetter than that. We need to do more to make the infrastructure of ourpublic education system the best it can be and we certainly need to do whatis required to make our school buildings safe, and accessible, andavailable to people, not just during the school day but to the neighborhoodduring the off school hours as well.

The President has proposed such a plan. So there is some veryimportant work that the federal government can do if the Congress wouldfocus on real education reform and quit trying to design ways to underminethe viability of the education system with these voucher plans. If theCongress would adopt a real education agenda, then the United Statesgovernment could be a better partner to the city schools here in Chicagoand around the country.

We also need to recall what it was about the education that many of usreceived that stood us in such good stead. My husband and I have talkedabout this a lot. He went to school in the public schools of a state thatnever got off the bottom in terms of per capita spending for children. Butthe elementary school and the high school that he went to, they had artclasses, they had music classes, they had band, they had a full range ofsports and recreation activities, they had clubs.

A lot of kids education -- and mine, going to a suburban Chicagoschool district -- didn't just happen during the academic classes, ithappened when the music teacher was introducing us to opera, or the artteacher was attempting to show me how to get some sense of perspectivewhich I've never gotten to this day. So, we knew there was a lot going onthat was beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. And so much of that hasbeen cut out in the first years.

When the budget has had to be tightened, what's gone? After-schoolprograms, recreational programs, art programs, music programs. I thinkthat we have missed such an opportunity with a whole group of children, tofind their talents, to give them something to believe in themselves.(Applause) And even to take people like me, who have no talent, but toexpose us to the talent of other people, to develop in someone like me anappreciation for those who can create, for the students who go to Gallery37 that sculpt and paint, and do what I saw them do when I visited.

And I think one of the challenges we face as we're moving along thereform agenda, and we're seeing test scores go up, is to not lose sightabout what a well rounded education means. What the full range of exposurefor all of our children should mean.

I have a wonderful quote I heard recently from the choir director of ayouth choir in Oakland California. When he was justifying his effortsbefore the school board to get additional funds to enroll more kids in hischoir because the choir had taken off, and more kids wanted to get in. Hesaid, "You know a child can be in a gang, or a gang of singers."

We've got to create safe places where the children can find their ownidentities again: maybe on the sports team and on the field, and maybe in achoir as well, or maybe sitting quietly and practicing an instrument, ortrying to draw something that a teacher has already modeled. And I thinkthat it's so critical in these days when so many kids have so much going onin their lives. You know. You know what they bring to school. And, it'snot just poor kids, it's all kids. There's just so much going on aroundthem that they have to sort out.

Even if they come from stable two parent families, they see a wholelot of stuff on TV that I wish they wouldn't see. They're are exposed to awhole lot more than I was ever exposed to until I was well into adulthood.How can they make sense of all that? And then, you've got teachersstanding in front of classrooms of kids, and I've had a good friend of minethat has taught for years and she calls it the "remote control phenomenon."She said, "I stand up there and what worked 20 years ago no longer works."She said, "I feel like these kids are just mentally clicking me off.Running through the remote control looking for a better channel."(Laughter)

Well what can you expect when the first thing a child is able todo--remember when we used to learn about and talk about hand-eyecoordination, when we worried about learning how to tie their shoes so theycould develop their mental capacity--well now they just learn to use theremote control. It amuses, it entertains them, it doesn't ask anythingfrom them. So then we expect them to go to a school, and sit in aclassroom, and not be mentally using the remote control.

That's why we have to get them engaged in learning, and I've seenwonderful examples of that in many of the classrooms of your schools that Ihave visited. I've seen hands-on programs in the sciences. I've seen kidsworking with blocks and other materials to do math problems, that were wellbeyond what I thought a first or second grader could do.

I've seen lots of interactive learning going on. And I think that'sone of the roles that the arts has to play because you have to be involved.You can't just watch and expect that picture to show up on that paper. Youcan't just sit there and pretend that you're listening, when you have toplay that instrument. You have to participate.

