Exclusive Interview with
Teresa Heinz Kerry
Education Update: You’ve
been widely recognized as a leader in the philanthropic,
political, and conservationist communities, having received
numerous awards for your environmental advocacy and having
been recently named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts
and Sciences. Do you feel that your own education was a motivating
factor in your success, and in what ways did it inspire you?
Include mentors, if applicable.
Heinz Kerry: Probably the most important advantage
I had as a child was having parents who believed in me
and in the power of education. As a doctor my father was
always learning, always studying, and he helped set me
on a path of lifelong learning. Growing up in Mozambique
also gave me a unique perspective on the world. I remember
studying the political theory of government, in a class
of only 4 girls and 76 men, because I wanted to know something
about how other countries governed themselves. America
suddenly went from being a place of geography—I went to an English school
and we studied geography very strenuously—to an idea.
What fascinated me was that in America, people of different
parties actually talked to one another. They could be friends
with one another, and could sponsor ideas called legislation
together and look for practical solutions to common problems.
Coming from a dictatorship I found that compelling. That
idea of bridging differences is what drives me to work
so hard, with all kinds of people, to address the issues
facing Americans today.
Education Update: According
to your press biography, you speak no less than five languages.
Do you believe it played a role in your success in politics
and advocacy, and, as a result of that, do you think language
instruction has key benefits to offer education and American
society as well? What
might Americans learn or emulate from models of education
in other countries?
Kerry: I speak English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian—some
better than others. I think learning other languages forces
us to recognize that the world isn’t all like us. We
don’t all speak one language, or observe one religion,
or behave as one culture. But learning languages also helps
us become more adept at bridging those differences. They
teach us that just because we’re different, that doesn’t
mean we can’t communicate and learn from each other
and respect each other. That’s especially important
in a global community where we see cultures colliding every
day. Languages also offer a tangible benefit in early childhood
brain development. At a young age, children are fully capable
of learning different languages, as they do in many countries.
I learned English and Portuguese growing up, and I think
we really should make quality language instruction, including
bilingual education programs for those who need them, part
of our curriculum from a young age.
Update: What is your
stand on the No Child Left Behind Act. What would you suggest
your husband do. Do you believe the legislation has reached
the goals it set, or has it fallen short? If not, do you
believe it could be improved, and how would you do so?
Mrs. Kerry: When
the No Child Left Behind Act was signed, the Bush Administration
said the right things—asking more from our schools
and pledging to give them the resources to get the job done.
But by now, they have underfunded No Child Left Behind by
almost $27 billion, making it impossible for schools to meet
the demands of the new law and literally leaving millions
of children behind. My husband will create a new National
Education Trust Fund to fully fund No Child Left Behind—to
provide our children with smaller classes, more textbooks,
and more after school opportunities.
Update: Today, many states are measuring student achievement
with fill-in-the-bubble tests that limit both teaching
and learning. What are your views on testing?
Mrs. Kerry: A
Kerry administration will offer the support needed for states
to use sophisticated tests that capture the full range of
skills that we want students to develop. We will also ensure
accurate assessments of schools’ success. Having correctly
revised key regulations measuring school achievement under
No Child Left Behind, the current administration is refusing
to apply those new regulations retroactively. In such a great
country as ours we need to do everything we can to help our
children achieve their God-given potential and that means
providing quality education for all.
Education Update: As
First Lady, what will your special project be? (eg Lady Bird
Johnson: beautification, Hillary
Clinton: medical reforms, Laura Bush: education). Will you
advocate for education, and will you make that a priority?
Kerry: I hope we can move past that idea of First Ladies
having “pet projects.” Through my philanthropy
work I have had the great fortune to be able to give back
to my community and continue trying to find solutions to
many different challenges. If I become First Lady I hope
to bring greater prominence to many important issues I’ve
worked on such as health care, the environment, education,
civil and women’s rights, both here in the United States
and abroad. I
think that without question education would be a top priority
so we can prepare America’s children properly to become
our next generation of leaders.
Update: Among American
First Ladies to date, do you have a heroine and why?
Mrs. Kerry: If
I had to choose just one out of the many first ladies who
could be heroines, I would choose Abigail Adams. For her
time, as well as for today, she was a profoundly honest,
hopeful, and intelligent human being who used her power and
capabilities in the most graceful manner. Without her I don’t
think John Adams could have blossomed to become what he became.
Abigail Adams had tremendous fortitude inspired by things
larger than herself. In many ways she seemed larger than life with a big heart,
great inquisitiveness and an enduring spirit. Her qualities
are timeless and endear her to me as a heroine in American
Education Update: Have you taken an active role in the
education of your own children, and those of Senator Kerry,
and has that influenced your perception of the importance
of education as a whole?
Mrs. Kerry: Certainly
I did with my own children—John’s
children were already nearly grown when I met them. As a
mother my absolute top priority was raising my children to
be thinking, informed adults. My interest in early childhood
education in particular grew out of that experience. We start
educating our children from the moment they’re born—it
doesn’t just start when they enter school. For me,
that means one of the most important priorities we have to
embrace is doing a better job of involving parents in the
education of their children. Even the best teacher can only
do so much; students need support at home too.
Update: How important are the arts, in your opinion, in
the national education plan?
Mrs. Kerry: The
arts are critical to education. They
teach children to think in different ways, to be creative,
imaginative and thoughtful. The arts are a way to teach expression,
allow an outlet, and provide an opportunity for many children
to shine and succeed which is different than the way one
excels in a standard curriculum. We need to work to find
a way to provide funding for the arts and music and physical
education and for all these things that enrich the educational
experience for our children.#