Bennett: Minorities Can Meet Higher Goals

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Washington--At an event commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., Secretary of Education William J. Bennett said last week that educators can honor the slain civil-rights leader's dream by raising their expectations for poor and minority children.

With the legal battle for desegregation over, Mr. Bennett said, the main obstacle to equal educational opportunity lies in the doubts of educators themselves.

"There are doubts today that make a prescription for inaction, a self-fulfilling prophecy of despair," Mr. Bennett said. "There are doubts, for example, that poor children--grandchildren of segregation and descendants of slavery--can truly be educated."

"These doubts are faithless," he said. "These doubts are dangerous. And, in fact, these doubts are false."

"Defeatism is shown false each4day in schools all over America--schools whose students come from circumstances of poverty, but schools which teach their children the meaning of true freedom and the means to achieve it," the Secretary said. "I have seen these schools in the ghettos of Brooklyn and the Bronx, in the East Los Angeles barrio, in Cleveland and Dallas and Washington, D.C."

Mr. Bennett specifically praised Atlanta's Benjamin Elijah Mays High School, a predominantly black school he had visited earlier in the day. He called the school an embodiment of his own dream, the model school he described recently in James Madison High School, a report proposing a tough, classical model curriculum.

"I mean it for everyone," Mr. Bennett said. "All of our children deserve this education--our best education--and access to a school that provides it should not be an accident of where a student lives or of how much money his parents make."

The speech came during a busy two-week period in which Mr. Bennett also addressed, among others, the New Hampshire state legislature, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the American Council on Education.

Speaking to the Mecklenburg County Medical Society in Charlotte, N.C., he defended his approach to aids education and reiterated his call for widespread, routine aids testing.

"I think it is important that we face up to the harsh fact that we have not acted as seriously and responsibly as we should have in confronting aids," he said. "If we had adopted routine testing measures when the aids virus was identified and when testing first became available, many thousands of lives might have been saved."--jm

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