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Remarks By Vice President Al Gore
"Protecting Our Children In The 21st Century"
National PTA

Monday, March 23, 1998

Thank you for your warm welcome, and your long friendship. I'm delighted to be here today to talk about a mission we share: how we can help parents protect their children and pass on their values in the face of so many interfering influences.

We meet today at a time of enormous opportunity for America's children. Thanks to President Clinton, we have the strongest economy in a generation; the doors to education open wider than ever before; and the promise that in the 21st century, even more of our children will have the chance to live out their dreams. But let us be frank; this is a time of great peril for many children, and growing anxiety for many parents. More parents are working outside the home. More children are spending afternoon hours unsupervised. And more temptations are there to snare them: from tobacco, alcohol, and drugs; to the corrosive forces that are so common in our culture—including the vast new medium of the Internet.

On one side, there are those who say this is not a public concern. They want to keep government completely out of our homes and families. Others say we should impose a rigid set of government rules, as if Washington has some special wisdom when it comes to parenting and values.

I say both are wrong. In a changing and complex world, parents need an ally—an active government, on the side of parents, giving them the tools they need to raise happy, healthy, thriving children, according to their own values.

Since President Clinton and I took office, we worked very hard to fulfill that role—and we have had no greater partner than the PTA. Because of your leadership, we have done an enormous amount these past five years to help America's parents, and to make it easier for them to safeguard their children.

Together with the PTA, we passed Family Leave, to let parents take time off to care for a newborn or a sick child. Together with the PTA, we fostered an agreement by TV executives to air three hours of high-quality children's programming a week. Together with the PTA, we pushed the V-chip, to let parents make informed and enforceable choices about their children's TV viewing. Together with the PTA, we encouraged the TV industry to establish TV ratings, so parents know the content of today's TV programming. These are all issues Tipper and I have explored in great detail at our annual Family Conferences in Nashville over the past six years.

Today, I want to focus on another three critical areas where we must do more to meet the 21st century threats to our children. And I want to propose action in each of these areas that will help parents raise strong families, according to their own values.

First, there is no greater threat to the health and safety of our children than tobacco. And it is no surprise that so many parents feel helpless after decades of multi-million dollar marketing campaigns targeted right at our children. Tonight is Oscar night. By the time all the envelopes have been opened, movie-fanatics will have seen a dozen or so clips of the movie "Titanic."

The biggest box office hit in movie-making history tells the horrifying story of 1,500 people who died when the great Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. But there's another horrifying story—one we won't hear about on TV tonight. It happened yesterday, it's happening today, and it will happen again tomorrow. Nearly as many Americans die every single day from the effects of smoking as the number who died when the Titanic sank 85 years ago.

We know that tobacco hooks 3,000 teens every day, and that more than 1,000 will die from it. We know that if our children don't start smoking by the time they turn 19, they're unlikely to start at all.

We also know some new life-saving facts, from a new Treasury Department analysis I am announcing today. If the President's anti-tobacco plan is passed by Congress, it will reduce teen smoking by 42% over the next five years—saving nearly one million precious lives. I call on Congress to pass comprehensive, bipartisan anti-tobacco legislation—and to do it now, because America can't afford to lose almost one million lives. I urge the PTA to add your voices to those calling for this legislation, and to add your influence to the crusade to reduce teen smoking.

Second, I want to address a unique 21st century challenge—helping parents and teachers provide our children with the wonders of the Internet while also protecting them from inappropriate content.

We worked together with the PTA to establish the e-rate—the dramatic discounts that make sure all our schools and libraries have affordable access to Internet service. But now we're faced with a difficult debate about how to protect our children, while they are in school, from the objectionable content they might find in cyberspace.

Some say we should take no action at all—just let children roam free on the Internet. To them I say: children are not miniature adults. They are vulnerable and impressionable, and we have an obligation to protect them from harmful words and images on the Internet.

Others say that government should automatically block certain sites on the Internet for schools and libraries that take advantage of the e-rate. There is legislation in Congress that would require schools and libraries to use uniform Internet blocking software. To them I say: our schools need help enforcing their own local values.

It's tempting to seek a simple, "one-size-fits-all" solution. But this is a problem that defies simple solutions dictated from Washington. What we really need is an answer that works, that is flexible enough to meet local needs and fast-changing technology. Technology, by itself, is not enough. We need the combined power of parents, teachers, and technology—to protect our students in a way that reflects the values of each community.

