( Opening omitted )
During the almost seven years since I retired from the Army, I've traveled all across America. I've seen people hard at work providing for their families, giving of themselves, taking care of each other. I've seen them creating wealth for the nation. I've seen an economy transforming itself to seize the promise of the information revolution.

I've met so many of our fellow citizens who believe in America to the depths of their heart and who are doing everything they can in their communities to make our nation that more perfect union spoken of in our Constitution.

I've been moved yet again to stand in awe of the American dream, which was given birth in this city over 200 years ago, a dream that I have been privileged to live.

I've met so many young people who believe in the dream. They're on a road to success. They're being raised in strong families, going to good schools, filling the finest universities, graduating and then going on to find their place and fortune in this blessed land of ours. Even the youngest of them, still in elementary school, are getting ready for the future, using computers, logging onto the Internet, while still enjoying the magic of childhood by curling up with a Harry Potter book.

There is so much that is so good and right in America tonight, my friends, that we ought to be very, very proud of this wonderful country of ours.

And yet, I cannot ignore and we cannot ignore other things I've seen in my travels. I've seen poverty. I've seen failing communities. I've seen people who've lost hope. Tragically, I've seen too many young Americans who were overwhelmed by the daily struggle just to survive. I've seen kids destroying themselves with drugs, kids who see violence and crime as the answer to their hopelessness, kids who no longer believe in themselves and who don't see a reason to believe in America. I've seen kids in utter despair. I've visited kids in jail doing adult time for the crimes they've committed.

They are part of a growing population of over 2 million Americans behind bars -- 2 million convicts, not consumers; 2 million Americans who while paying for their crimes are not paying taxes, are not there for their children and are not raising families. Most of them are men and the majority of those men are minorities.

The issue of race still casts a shadow over our society. Despite the impressive progress we have made over the last 40 years to overcome this legacy of our troubled past, it is still with us.

So with all the success we have enjoyed and with all the wealth we have created, we have much more work to do and a long way to go to bring the promise of America to every single American.

And with all we have to do on our national agenda, I am convinced that to deliver on that promise, we must begin with our children. So many of the problems we worry about go back to how we raised our children.

The problem is as simple and as direct as this: We either get back to the task of building our children the way we know how, or we're going to keep building jails in America. And it's time to stop building jails in America and get back to the task of building our children.

Listen, listen...

And listen, listen, listen very carefully. Our children are not the problem. They are our future. They are America's promise. The problem is us, if we fail to give them what they need to be successful in life. The burden is on us, not on our children.

That mission -- that mission of providing for our children has become the passion of my life because what I've seen over the last several years convinces me of the following truths: One, that if you want to solve our drug problem, you won't do it by trying to cut off supply and arresting pushers on the street corners alone. It will only be solved when we place into the heart of every child growing up in America the moral strength never to fall for the destructive lure of drugs. The strength...

We will only solve and cure this plague of drugs is when we have given to each and every one of our children the strength to just say -- and you've heard it before -- just say, "No. Not me. I won't do it. I've got too much to live for. I'll never do drugs."

And that's what we owe our children, to give them that strength to fight against the curse of drugs.

I believe... I believe that if you want to solve the problem of violence and crime on our streets, it begins with us teaching children to value life, their own and others, and to have respect for themselves and to have respect for others.

If you want young people to become contributing citizens and not convicts, then early in life we must give them the character and the confidence they need to succeed in this exciting new world that we are laying out before them.

And it begins in the home. It begins with caring, loving parents and family members who pass on the virtues of past generation, who live good lives which serve as models for their children. Children learn from watching the adults in their family and their lives, and where the family is broken or the where the family is not up to the task, the rest of us must step in to help as mentors, tutors, foster parents, friends to kids who desperately need responsible adults to show them the way.

Tens of thousands of our neighbors have already stepped forward, tens of thousands who realize that our children are a gift from God, not only to their parents, but to all of us. They belong to us all. We are all responsible for them.

We need to provide a safe place for those kids to learn and to grow, more clubs and after-school programs to protect them from the dangers that exist in our society and our streets. We need to surround them with more adults in this clubs who will keep them in play.

We are obliged to make sure that every child gets a healthy start in life. With all of our wealth and capacity, we just can't stand by idly.

We must make sure that every child in America has access to quality health care. We owe them nothing less. It has to be done. It is our responsibility to do that for our children.

As we are giving these necessities and other necessities to our children, let's ask them to also give something back to the community of which they are a part. Early in life, help them learn of the joy that comes from giving to others, help them learn that through service to others, service to community, they will put virtues in their heart that will make them absolutely beautiful adults when they grow up; and that what's important in life is giving to others, not whether your sneakers cost more than someone else's sneakers. That's the kind of value and virtue we have to put into the heart of our children. Let our children be part of the solution.

With character in their hearts, with nurturing adults in their lives, our youngsters will be ready for the schooling that will give them the education needed to win those jobs of the future.

There is work for all of us here to do -- parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, the government at all levels, the private sector, our great non-profits, our houses of worship, all joining in the crusade to point kids in the right direction of life.

And tonight, we focus on education, the keystone to it all. Governor Bush has rightly made children and education the centerpiece of his campaign for president. You heard him say it earlier, we can't leave any child behind.

Every child -- every child deserves and must receive a quality education. Because when you give a quality education to a child who believes in himself or herself, then even with the bleakest beginning in life, that child can make it. And once that child makes it and gets out into the workplace and is earning a decent living, you have broken the cycle of poverty and failure for that family forever. Education is the key to breaking that cycle of poverty and failure.

So many... So many, many of our public schools are doing a fine job preparing our youngsters. I have been given no greater honor than to have had four public schools named after me, an honor that is greater than any medals I have received.

In those four schools and so many others that I visited, you've never seen better facilities, you've never seen more dedicated teachers, you've never seen more involved parents. It makes your heart pound with pride to see those great schools that we have in America.

But I've also seen too many schools that are failing. They are trapped in fossilized bureaucracies -- bureaucracies that have low expectations for children and consequently set low standards for them. These schools are failing our children, and they must be fixed, and they must be fixed now.

You know, if we truly believe -- if we truly believe they are all our children, then all of us must be willing to spend more to repair our schools and spend more to pay our teachers better. But we must also be open to new ideas. Let's not be afraid of standardized testing for students. Let's not be afraid of testing teachers' qualifications. Let's not be afraid of charter schools.

Let's not be afraid of using private scholarship money to give poor parents a choice that wealthy parents have.

Let's not be afraid of home schooling. Let's experiment prudently with school voucher programs to see if they help.

What are we afraid of?

Let's use innovation and competition, good old American innovation, good old American competition to help give our children the best education possible.

Why? You know, we invite skilled workers to come to America from all over the world to fill the good jobs that are waiting here. I think that's great. Immigration is part of our life's blood. It's part of the essence of who we are as Americans.

I am the son of immigrants. But I also want our kids here educated and trained for those jobs. We owe it to them, and we've got to get on with the task right now.

( Closing omitted )