on Teaching American History and Civic Education
East Literature Magnet School
September 17, 2002
1:05 P.M. CDT
Thank you all for coming. Thanks for that warm welcome -- really warm welcome.
(Laughter.) Across America today, Americans are reciting 31 world -- words that
help define our country. In once sentence we affirm our form of government,
our belief in human dignity, our unity as a people, and our reliance on Providence.
And this pledge takes on a special meaning in a time of war. Our enemies hate
these words. That's what you've got to understand. They hate the words, and
they want to erase them. We're determined to stand for these words, and live
them out in our lives. Our allegiance has never been stronger. We've never been
more determined. And we must work to teach our children to love our nation as
much as we do.
I want to thank you all for coming today. I particularly want to thank our
Secretary of Education for traveling with me -- Rod Paige. I picked Rod out
of a lot of really good candidates because I wanted somebody to be in Washington
who had actually been on the front lines of educating every child. We didn't
need any more theory in Washington. We needed people that actually done. And
when we talk about raising the bar and challenging the soft bigotry of low
expectations, so that every child can learn, when we talk about having an
accountability system to make sure no child is left behind, our Secretary
of Education has actually done it. He ran one of the largest school districts
in my state, our state, and he did so with class and dignity. And the children
of Houston, Texas are better off for it.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming. I'm also proud to be sharing the stage
with another superintendent -- Pedro Garcia. Mucho gusto, Pedro. (Applause.)
Pedro is a good leader. It's very interesting -- we were talking before we
came out here and Pedro was a part of what they call Operation Pedro Pan --
Operation Peter Pan. So, by the way, was a member of my Cabinet, Mel Martinez.
When both Pedro and Mel were young men, their parents wanted their children
to grow up in freedom. So they put them on an airplane to a foreign land.
They had great faith in America, faith -- so much faith in the ideals of our
country that they were willing to trust their teenage children with a stranger
in a foreign country. And they came and were loved. I don't know, Pedro, whether
your mom and dad came, but Mel's mother and daddy came.
And I want you all to remember these stories about Pedro, who's now your
Superintendent of School, or Mel, who's in my Cabinet, that this country offered
so much hope and so much promise, because we believe so strongly in freedom
that people, such as the Garcias and the Martinezes were willing to give up
their children so they could grow up in a free society.
I love the story of Pedro Pan. I love the job you're doing, and I wish you
all the best. And I'm also so appreciative for Kaye, Kaye Schneider, the principal
of East Literature Magnet School, for opening up this school. She said it's
been an amazing experience. I bet it has, with all these -- (laughter) --
all these advance people and all the entourage here. But thanks for opening
up this great school. I'm here because this is a center of excellence, a school
that refuses to leave any child behind, and it starts with having a good solid,
sound principal. So, Kaye, thank you very much. (Applause.)
I want to thank all the teachers who are here. Thank you for taking on a
noble profession. (Applause.) Old Sam Houston, he used to live in Tennessee.
And at one time he had been the governor of Texas and a senator from Texas.
And he was a famous Tennessee guy, and he was President of the Republic of
Texas. And they said, of all the jobs you've ever had, Sam, what was the most
important one? He said, without hesitation, teacher, because he had been a
I want to thank the mothers and dads who are here. Thank you for coming.
You, too, are teachers. The best education starts at home, by loving your
children with all your heart and all your soul. I want to thank the students
who are here. Thanks for letting me come by and visit with you.
I appreciate very much elected officials who have come today: Senator Fred
Thompson, Senator Bill Frist, Congressman Zach Wamp, Congressman Van Hilleary,
Congressman Bob Clement, Congressman Bart Gordon, Congressman Ed Bryant. I
want to thank your Mayor, Bill Purcell, for coming as well, the Mayor of Nashville.
Thank my friend, Lamar Alexander, for being here.
But most of all, I want to thank you all for giving me a chance to come and
share some thoughts. It is very important for our youngsters to understand
history, the history of our country, the ideals that make our country strong.
This morning at the Rose Garden I kicked off a national initiative, and I'm
going to describe some of what we're going to do to make sure that we teach
more history to our children.
Especially important in a time of war that our children understand the context
of why we fight. You see, ours is a history of freedom. One of the most precious
ideas we have is freedom for everybody. We love our freedoms. We love the
idea of being a free society. And throughout our history, people have fought
for freedom. Whether it's been in the Revolutionary War, or the heroic struggle
to end slavery, or civil rights wars in the United States Congress, or whether
it's World War II where we fought to free people from tyranny, the history
of this nation has been a history of freedom and justice.
Our children are growing up in a difficult time for America, because they
see on their TV screens the fact that America is now a battlefield. When we
were kids, a lot of us were kids, growing up, oceans separated us from danger.
We were confident in our ability to resist evil because evil could never make
it to our shore, unless it was created internally. But now we've entered a
new period where we're vulnerable. It's tough for our children to comprehend
that, I know.