Today, on behalf of President Clinton, I am calling for new legislation to require every school and library that applies for the e-rate to come up with its own plan for protecting children from objectionable Internet content. These plans would be developed in the community—not in the Congress.

This new legislation would ensure that as schools and libraries guide our children down the Information Superhighway, we avoid the occasional potholes of objectionable content. It will help make cyberspace a safe space for our school children.

Finally, to protect our children, we must build up our public schools to provide great education both in-school and after-school. Today, more children are being raised by two working parents than ever before. To help parents balance the needs of work and family, President Clinton and I have proposed a record $1 billion investment in quality after-school care.

We're going to keep our public schools open longer—and offer safe, educational, and engaging activities during the hours when children are no longer in school, but parents are still at work.

Studies have taught us that the hours between 2 and 6 are the most perilous hours of the day for our children. A teenager is most likely to take up smoking between the hours of 2 and 6. A teenager is most likely to do drugs and alcohol between the hours of 2 and 6. A teenager is most likely to get caught up in crime between the hours of 2 and 6.

That means we must engage our children in positive, constructive activities between the hours of two and six. This spring, I'm going to hold with Secretary Riley a national teleconference on after-school programs to bring together parents, teachers, community leaders and businesses to expand access to quality after-school care for all our children. I'm delighted to announce that the national PTA is co-sponsoring this teleconference, and I ask for your help in making it a success.

Unfortunately, the Senate Budget Committee has approved a resolution that would force our after-school proposal to compete for scarce funds with other initiatives. That's wrong. When it comes to helping parents, nothing will do so much for so little as the President's after-school initiative. I call on Congress not to cut it, squeeze it, or shrink it, but to pass it into law. If we truly want to help parents protect their children, after-school care must be more than an afterthought.

The truth is, the single greatest protection for our children is a good education. Successful students just seem to have more built-in immunity to society's destructive influences. We need your support for the President's entire education agenda, including 100,000 new teachers, smaller class sizes in the early grades, and tax breaks to rebuild and modernize more than 5,000 public schools across the nation.

Some in Congress would squeeze down on all of these crucial initiatives. Instead of record investments in our public schools and teachers, they are pushing a wrong-headed voucher proposal that would drain precious resources from our public schools, and would barely benefit the students who need help the most.

I know all of you are going up to the Hill this afternoon to rally for education. Please tell your Senators to make the right choices for children and our public schools.

As early as tomorrow, the Senate could vote on a plan that would drain our public schools of the resources they need to prepare our children for the 21st century. This plan would be worth a mere $7 a year for families with children in public schools, while giving $37 a year to families with children in private schools.

Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to prevent the U.S. Senate from even voting on key education initiatives like building and modernizing our public schools and reducing class size.

Tell your Senators to reject this approach. Instead, let's pass the President's plan to rebuild and modernize our public schools. Let's pass the President's plan to hire 100,000 new teachers and reduce class size in the early grades. Let's pass the President's plan to make the largest new investment ever in K through 12 public education. We've got to build up our public schools, not tear them down. The President's education plan will do that—and I hope you will tell your Senators how crucial it is for our families and our future.

Long before the arrival of the Internet, long before even the printed page, parents have struggled to pass on their values to their children, and to protect them from harmful influences.

In fact, in the Old Testament, when Moses had just finished giving the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, he said: "These words . . . shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children."

Teaching values to our children has not become any easier since Moses first spoke that commandment. In fact, it has become more difficult—with a million times more messages flowing through new media—targeted at our children. That's why it's more important than ever that we have an active government, working with parents, on the side of families. And it is more important than ever that our active government have active partners, like the PTA. Whether it's the e-rate or TV ratings; or the V-chip or tobacco—together we have built an impressive list of accomplishments. Now we've got to keep going—to meet not only today's threats to our children and our values, but tomorrow's as well.

That is the commitment of this administration—to do everything we can to be an ally and a friend to parents; to offer them every possible assistance in passing on their values to their children; to help protect children from the moral and physical dangers that are growing all around us. Government doesn't always know what is best. But this government trusts that parents know what is best. And we have responsibility to help them achieve it—for their children, for their families, and for their future. Thank you.


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