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Teachers Get a Big Hand From Actor : Learning: Helping those who fall through system's cracks is important, Ben Vereen tells conference on adult education.


ANAHEIM — Tony award-winning dancer and television actor Ben Vereen, making his first public appearance since being hit by a truck in June, told teachers in adult-education programs their role is important to society.

Vereen told the 1,800 participants at the 10th annual Adult Education Conference at the Anaheim Hilton and Towers that they teach those who fell through cracks in the educational system, such as ex-prisoners, unwed mothers and immigrants.

He took a day from his rehabilitation to deliver the keynote address at the conference.

Vereen, who was struck while walking on Pacific Coast Highway near his home in Malibu, stressed the importance of adult educators, a multicultural education and instilling values in children. Lacing his talk with humor, Vereen received several standing ovations.

"We can't afford an illiterate nation. Without you, the (educational) crack would widen. You've just got to get people talking about adult education. There is a great need for you in this society and people have got to realize that you are here," said Vereen, who spent six weeks in a hospital after suffering head and internal injuries and a broken leg in his accident.

"To me the work that you are doing is important, so it was important for me to leave my rehabilitation to be here today," Vereen told the group.

"For a young black child from Brooklyn, education has been the boat which took me to Manhattan across from Brooklyn and gave me a glimpse into the arts," Vereen said.

He said he went to night school to make up classes so that he would be able to attend New York's High School of Performing Arts. He used his own educational experience to illustrate the importance of a multicultural education.

"When I was going to school, there was nothing relating to my people or other ethnic peoples that made me feel part of the whole. I might have applied myself more to education if there would have been," he said.

The four-day conference is sponsored by the American Assn. for Adult and Continuing Education and features more than 300 speakers and 200 sessions geared toward educators who teach adults. According to the association, adult-education programs in California serve about 2 million people.

Several conference participants said they thought that Vereen was motivational because he spoke eloquently about issues pertinent to adult educators.

"He focused on problems from the point of view of minorities. He wants to make sure people who aren't in the system are taken care of. His presence here sets a good example," said Connie McKenna, a conference participant from Alexandria, Va.

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