Saturday, April 01, 2000

Thatcher speaks of history, hope


Teens find her easy to talk with

BY JIM HANNAH
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Margaret Thatcher talked with teens at the Working in Neighborhoods center.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        About 50 middle- and high school students got a lesson in modern history on Friday that few American students will ever get.

        For more than 30 minutes, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher answered question after question from the group. And they drilled the legendary politician on issues that have been keeping world leaders awake at night for decades — from violence in Northern Ireland to bringing peace to Israel and the Palestinians.

        Lady Thatcher, born in 1925, never sat during the hour-long event Friday evening at Working in Neighborhoods community center on Llewellyn Avenue in South Cumminsville, formerly St. Pius School. Working in Neighborhoods Inc. was founded in 1978 to strengthen communities, primarily in the Mill Creek Valley.

        She didn't give a long speech or take many questions from the adults present but instead mingled with the students, such as 16-year-old Theresa Kleinhaus. The junior at St. Ursula Academy in East Walnut Hills wanted Lady Thatcher's advice on passing stronger gun laws in the States.

        “I would be really unhappy if we had as many guns in Britain and it was as out of control as you do here,” Lady Thatcher said. “Your history is different. You have guns because that was the only way you could defend yourself in the early days.”

        She said gun legislation must be drafted in advance and introduced by savvy politicians after a national tragedy such as a high school shooting in order for gun reforms to pass.

        “It is all a question of timing,” she said.

        Simeion Evans, 17, of South Cumminsville was impressed with Lady Thatcher's candor.

        “She answered all our questions with no hesitation,” said the Aiken High School senior. “She is a very inspirational person to meet because she didn't act like the very important person she is.”

        Her visit was made possible by Fifth Third Bank and the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University, and was one of many stops the former prime minister made in the Tristate. Her itinerary was confidential.

        Lady Thatcher, who led Britain's education system before becoming prime minister, had a strong opinion about school violence in America.

        The mother of twins said our schools are too large, causing students to feel lost.

        “The best school is not the best buildings,” she said. “The best school is the one that has the best teachers. I think your schools are very much bigger than ours. ... I think a school of about 800 is getting rather large.”

        “The head teacher should know the name of every pupil. Now, that happened in my day. But you can't do it if you have more than about 600 pupils.”

        She said smaller schools might not be able to offer a wide selection of programs, but what's most important are the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

        Lady Thatcher served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She was the first woman ever to hold the office.

        She answered many question true to her conservative background — advocating such things as a strong military.

        Above all Friday, her message was one of hope. The child of a high-school-educated grocer told the group they could do anything they wanted.

        “If you have a passion for something ... just follow that passion, work very hard and don't give up,” she said. “You will find the marvelous people here willing to help. You will find someone willing to help.” Today, she is a member of the House of Lords, and travels the world speaking to groups.

        “I don't think I should ever give up the work,” she said. “I don't want to. It is much better to have something interesting to do.”

       



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