Association of Junior Leagues


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
February 2, 1996

Remarks By First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
to The Association of Junior Leagues
The White House

MRS. CLINTON: Thank you so much, Nancy. I am so pleased to be here with all of you who are the leaders of the Leagues around, not only our country but, I understand, three other countries. And I owe a great debt of gratitude to the League, both in its corporate capacity through the years, and individually to many members because of the work that the League has done.

It is very important, as you know, that the League continue to speak out on this concept of community that Nancy referred to. To try to bring to life some of the issues that you know because of your work affect the lives of children and families everywhere you live. To put a human face on the political debates. To make sure that all of our citizens know what is at stake.

As Nancy referred to the book that I've written, there are two things that I think as a matter of full disclosure should be mentioned. One is that I talk in the book about the Lynn County Child Care Center which happens to be in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which happens to be where Nancy is from, as an example of a public/private partnership principally relying on subsidizing child care for working parents, young parents who need to try to get their education, women who have been divorced and don't have adequate child support who need to work and can't manage good child care at the same time. I could have listed hundreds of good facilities around the country but only had room for one, and I had recently visited that center, so I wanted to include it.

The other is that, at the beginning of one of the chapters on health care, I talk about having attended, around 20 years ago now, a Junior League meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas. And, at the meeting, a woman name Betty Lowe--who was then a pediatrician on the staff of the Children's Hospital--and I were talking about child advocacy, which the League was getting into and very concerned about. And I write about how struck I was at the end of our presentations when one of the League members in attendance asked Dr. Lowe what, if she could do anything, she would do in order to make sure children in our country were healthy. And I didn't know what to expect, but what I heard was not what I expected, when she said "I'd make sure that they had good food and they had exercise and they had clean water and they lived in places that valued them, and their parents were supported so that they could do what needed to be done for their children." And she went on to talk about how so many of the problems children face are because adults have failed to do what we need to do on behalf of our children.

And that was as good an explanation of what advocacy meant as any that I had heard. And so for many years afterwards I worked often with League members both in my own state and around the country. And I come today in part to thank all of you for your commitment to children and to our communities.

I think it's important as we look toward the future to realize that we have many challenges. Some of them appear at times to be quite daunting. But part of the reason I wrote this book is because I honestly believe that we know what we need to do. And that there are solutions to all of these problems that we worry about. That right now somewhere in America and in the other countries represented, parents are learning how to be better parents, doctors and nurses are reaching out to care for children who would otherwise go without care, teachers are adjusting how they teach to deal with the problems children bring with them into schools, communities are providing recreational facilities and trying to provide some kind of support for teenagers so they just don't wander aimlessly through malls and video arcades.

We can look and see so many efforts now under way that are bearing fruit. But one of the great frustrations that I see, sitting where I am today, is that many of these solutions and ideas are not linked up together. We don't learn well from each other. We keep repeating the same efforts. We don't move beyond and understand that what worked in Cleveland or in Denver could work in Dallas or in New York. And we have to do more to bring together the state of our knowledge about how to strengthen and support families. We also have to communicate that more effectively to families themselves.

One of the great issues that we will confront in the coming years is how, in the blizzard of information that we are now deluged by, any of us will make sense out of what we hear and see and put it to use in our own lives and communities. I think about that a lot because, I often do little tests of my own to sort of check and see what the state of knowledge about something as simple as talking to a child on the first years of life might be. I started doing this about 15 or 16 years ago when, during a campaign day with my husband, and I guess it was probably 1982 because Chelsea was about two, we were in a community and walking up and down the streets visiting with people. And I went up to a group of women who had a lot of little children, some in their arms, some hanging onto their legs. And I started talking with them, and I said to one of them, "You must be having a great time talking with your daughter." And she gave me this totally blank stare. And she said, "Why would I talk to her? She can't talk back."

I now say that to nearly everybody I see with a child in a situation, whether it's on a campaign trail or in a supermarket aisle or wherever I might be, because I'm constantly surprised how many parents who want to be good parents don't know something as simple as what it takes to build a vocabulary that will enable a child to be successful in school.

So many of them also don't know what it means to read to a child or they might be embarrassed because they don't read well. And when I think about the endless times that I've read the same books that you've read to your children, so that you could recite them by heart, and then you try to skip a page or a paragraph, and "no mummy, no mummy, back there." And I see the results in my own child's life and in the lives of the children of my friends that they know words. They know how to speak. They know how to read. They may not read as much as I would want them to read, but at least they read their computer screens, so they are reading something. And there are so many children whose parents still don't know that is essential.

In the book I talk about an incredible study that I came across last year called "Meaningful Differences," where some researchers at the University of Kansas went into homes of different educational and economic backgrounds. But, all kinds of dysfunction was screened out, so you didn't have parents who had problems with alcohol or depression or any of those difficulties. You had stable parents trying to do the best they could, living on welfare, living on very low wages from jobs that didn't pay much, and then you had parents who were well-educated and well-remunerated for the work that they did. The researchers went into these homes once a month and watched and recorded every word that was said. And it wouldn't surprise you, I'm sure, that the number of words was so much greater in the homes of the more educated, more affluent parents. Even where both parents, mother and father, worked, the number of words was so much greater in comparison to the next level of education and income and in comparison to those who were on welfare.

In addition to the words themselves, though, the positive, affirming messages that the children heard were also much greater the higher the level of education and income. There were lots of "Good girl," or "That's a boy," or "Oh, I'm so proud of you, look what you've done today." When you dropped down--again these are solid, stable families, parents who want their children to succeed--in the next level of income and education you had far more words of prohibition and negative messages. "Don't do that," "Stay out of there," "Don't get into that," "Come on, come sit down." Lots of messages of stopping, boundaries. Much fewer messages of affirmation.

And then when we got into the actual interactions going on between mostly mothers and children in homes that were on welfare, again the number of words was much lower, but the number of positive messages was dramatically lower. These parents saw the world as quite threatening to themselves and their children, so they were constantly trying to reign their children in, to tell them not to do things: "Don't do that," "Get away from there," "Come sit down." All of those messages which not only sent the words to the child, but sent the signal as well that the world was not a very open place to be explored, to deal with in a curious way that we want our children to learn.

And the researchers concluded, and I think absolutely on target, that when they followed these children into school, into elementary school because this study went on for a number of years, you could track the vocabulary richness, the openness to learning, from those first years and see the relationship between how a child was talked to and what the nature of the words happened to be.

Now just think, if we could, knowing what we now know, knowing what all of us in this room try to do with our own children and the children that we care about. I have a nephew staying with me now, and the poor child is just overwhelmed by affirmation and positive words. You know, he's only six months old. And sometimes I look at him and I have this feeling he's saying, "Leave me alone, enough is enough." But just think of what we could do if somehow we could empower and educate every parent to do what so many of us do as a matter of course.

That's a simple example, but it's an example that I wanted to share with you because it clearly points out that if we do not help parents and families with better information, with the kind of home visiting programs that I know a number of Leagues have been involved in, if we don't use our media to deliver positive messages abou

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