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Cover Story:
Exclusive Interview with Teresa Heinz Kerry

by Pola Rosen, Ed.D.

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.

Mrs. Teresa 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?

Mrs. 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.

Education 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.

Education 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?

Mrs. 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.

Education 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 history.

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.

Education 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.#



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