Bush calls for focus on moral values in schools

Students need education in `right and wrong,' GOP candidate says

November 03, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

GORHAM, N.H. -- George W. Bush said yesterday that as president he would make moral values and discipline a focus of the nation's schools.

"Our children must be educated in reading and writing, but also in right and wrong," the Republican presidential candidate said. "Our schools should not cultivate confusion. They must cultivate conscience."

The Texas governor decried what he described as the notion that all ideas have equal validity, saying, "We must tell our children, with conviction and confidence, that the authors of the Holocaust were evil men and the authors of the Constitution were good ones, that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not a personal opinion but an eternal truth."

Bush also called for a crackdown on guns in schools, increased efforts to promote sexual abstinence by teen-agers and a federal law to protect educators from students suing over discipline.

"The days of timid pleading and bargaining and legal haggling with disruptive students must be over," he said. "We do not need tort lawyers scouring the halls of our schools, turning every classroom dispute into a treasure hunt for damage awards."

Although Bush urged school administrators to permit the voluntary expression of religion, he did not propose any laws or constitutional changes to encourage school prayer. The Christian Coalition and its allies in Congress are backing a proposed constitutional amendment to protect school prayer and other public expressions of faith.

"Schools must never impose religion, but they must not oppose religion either," Bush said. "Students have a right to say grace before meals, read their Bibles, wear Stars of David and crosses, and discuss religion with other willing students."

Bush's speech to the Northern White Mountain Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire, the state that will hold the first presidential primary Feb. 1, was the third education proposal he has unveiled in recent weeks. Earlier proposals included plans for standardized testing of all students and a voucher program that would let disadvantaged students attend private or religious schools using taxpayers' money.

Democrats dismissed the three-part package as "education lite" and criticized Bush's record in Texas. The Democratic National Committee noted figures indicating that assaults and gang-related incidents have increased in Texas during Bush's tenure. Texas also led the nation last year by expelling 424 students who brought guns to school.

"It's ironic that George W. Bush is preaching to New Hampshire voters about how to create safer schools when his own record in Texas is more in line with the National Rifle Association than the National Education Association," said Joe Andrew, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

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