BLOOMINGTON, IN—In a speech before constituents at Indiana University Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) paid much-needed lip service to the importance of a well-rounded education in the lives of young people.
"For every 100 children who enter kindergarten this fall, only 70 will graduate from high school," Burton told the group of approximately 250 Indiana residents. "Fewer still will finish college. As your representative, I consider it my duty to observe this statistic and mention it very, very often."
Burton continued: "In a recent study of high-school seniors, 50 percent were unable to locate their own country on a globe. I, for one, will not be satisfied until every single young person in America has been given the opportunity to hear me speak about this appalling problem."
Burton, who is known for giving much-needed lip service to such diverse issues as inner-city poverty, the federal deficit and environmental pollution, added, "Compounding the problem is the fact that parents are failing to take an active role in their children's education. Nearly 75 percent of parents cannot name the subjects their children are failing versus those they are passing—another tragic figure I appear deeply saddened by at public speaking events."
After demonstrating the dire need for educational reform for a full 55 minutes, Burton left the auditorium and took immediate action by returning to his hotel room.
Burton's speech was well-received by those in attendance. "I'm glad to have a congressman who acknowledges our dire need for better schools and, more importantly, brings it up during speeches," said Mary Keyes, a Bloomington-based mother of three. "This problem is only getting worse. How can we as a nation solve it unless our leaders are willing to talk at great length about every aspect of the situation?"
Elementary-school teacher Edward Proehl also said he was pleased by Burton's speech. "It seems like it's been years since we've had a statesman who doesn't just talk about the importance of education, but really talks about it at length. Too many politicians in the past have just skimmed over the major points, leaving us wanting a more substantial speech about how someone needs to do something about this issue."
Shortly after hearing of Burton's speech, Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon announced plans for a bipartisan "Target Our Schools 2000" initiative, in which 50,000 pamphlets and a run of televised public-service announcements would spread a pro-education message to the state's people.
"I intend to have the education crisis discussed, analyzed, evaluated and debated, day and night," O'Bannon said at a late-afternoon press conference. "But there is so much that Americans can do in their own towns. Talk about the problem with your family, with your co-workers, and most importantly, with your children. If the very Americans our system has failed do not hear of their own plight, then the elected officials have not done their job."
Despite Burton's gubernatorial support, a number of political adversaries have criticized his role in education.
"Sure, Dan Burton has talked a lot about talking about education, but let's examine the facts," said State Rep. Glen Albers, D-Spencer. "He has passed up countless opportunities to talk about education all through his political career. When I run for congress next term, I will give lip service to the education issue in every single campaign speech."
Burton is confident, however, that he has helped raise consciousness about the need for awareness of the education issue. "I don't pretend to have all the answers, but at least I've started people talking about the problem," he said. "After all, isn't that what solving problems is all about?"