George H.W. Bush's speech to schoolchildren: There's no room for drugs in space

As noted in our blog about a Douglas County school allowing parents to opt out of letting their kids watch President Barack Obama's speech to children on Tuesday, we pointed out that other Commanders-in-Chief have directly addressed younglings -- among them President George W. Bush, who asked America's kids to each donate a dollar to the plight of children in Afghanistan back in 2001. But a closer comparison can be made to a September 1991 teleconference conducted by Dubya's father, President George Herbert Walker Bush, in conjunction with the National Space Science Symposium. The idea was to get kids excited about education in general and careers in math and science in particular through grandfatherly advice, with occasional attempts at corny humor tossed in. For example, he said at one point, "All of you can turn learning into an adventure. And to do this you have to prepare not just by studying, but by studying hard, especially math and science. And that means doing what I too often fail to do, that means homework."

This joke's probably funnier now than it was at the time. But it's not as hilarious as the following exchange, which came during a question-and-answer session with kids:

Q. My question is, do you think current problems like drugs and crime will follow us to space?

The President. I'll tell you, I've got some good news. We're making dramatic progress in the fight against narcotics. It's just beginning to happen, but we're making great progress. And the best progress is amongst kids your age and a little bit older who are turning away from drugs because they know how bad it is. But no, there would be no room for drug use in space. The life that Charlie's described for you and you've heard about from La Porte, Texas, today, is too complex: One person's life depends on another. And you can't have any kind of thing like drug use in space.

With those words, President Bush probably convinced an entire generation of kids to drop out of school and follow the Grateful Dead. Read the entire text of the Bush teleconference below.

Remarks in a Teleconference With Schoolchildren During the Annual National Space Science Symposium


The President. Well, Dick, Admiral Truly, thank you very, very much; and to Charlie here and Tammy down there someplace, Lisa.

I was watching part of the program before we came in. I saw some of you all there. And let me say how exciting I think the efforts of the spacemobilers and the astronauts are to teach students about space and space exploration. When I was a kid, we had some idols we thought were out of this world. With people like Charlie and Tammy Jernigan, they really are out of this world. And you know what I mean.

It's also a privilege to be with so many fine students interested in learning about the future of space. And I especially want to salute the national winners of the Space Science Student Involvement Program who are in the studio with us here today. Their academic achievement, you guys can learn from them, their academic achievement deserves real special recognition.

So looking forward to today, for a few minutes I was a hero with one of my young grandkids, younger guy than you. When I told her I was going to be on television, she thought I'd finally made it on to ``Sesame Street.'' [Laughter]

And as you begin the school year, just think of what you can make of the future. Many of you are the class of the year 2000. In NASA lingo, that means ``T'' minus 8 years, 3 months, and 13 days. And you, the students of today, will help keep America the world's leader. And all of you, if you work hard, but all of you can turn learning into an adventure.

And to do this you have to prepare not just by studying, but by studying hard, especially math and science. And that means doing what I too often fail to do, that means homework. And it means setting goals both for you and for America.

This is why our administration and the Nation's Governors created six national educational goals, one of which is to be the first in the world in math and science. And together you can help say of American education, ``All systems are go.''

And since this telecast began, the astronauts orbiting in the space shuttle Discovery have traveled halfway around the planet Earth. Just think about that: Just since the program began, about 12,000 miles. Even if you don't end up working in space, what you learn about math and science and all the rest of the subjects you study will help you for the rest of your life. So, do your best. Make America proud. Help achieve a lift-off to learning.

And now, Charlie, having heard some questions I understand they've got a few more questions, and maybe you and I can answer them. I hope they give the tough ones to this guy, and I'll take the easy ones. [Laughter]

Mr. Bolden. Well, Mr. President, I think they're ready, and we're going to give you two questions from here before we switch down to Texas for some. So, who has a question for the President?

The President. There she goes. What is it?

Q. I go to Stevens Elementary School. My teacher is Miss Hamilton.

The President. Is she a hard teacher?

Q. No.

The President. No? Okay.

Q. Do you want your grandchildren to live and work in space?

The President. Oh, I'd love it if one of them would do that. We've got 12, so we've got a lot to choose from, girls and boys. But I think it would be wonderful. I don't know whether they'll make it, but if they're going to, they've got to start in, as I'm sure some of you are: recognize the importance of school first and then as they get a little older concentrate on that math and science and all the things that Charlie can tell you about that are important to it. But I think it would be wonderful because I think the challenge for our country, a lot of it, lies out there in space.

Mr. Bolden. Next question. Let me see your hands, and, Admiral Truly, I think there's one right by you.

Q. I would like to ask you how is space technology helping you as the President?

The President. Well, there are many ways it helps. I'm not sure exactly in terms of my day-to-day responsibilities as President, but space technology helps in so many practical ways. One I think of is, and I guess it affects whether you're President or whether you're just a plain citizen, is in medicine. Some of the research that they have done has a direct application to medicine. Other parts of research that interest me, I guess, again, not just because I'm President, but citizen, is what they learn about weather, what they learn about crops internationally in terms of feeding the world.

