OTR Interviews

Barbara Bush Worried About State of Education, Against English as a Second Language

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 9, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Former first lady Barbara Bush is not sitting back. She has continued to take on a big problem, which is your children and their education. She is not pointing fingers at government. She is promoting family literacy, calling on parents to get more involved, and she is getting some help from her daughter-in-law, former first lady Laura Bush.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mrs. Bush, nice to see you.

BARBARA BUSH: Great to see you.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you have an op-ed about education. You have something to say about education these days?

BARBARA BUSH: I certainly do. I'm really worried about it. I don't envy the governor and the legislators of our state and others. But our state used to be the best practically. We have gone way down compared to other states.

If we don't educate our children, it is going to cost us billions of dollars later. We are going to have teenage pregnancies and kids without jobs. It just breaks my heart. I felt that I should speak up.

I don't think government can do everything at all. Parents, grandparents, neighbors, churches, everybody should say this is a national crisis. It is as bad as anything in our country and we've got to get ourselves geared up and not be lazy parents and not be lazy neighbors, but we've got to help children get to school on time, have healthy meals.

I love what Mrs. Obama is doing, incidentally, on the meals. I would like to have parents be parents. Don't tell me the PTA meetings are boring. They are, but so what? They are your kids.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do we get people going on education? I saw the numbers in your article, Texas 36th in the nation [on] high school graduates. And 3.8 million Texans don't have a high school diploma.

BARBARA BUSH: No, you are killing us.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is horrible.

BARBARA BUSH: Laura Bush this very day, if she can get here because of the ice storm in Dallas, is starting an initiative on middle school. And she says, that this is where we can help our children, keep them in school or this is where they dropout. So she is going to work on middle school.

Jeb says no social promotions. After the third grid you go to the fourth grade. If you can't read -- but you learn to read up until the third grade. Fourth grade you read to learn. I think that's important. We do not push our children up for social reasons.

VAN SUSTEREN: I thought in the 50s and 60s there was a higher graduation rate than in the 30s and 40s. What has changed? Is it the curriculum or we have loss discipline in the classroom?

BARBARA BUSH: We have more children, obviously. I don't know the answer. But I do think with parents both working and you're tired. I understand that. I had the great luxury of not working. I was tired any way. But I think when they come home, you should see they don't sit by the television. At least have some discipline in the family. So you don't sit by the television. You don't play games, video games, until you have done your homework. And parents should take an interest. I don't think they do.

VAN SUSTEREN: Many of the parents can't read and write. Now we have these other generations.

BARBARA BUSH: That's why we are active in family literacy teaching the mother or the father or the grandmother to read at the same time we have the children in the same location but in different rooms. They get together and reading to. There are all sorts of different things.

But you are right, a lot of parents don't read. We've got to top that. I know I'm going to be shot by the office. I'm against English as a second language. My great-grandmother came as a German. She didn't have someone teach her English as a second language. She learned it in three months. It is survival. You see it in schools all around now where you are allowed to speak English only. And you sink or swim. They swim, because they are immigrants from all different countries. I've seen a school in Boston [where] they asked me to read. I said read? They all speak 80 different languages. In three months they learned English.

We've got a real problem in public schools. Jeb, who did Florida from the bottom to the top, you should be talking to him, because he had all sorts of accountability, very important. No social promotions -- just a lot of things. He, for instance, tutored a child once a week for the eight years he was governor because he knew someone needed to know that child's name and needed to care about the marks.

VAN SUSTEREN: Should we be looking at the classroom whether we should have more discipline in the classroom?

BARBARA BUSH: I think there should be no -- this is not just the lower grades. I think there should be no telephones or cameras allowed in the classroom. I was shocked when I saw teenage girls filming it. No telephones, no cameras. There should be rules.

VAN SUSTEREN: I came to talk to you about education and to see the president about President Reagan, but I have to ask about this -- Medal of Freedom.

BARBARA BUSH: Very exciting.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is exciting.

BARBARA BUSH: He doesn't travel very much. But this was just a thrill. All the children are going to be there, I believe. The children, they are 60 and on down. We are very excited. It was very kind of President Obama, but deserved. No one deserves it more, she says modestly.

VAN SUSTEREN: To me he's one of the hardest people in the world to interview because he will not talk about himself. He's talking about President Reagan. If you want to get the president to talk about himself, he's the world's worst interview.

BARBARA BUSH: We have an army who will talk about him, don't you worry.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see you.

BARBARA BUSH: I don't give interviews, but literacy I might pull myself together for. Thank you.