But you've got to understand why we're vulnerable, and that is because there
are people in the world that hate the fact that we love freedom. People cannot
stand the fact that your great nation not only allows, but encourages people
to worship an almighty God in any way they want to. We welcome that in America.
We speak our mind freely. All you've got to do is remember it's an election
year. (Laughter.) We believe in a free press. And we're not going to change.
We love our freedoms. Our history has taught us that. And today, we love them
just as strongly as others in the past have.
The other thing the children are learning is the notion of people serving
something greater than themselves in life. You know, I think one of the most
defining moments of the recent American history was Flight 93. Flight 93 is
an amazing lesson. Laura and I had the honor of going to the site there in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the other day to hug and cry and visit with and
smile with if they wanted to smile, with the family members of those brave
souls who were on that airplane.
But it's a lesson of people loving freedom so much and loving their country
so much, that they're willing to drive a plane into the ground to save other
people's lives. What a powerful message, that part of being an American is
to serve something greater than yourself. Part of being a citizen in this
great land is to not only take from the land, but to give.
So today, when you realize there are military people looking in caves in
Afghanistan, or moving around the world to try to fight tyranny and terrorism,
they do so to serve something greater than themselves -- because of a strong
ideal, a strong sense of purpose, a strong sense of country.
You've got to understand there are some in this world that simply do not
adhere to the ideals we believe in. In Iraq, they don't put their hand over
their heart and say, "Liberty and justice for all." They don't believe
in liberty. The dictator who runs Iraq doesn't believe in justice. He only
believes in liberty and justice for those who he decides get liberty and justice.
There's a lot of talk about Iraq on our TV screens, and there should be,
because we're trying to figure out how best to make the world a peaceful place.
There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee
-- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't
get fooled again. You've got to understand the nature of the regime we're
dealing with. This is a man who has delayed, denied, deceived the world. For
the sake of liberty and justice for all, the United Nations Security Council
must act, must act in way to hold this regime to account, must not be fooled,
must be relevant to keep the peace.
Part of the American history teaches us that we must lead toward a more peaceful
world. Part of the history of the world shows that as threats develop, we
must deal with them before they become too acute, unmanageable. Part of our
history is, is that we're a peaceful people. We love and long for peace, that
we want peace for generations to come. But sometimes we must act in order
to achieve the peace.
And all our history says we believe in liberty and justice for all, that
when we see oppression, we cry; that when we found out that young girls in
Afghanistan could not go to school because they were in the clutches of one
of the most barbaric regimes in the history of mankind, we acted not only
to uphold doctrine and to fight the war against terror, we acted to liberate
people. Our history shows that we're not a nation which conquers; we're a
nation which liberates.
History is important for our children to understand, to give them a better
sense of how to understand what we do and a sense of what it means to be an
American; a sense of importance of serving something greater than yourself
The first initiative that we're going to put out is called We the People,
which will encourage American history and civic education all around the country.
There will be a grant program to encourage the development of good curricula
and a lecture series, and essays by high school students on liberty and justice
We've got a great store of documents here in America, and so we're going
to put out a program called Our Documents, the National Archivist is going
to work with us to make sure all of the archives of America are now on-line,
so schools can easily tap in to find out how our history developed through
the archives of the country. It ought to be a really interesting way for our
students to learn more about America.
We're going to have a White House forum there in Washington, D.C. -- obviously;
that's where the White House is -- in January or February of next year, to
call in experts as to how better teach our history, and at the same time,
teach the ideals that make us a great nation. We're going to do our part at
the federal level; it's very important that you all do your part here in Nashville,
Tennessee, and insist upon good civics lessons, the true lessons of history,
to make sure our children understand the ideals that make us great.
And one of the things our youngsters and those of us not quite so young can
do -- and this is important -- is to celebrate patriotism by loving your neighbor
like you'd like to be loved yourself. You see, it's important to realize that
one person can't do everything to change America, but one person can do something.
Every child who hurts, who receives your love, is part of changing America
for the better, is part of fighting evil with acts of kindness and decency.
I met Harry Ingle, Jr., at Air Force One. He's an East Literature Magnet
student. He's a junior. He was out there because he is involved with mentoring
children. He's a soldier in the army of compassion here in Nashville, Tennessee.
He's a part of the true strength of America, which is neighbor loving neighbor.
Those of us who are on our feet, helping those who aren't on their feet. He's
a part of the light that can help shine into corners of darkness, where there
may be despair and addiction and loneliness.
No, part of patriotism is not just to put a hand over our heart, but part
of being a patriot is to serve the ideals of this country by serving something
greater than yourself.
I want the students here to understand that this great nation of ours longs
for peace, but we also want to practice compassion. And you can be a part
of the compassionate future by helping somebody in need.
It is an honor to be here at this fine school, in this fine city, in this
great state, to celebrate with millions of students all across the country
the Pledge of Allegiance, the Pledge across America. It is my honor to be
here to remind people the great ideals of the greatest country on the face
of the Earth.