So there are many reasons why we have to look for ways to bring thearts back into our schools. But we've also learned something. It's notjust a nice idea or nostalgia for people in my generation thinking aboutwhat we had when we were in pubic school. It's not even one of my favoritefilms, "Mr. Holland's Opus," that made me think of all those years backwith all those plays, and performances, and variety shows that we used todo.

It's also because we now have very significant and compelling researchthat arts education can be a powerful force in boosting academicperformances, particularly when it's moved into the core curriculum of aschool. A four year study involving an elementary school in Dallas, Texas,has proven what educators, and cultural supporters, have been saying foryears. That integrated arts curriculum can dramatically improve academicsuccess. A recent North Carolina study demonstrates that math learning isenhanced by these hands-on visual experiences. We know that when it comesto SAT scores, students of the arts continue to outperform their peers whodon't have such programs in their schools.

I can remember back in 1983, when my husband asked me to work oneducation reform in Arkansas. I went and visited lots of schools, and Ijust could not believe that so many of the students didn't have in 1983what I had in 1963. They didn't have the libraries, they didn't have thearts programs. They didn't have the exposure that I'd grown up taking forgranted. As a result, they didn't have the tools at their disposal tomanipulate information, to think about, to make synthesizing ideas work asthey learn things, and weren't able to add to their academicaccomplishments. A study a few years ago called "Coming Up Taller" that was released bythe President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities--on which Maggie Daleyhas so well served--offered compelling evidence that the arts provide youngpeople, particularly those from homes and neighborhoods where there islittle exposure to the arts, with creative alternatives to destructivebehavior.

The study reported many research studies, and anecdotes, but Iparticularly like the ones where an individual student will all of a suddenfind an opportunity to be in an artistic program during school, or afterschool, and all of a sudden caught fire. The kid who'd never beeninterested before all of a sudden was.

I've gone around and visited some of those programs like Gallery 37,and others in other cities, and I have seen with my own eyes what adifference it can make. We also know from educational psychology thatpeople learn in different ways. Some people are visual learners, somepeople are auditory earners. Some people are kinesthetic learners, somepeople learn by doing. Some people, in a way, have an absorbative abilitywith their whole body. Some of them become our greatest athletes ifthey're given the chance to develop the discipline.

We are all different and introducing the arts, particularly for youngpeople who don't have the outlets for that kind of expression otherwise,really demonstrates clearly that we can capture something, light a fire insome of those kids.

We also know that the future work world--this information age that weare now a part of, that looks like its only going to continue to acceleratein its development--prizes exactly the skills that the arts themselves use,skills like creativity and innovation. If you go and talk to companieslike GE or Microsoft, they are encouraging their employees to be exposed tothe visual and performing arts, because they want people to be creative andcome up with new ideas and think about how do to things differently.

So its not only that it will help a child--and particularly an at-riskchild that perhaps might get hooked into academic learning--but it willalso help prepare a child for the world of work as well.

I think that the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education is a very goodway of beginning to make sure that we have the arts well represented in ourschools here in this city. I also applaud the partnership between theChicago public schools and Columbia College--which is training 900 highschool math and science teachers to use art, music and dance to enrich theteaching of their subjects. Albert Einstein once said, "The gift offantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing knowledge," andimagination, that we have to trigger in everyone, for them to feel thatthey have a real claim on their own future.

A few weeks ago, I went to one of the toughest neighborhoods inWashington, where the student body, and the school across from the housingproject, was predominantly very poor and disadvantaged. I went tosomething called a poetry slam. I don't know if any of you have seen sucha thing, but they are projects that are funded by the Americorps Writer'sCorps--where young writers and poets are sent into the classrooms in someof our toughest neighborhoods where they work with young people in helpingthem to write their own poetry and where they have contests, like sportscontests. It's like going to the Olympics, because you have one schoolrepresented by their four best poets, and the other school represented bytheir four best poets. Then you have an audience of people who hold upcards like an ice-skating contest ranking the kids from one to ten.

