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Interview With Deborah Simmons of The Washington Times

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
September 15, 2008

SECRETARY RICE: Hello. This is Condi Rice.

QUESTION: Hi. Deborah Simmons. How are you?

SECRETARY RICE: Hi, how are you? I’m fine, thank you.

QUESTION: Good, good. How’s the summit going?

SECRETARY RICE: Very, very well.

QUESTION: Oh, good.

SECRETARY RICE: This is a great President of Ghana and he – you know, he really represents everything that’s good in the new leadership in Africa. He’s fighting corruption. He’s governed honestly. He’s really tried to provide for his people. It’s really a great story.

QUESTION: Oh, good.


QUESTION: That’s good to know.


QUESTION: So, the education summit?


QUESTION: Yeah. I’m excited.

SECRETARY RICE: I’m excited, too. I really am. And Margaret and I have worked a lot together on a number of things, but this one’s really important.

QUESTION: Why is that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, obviously from my point of view as an educator, the – I know the essential role that education plays in our society, and I know that we’re not really succeeding in the way that we need to succeed. You know, there are too few students graduating in science and technology. There are too few kids studying critical languages. There are too many children just not finishing high school.

I was very involved in east Palo Alto, California, which is a –

QUESTION: Oh, with the center, right?

SECRETARY RICE: Right, with the center.


SECRETARY RICE: Because when I first got back to California in 1991, I was asked by the superintendent who is a – was a friend of my father’s to speak at their middle school commencement. And I said to her – I said, you know, this is an incredibly elaborate commencement for middle school.


SECRETARY RICE: And she said it’s because it’s the only commencement a lot of these kids will have. They won’t make it to high school, through high school.


SECRETARY RICE: And that’s when we’d started to found the center. So I think we have problems. And you know, what I’m going to say today is that it breaks my heart as an educator, but it really, really worries me as Secretary of State, because the United States has to lead from confidence. And if we’re not confident about educating our people, giving them the skills, then we’re going to turn inward –


SECRETARY RICE: -- and we won’t lead. I also am concerned that – really, the reason that I think we’re admired in the world is because people really do know that this is a country where it doesn’t matter where you came from; it matters where you’re going. That’s why so many immigrants from the high end and the – you know, the low end, people who just try to get here to make $5 a day when they make 50 cents on the other side of the border, or people who try to get here because they’re software engineers and want a chance in the Silicon Valley.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

SECRETARY RICE: It’s because we reward opportunity and creativity and innovation. But at the core of who we are is what I’ve always called a kind of national myth. And by myth, I don’t mean something untrue. It is the kind of log cabin –


SECRETARY RICE: -- that it doesn’t matter where you came from. You can be President. If your kids – if you didn’t do very well, it’s all right: your kids will do better. And it’s a belief that the United States isn’t necessarily going to provide equal outcomes, but it will provide equal opportunity.

QUESTION: Interesting. Yes, yes.

SECRETARY RICE: And that’s at the core of who we are. And if we ever lose that in a society where we’re not bound together by blood or by religion or nationality, you know, where we come from everywhere and every kind of background, but what binds us together is we really do believe that it doesn’t matter where you came from, then we will have lost something extremely important to us. And then I don’t think we’ll be confident leading.

QUESTION: Right. So what – well, you’re going to be in a transition the next couple of months?


QUESTION: So are you looking forward to getting back into education? Because you were provost, am I right?

SECRETARY RICE: I was provost a Stanford. I’ve been a university professor since 1981, and then I was provost at Stanford. I was a vice president of the Boys and Girls club. I was really involved in –

QUESTION: God bless your heart on that one, yeah.

SECRETARY RICE: -- in educational activities and efforts. All, you know, my own philanthropy and my own philanthropic activities have always been around education for underprivileged youth.


SECRETARY RICE: And yeah, that’s what I care about doing.

QUESTION: So when you exhale, will it be on the university level again? I mean, do you --

SECRETARY RICE: Sure, I’ll go back to the university.


SECRETARY RICE: And I’ll write and do those things. But also, as I said, I’ve been very involved in these questions about the delivery of basic educational skills of Americans.

QUESTION: Okay. So you think you’ll be doing – your philanthropy, do you think it’ll, at all keep you in Washington from time to time, or you (inaudible) --

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, no. Well, from time to time, maybe. (Laughter.) I know people think you need a visa between California and Washington but you really don’t. I can attest. No, I’ll go back to Stanford, but I will come back to Washington from time to time, sure.

QUESTION: Oh, good.


QUESTION: Good. Because we do have good football out here.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Well, as of yesterday, I guess. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I even sent up a little prayer. I said, Lord, I know you think I might be cheating on this one. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: I’m glad they won yesterday. That’s good.

QUESTION: Absolutely.

So one of the things about reforming education, particularly in the past 20, 25, 30 years, is there’s been this battle, whether it’s just perception or reality – and I’m on the side that it’s real – between people who really want to reform and change things or people who make excuses – the children aren’t eating enough hot grits in the morning or teachers need more, there’s not enough funding, NCLB didn’t – is an unfunded mandate, all those things. And in tomorrow’s editorial, I kind of wrap it up as saying no more excuses and let’s do away with this inertia.


QUESTION: What role – or do you think there’s a role that’s larger than what the federal government is playing right now in reforming education?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think education is always going to be and should be local in the United States. I’m a big advocate for local program and local control. I mean, it’s why, you know, when we founded the center; we founded it right in a school district. But what the federal government can do is it can use the bully pulpit. It can set expectations and insist on standards for funding. That’s what I like about No Child Left Behind.

In the – you know, I was attracted to then Governor Bush by his phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” because I’ve seen it.


SECRETARY RICE: You know, I’ve seen what happens when people start believing kids just can’t learn because of this circumstance or that circumstance.


SECRETARY RICE: I think accountability is something that the federal government can set as an expectation. And you know, I know Margaret and her colleagues are thinking a lot about this and I think the question is: Will people continue to stand up for the fact that our – we just can’t keep failing our kids? There’s nothing wrong with these kids.


SECRETARY RICE: They can learn. And we know that kids come out of the most difficult of circumstances and they learn, if given an opportunity.


SECRETARY RICE: So I do think the no more excuses is a good line.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.


Released on September 19, 2008

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