One of the worries I have is there are a lot of hungry people in the world. And how do we, as the United States, use our advanced science that NASA taught us so much about to help other people? And we've got to help people at home, but we also have an obligation. Somebody is hungry halfway around the world, we need to help them. And the science that comes out of the space program in terms of agriculture is very, very important.

So, that is just a couple of ways, but I'm sure there are many, many more.

Mr. Bolden. Mr. President, we're going to switch now down to Tammy Jernigan and the crew in La Porte and give them an opportunity to ask us about four questions. So, Tammy, if you would go around the room and give us your question.

Ms. Jernigan. Thank you, Charlie. Mr. President, I've been so really excited here at College Park Elementary to ask you some questions.

Q. Mr. President, how will you know that we're first in science and math?

The President. Well, I don't know. There are all kinds of objective ways of measuring. But one of the goals that we have is to have voluntary testing at various levels: 4th, 8th, and 12th grade. They have measures now to determine what countries are ahead, and, regrettably, we're about 12th in that special field. So, in addition to just getting a feeling of it by the results, by how well people do in life, there will be, under our national education goals, there will be national testing. And I think this will help. I think the schools are interested. The Governors are interested, and I think it will help us answer your question better, once that starts.

Q. Mr. President, how did you come up with your goals?

The President. I didn't hear you. Tell me one more time. I was listening, but I just didn't get it. What was it?

Q. Mr. President, how did you come up with your goals?

The President. The education goals, a very good question. I'll tell you what we did. We met with all the Governors. And I went down to Charlottesville, Virginia, and met with the Governors. And then they went back to the States and working with the White House staff and the Governors' staffs we came up with these national goals. They made suggestions. We'd offer our suggestions. And 50 Governors came together with the White House to set, for the first time in our history, national goals. And they are: to be first in math and science. We talk about ``ready to learn,'' and that means Head Start program. We talk about ``nobody is too old to learn.'' That includes me. I'm trying to learn a computer. Everybody in this room probably knows how to do it better than I do. But I'm not too old to learn even though I'm getting up there, 67 years old. I remember when I was your age I thought if I got 67, wow, over the hill, gone, history. [Laughter]

But we've got these good sensible goals now. And now the thing we're going to try to do is get each State to work with their communities to solve these, to come up with solutions so that we meet these education goals.

Who else has got it? Nice to see you again, incidentally.

Q. Mr. President, why do we want to put a person on Mars?

The President. Well, I think it's going to just go to the cutting edge of the science. And everything that's happened in space, from the very first vehicle into space to the very last, has taught us a lot about the real world and all outside our own world.

And so, I think it would just be a quantum leap forward in terms of our knowledge as to what the universe is about. And I hope that in addition it would have very practical answers to some of the problems we face on Earth. So, it's going to what they call a cutting edge. It's going out front. It's exploring. It's like the guys in the wagon trains that used to go across this country. They were the pioneers. Now, the pioneers are Charlie and Lisa and Tammy and others. And it's a wonderfully exciting thing. So, it's expensive. It's going to take a while to do it, but we've always got to be in the forefront. At the United States, more and more countries are looking to us for everything in the world, including being the leader in science and technology.

Q. Mr. President, what if you are talented in art and you drop out of school because you can make a bunch of money?

The President. Talented in art and you drop out of school to make a bunch of dough? Well, first place, I hope -- maybe if you're asking about yourself or someone in your family, I hope they are talented in art. But I don't think you ought to drop out of school. You can have one discipline. You can have one area of expertise. But to be a full human being you need a wide array of knowledge.

And so my advice to somebody that fit that description -- really good in art, maybe good enough to start selling paintings or doing sculpture, or whatever it is, is a grade school or a high school student -- finish your education. That's only a part of your life, a vital part of your life. But you need to be a whole person, a whole man, a whole woman. And you can't do it if you are less than fully educated.

So, if you know somebody, if you asked me the question because you know somebody that fits that description and they were looking for a little advice: Keep up with the art. Do what you do best, but don't neglect being a whole person. And you only get that from a full education.

Good question though.

Ms. Jernigan. Mr. President, we understand we're out of time. We really appreciate the time that you've spent with us here today.


The President. All right. Thanks. You guys had good questions.

Mr. Bolden. Tammy, thanks very much to you and the kids down there in La Porte. And we're going to swing back up here and give our kids an opportunity to ask just a few more questions before the President has to leave. So, how about more questions?

Q. My question is, do you think current problems like drugs and crime will follow us to space?

The President. I'll tell you, I've got some good news. We're making dramatic progress in the fight against narcotics. It's just beginning to happen, but we're making great progress. And the best progress is amongst kids your age and a little bit older who are turning away from drugs because they know how bad it is. But no, there would be no room for drug use in space. The life that Charlie's described for you and you've heard about from La Porte, Texas, today, is too complex: One person's life depends on another. And you can't have any kind of thing like drug use in space.

What grade are you in?