It has the excitement of a sporting contest. Who could have thoughtthat these kids would have labored over these poems. And the poems were soevocative, they told stories about their lives. There was one young girlwho got up and told a poem about the homeless man she has to walk byeveryday on her way to school. Another talked about what went on in hishousing project, and the noise that sometimes just made him feel like hewas going to shatter into a million pieces. One had a poem about thelegacy of Duke Ellington. One student said, "I'm so good at music, thatwhen you hear my song, you'll sing it for the rest of your life."(Laughter)

Every one of these young people talked about how being in this poetryprogram had helped them put their anger on paper, instead of taking it outon their fellow classmates in the hallways, or on the streets. That itgave them a confidence that they hadn't had before.

This program was funded by, as I said, Americorps and the NationalEndowment for the Arts, because they believe, and my husband and hisadministration believe, that art is not a luxury, it's a necessity. And,that as we know more about the challenges we're going to face in thefuture, it should be an integral part of our lives, and particularly of oureducation system.

So we at the federal level do what we can to try to promote artsprojects like the Writers Corps, arts programs, and provide funding forlocal projects every chance we can get. But I also in the next two yearsintend to embark on a national campaign to get arts education back into ourschools. (Applause)

I think as our nation moves toward the end of one century--and thebeginning of a new millennium--its time for us to decide about thelegacies we want to leave for future generations. Earlier this morningMaggie Daley and I were at the Art Institute, where the Sara LeeCorporation announced a magnificent gift. Twelve paintings from theirprivate collection to the Art Institute, one to the Contemporary Art Museumhere in Chicago, and other museums around the country. I sat, and I lookedat those works--most of them 19th century, early 20th--and I thought, justthink in a 100 years, somebody could be making a contribution to the ArtInstitute of work that was done by Chicago artists who got their start inthe Chicago public schools. (Applause)

And when Sara Lee made that announcement, the Chief Executive, JohnBryan said that it was going to be a Millennium gift to America. I saidhow pleased I was because, last summer, the President asked all of us tothink about the gifts we can give to America for the Millennium.

You give gifts every day in your schools. You give gifts that may notmake headlines, but as the mayor said, will be remembered in the hearts ofstudents and teachers and parents in years to come.

I remember those gifts. I have with me today one of my favoriteteachers from high school. A math teacher, that was not my favoritesubject, but he was one of my favorite teachers. (Laughter)

And I remember extremely well how he conducted himself, how heencouraged us, he was our class sponsor, he was always there in our cornertrying to make sure we behaved in an appropriate manner. But I remember,and thousands of hundreds of thousands of people remember your legacies,and we have to think about how we will build on that and what gifts we willgive.

I want to leave you with some words of Rita Dove, who was our poetlaureate a few years ago. Recently at the White House, as part of ourMillennium Celebration, we had our present poet laureate, and our twoformer poet laureates, of whom one was Rita Dove. She served from 1993 to1995. She said,

"If children are unable to voice what they mean, no one will know howthey feel. If they cannot imagine a different world, they are stumblingthrough a darkness made all the more sinister by its lack of referencepoints. For a young person growing up in America's alienated and disparateneighborhoods, there can be no greater empowerment than to dare to speakfrom the heart--and then to discover that one is not alone in one'sfeelings. Once hope and self esteem have been engendered, the work ofredefining the future can begin."

Well, thank God for our poets like Rita Dove, and thank God for ourartists who help us give voice to what we feel. And thank God for all ofour teachers and our principals who do what you do everyday to try to lightthat spark in our children. I hope that you will find in the next yearseven greater satisfaction because you'll see you're better supported in thework you do. You'll see the results of your hard work, and you too willfeel that the gifts you're giving to the future are well respected andappreciated, and that you are part of building what we need to have as wemove in to the Millennium. Thank you very much.

School Improvement

May 20, 1998

May 27, 1998

Chicago Public School Principals

Chicago Children's Museum

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute

NEA Friend of Education Award

Teachers College, Columbia University

Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service

May 27, 1998

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