Rice says ‘children of color' are worst hit by failing schools

Rice says ‘children of color' are worst hit by failing schools
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice speaks Wednesday as part of The Women's Conference at Cal State Long Beach. Rice said that 'underprivileged children' do not receive adequate education in the U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice speaks Wednesday as part of The Women's Conference at Cal State Long Beach. Rice said that 'underprivileged children' do not receive adequate education in the U.S.
By MARISELA SANTANA, Staff Writer 23.OCT.08
In striking remarks at conference for women, outgoing secretary of state says unequal opportunity has become the nation's "most pressing national security issue."

LONG BEACH - In a Wednesday afternoon appearance before an annual gathering of powerful women, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the failing American education system has become "the most pressing national security issue in this country right now."

Rice, the highest-ranking African-American in government and the first Black woman to hold the post, made the remarks at The Women's Conference, a yearly event organized by California First Lady Maria Shriver. Taking the Long Beach Convention Center stage to resounding applause from the nearly 15,000 in attendance, the statement by Rice - who previously served as President Bush's national security advisor and was once the chief academic and budget officer at Stanford University - was particularly striking in light of her deep involvement in a global conflict against terrorism and the central role she plays in helping to oversee lengthy wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The state of education, in K-12, in this country is a national security issue," she said during a discussion moderated by CNN host Campbell Brown. "And frankly, [it is worse] for underprivileged kids and children of color. I have long been in education, and it breaks my heart ... to know that a [future] president of the United States could be sitting in one of these public schools that are basically warehousing. That makes me very sad. As secretary of state, that terrifies me."

She later added that the U.S. is unique in the belief that "you can be born in a log cabin and still be president. But the only thing that makes that true is equal access to education ... for everybody. If we cannot educate our young people, then we cannot be competitive. And if we can't be competitive in this world, then we are going to turn inward."

As one of the day's many presenters at an event entitled "Women as Architects of Change," Rice, dressed in a fashionable dark suit and her trademark string of pearls, spoke candidly about her upbringing in the segregated south ("There had never been any White students in my classes until we moved to Denver when I was in the 10th grade") and the part she plays as a role model for young women across the world.

Asked whether she believes that a glass ceiling still exists for women striving to achieve, Rice responded, "Of course it does ... but it's getting much, much thinner."

In remarks introducing the secretary of state, Shriver called Rice "a role model, and a trailblazer for women everywhere." Rice accepted the compliment, but later cautioned women against becoming overly reliant on seeing others come before them in high-ranking positions in business and politics.

"If we are constantly looking for role models who look like you, then there won't be any firsts," she said. "Sally Ride would not have been the first woman astronaut had she been looking for a woman to follow. And so, I try to tell my students, because I am still a professor [at Stanford], that ‘Yes it's important to seek mentors and role models, who look like you ... but don't limit it to that.' It's OK to be first."

As far as women's prospects for making future breakthroughs in male-dominated fields, Rice said, "It's going to take our young girls growing up seeing themselves as being capable in math and science, and engineering and technology." Young women today, she said, should "not let somebody else define what you want to be and who you are because you come from a certain background. My advice is, do what you love and forget the rest of it."

Rice, who will leave government when Bush exits office in January, said she will likely return to California next year and write books. More importantly, she said, she wants to take a role in fixing education in the state.

- Photo by Gary McCarthy
Posted by erniemixon on 10/23/2008
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