Q. Fourth.

The President. Fourth grade. Can't have it in the fourth grade. You ruin your lives. And the good news is, as I say, is people are beginning to understand this more. The bad news is, we're not there yet. I just met with the President of Peru before I came over here. And they grow something like 40, 60 percent of the coca leaf, and we're working with them to try to eliminate this. And they say to us, ``Hey, you help us eliminate this coca leaf.'' That's where the cocaine comes from. ``But you use 80 percent of the narcotics in the world. The demand in your country, Mr. Bush, is 80 percent.''

So, what we've got to do is continue with the education programs and the neighborhood programs and the State programs and the community programs and, yes, the White House programs. So we teach people you simply can't use drugs whether it's space -- it's not going to go out into outer space -- nor cities, nor homes, nor families, wherever. We just can't do it.

Q. Would you like to go on a trip to space to help build a space station?

The President. Yes, I'd like to. I don't think I'll make it though. [Laughter] I don't think they'd let me in. I don't think Admiral Truly, who's the boss of this program, would have a guy my age. I think healthwise I might be able to make it. And I'm not sure Charlie would want an old guy up there with him on his next space mission which he's going to undertake what, next spring?

Mr. Bolden. Next spring sometime.

The President. Your question wasn't am I going to do it, but would I like to. I'd love to do it. I really would love to see the world as these people have seen it. And I think I'd be a better President if I had.

Q. I want to ask you, how difficult is it to be our President?

The President. It depends on what's happening out there, I'll tell you. And some days it's very difficult, and some days it's not so bad. But I think the answer is: In the first place, it's exciting; it's fun; I like it. There are so many things to be done both here and abroad. And the thing about that one is to get good people with you.

One of the reasons our space program has been successful, the leader in the whole world, is because we've attracted really good people. And the same thing is true for the White House. So, you know, at times like during the war and stuff, it gets a little complicated and difficult. And then at times, you just feel, look we can do anything we set our sights on. But I think the advice is: Get good people around you.

Q. I want to know what kind of work -- is the work hard that you do?

The President. You mean President? Well, it's pretty long hours. I get up every morning at 5 a.m. This might be of real interest to you. Our dogs are like alarm clocks. We have two dogs, you know, Millie and Ranger. They're like alarm clocks. They wake at 5 a.m. every morning. And so I have a long day. So, I go home and go to the Oval Office. Then in the evening I work. I have an office in the White House, the big White House part, the residence. And sometimes it's very difficult and complicated, and you worry about people and how they're doing: drugs or the cities or whatever else it is. But I don't know that it's harder than your teacher's job or the astronaut's job. I don't think it's a question of difficulty. Again, it's a question of, ``Are you up for it? Do you think you can do it? Do you want to make a contribution?'' Something like that.

Q. And I want to know, how do you feel about sending people into space?

The President. Sending people in there? Well, in the first place, clearly people don't go into space unless they want to, unless they've got a drive, unless they've got a mission. And then, you worry about it, as President. But I think their neighbors worry about it, his friends. It's something when you see something dramatic like a lift-off. But I view it as a challenge. I think Charlie's lucky. He's a good man. I think he's lucky to be in space.

Mr. Bolden. We have time for one more question, and you've been having your hand up, so go ahead.

Q. Mr. Bush, would you consider letting Millie be the first American dog in space? [Laughter]

The President. First dog in space?

Q. American.

The President. I don't think I'd let Millie do it because I don't think she could pass the physical. She has lupus, and that's a disease. And I don't think any of the doctors at NASA would let her go. Other than that, if they were going to take a dog out there, I'd let Ranger. I've got a dog named Ranger, Millie's son. He could go maybe. But I don't think people would like the President's dog getting to be the first dog in space. They'd all say, ``Hey, how come my dog didn't get to go.'' You know what I mean? So, I don't think Millie's going to go either. But anyway, that's an interesting question because they do take different kinds of animals. I guess you do, or don't you?

Mr. Bolden. Different kinds of animals. Yes, sir, Mr. President.

The President. No dogs yet?

Mr. Bolden. No dogs yet that I know of, like you said, on an American space flight.

Mr. President, we want to thank you very much. I know you've been very, very busy. And you've taken a lot of your personal time out to be with us today. And I know the kids are excited. So, I thank you for them.

Admiral Truly, we thank you very much. I want to thank Lisa McLeod. Tammy, I'd like to really thank you and the kids down there in La Porte. I want to thank our television audience because you've been superb. We've had lots of fun here together. We want to thank the public television stations who've chosen to carry us today. And we want to encourage all of you to take heed at the words that you heard today: study, study, study; read, read, read. We really appreciate your being with us. So, so long.

Note: The President spoke at 2:38 p.m. from the auditorium of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on NASA Select TV via a two-way video and audio satellite hookup. In his remarks, the President referred to: NASA Administrator Richard H. Truly; Lisa McLeod, NASA Aerospace Education Specialist; Elizabeth Hamilton, a teacher at Stevens Elementary School; and President Alberto Fujimori of Peru. Astronauts Charlie Bolden in Washington, and Tammy Jernigan in La Porte, Texas, led the teleconference. Students participated in the teleconference from: Stevens Elementary School, Washington, DC; Bucknell Elementary School, Alexandria, VA; Ashburton Elementary School and Harlem Park Elementary School in Baltimore, MD; and College Park Elementary School, La Porte, TX. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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