The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Lyndon B. Johnson
Remarks at the Smithsonian Institution at a Ceremony Marking the 200th Anniversary of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
December 14, 1967

Dr. Ripley, Senator Benton, Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen:

Senator Benton did say to me coming up here that he wished that I would give him what information I had on politics. I don't know how a man could be very learned in that field and have such a poor poll unless there is something wrong with politics or polls. But I may need to know something about business. It depends on your frame of mind.

I agreed with Senator Benton that I would tell him what little I knew about politics if he would tell me all he knew about business.

The first thing he did was get up here and make a prediction. I thought he was bragging for a moment about how long he had been connected with the Encyclopaedia Britannica until I found out he was predicting what a short time I would be President.

Let's just leave it this way: He is better at explaining things than he is at prophesying.

I would like to quote--and, Senator Benton, if it pleases you, sir--to disagree with something I read in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I am a concerned Democrat who is exercising my free right of free speech and my right to dissent. [Laughter. ]

What I read that I disagreed with in the Encyclopaedia Britannica concerned education. This is what it said:

"Education (consists of) instructing children ... in such branches of knowledge and polite exercises as are suitable to their genius and station."

That statement appeared in the Britannica, "suitable to their genius and station." It appeared in the first edition of the Britannica 200 years ago. That shows what has happened in ann years, doesn't it?

I don't believe it. Neither does today's Encyclopaedia Britannica.

For this gift to 1,000 schools that you have talked about underscores the idea that in America education must be concerned not with the station of our young people--not with their station--but with their ability.

By this very generous and farsighted act of yours, placing these Presidential reference libraries in these poor schools attended by our poor children, Senator Benton, you and your organization are helping to give these people power--power to rise above the arbitrary "station" they were born to.

Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than the fact that the old ideas of station and the old ideas of privilege are withering away and are dying on the vine. I think that is especially true in education. Nothing makes me happier than to know that I have had a little part in it in the past 4 years, in creating the conditions that will one day--that will one day--give every child as much education as he or she can take.

I am going to talk to you about what we have done here in a moment. Before you get too tired, I am going to break the bad news to you first. I am going to tell you what we haven't done, and I think it is an international disgrace--that there are human beings walking around on two legs in this day and age who would permit a condition like this to continue--where four people out of every ten can't read "dog," can't spell "cat," and can't write "mama."
That is the kind of civilization we are leading. Some people are satisfied with it. Some people are content with it. Some people apparently are willing to let us stay that way for fear we are going too far too fast.

I don't feel that way about it. I am happy that we are doing something, not only to let people out of poverty, but something to let every boy and girl have all the education that he or she can take.

The day before yesterday, I went to a little town near my home where we had a junior college just established. We had a program-the Higher Education Act of 1965. Under title V, you could build libraries. The Federal Government put in 50 percent and the local people voted a bond issue and put in 50 percent.

Anyway, we planned for a junior college so boys and girls could stay with mama and papa and live at home--eat mother's cooking, without having to go to a dormitory that they couldn't afford--and go to a junior college, and get 2 years of college.

In 1900 we had eight junior colleges in this country. When I became President we had 600-plus junior colleges in this country. Today we have 900 junior colleges. In 3 years we have added 300 junior colleges--from one to two opening every week.

We took a poll. It wasn't a Lou Harris poll or a Gallup poll. They get awfully busy working for other people this season of the year.

But we took a poll. There were 150 students who were eligible for that junior college. The people voted a bond issue. We built the junior college. We opened it the day before yesterday. I went by there to pay my respects and take a look at it.

I said, "Where are your 150?" They said, "They are out there with 1,850 more. We have an enrollment of 2,000, eager, yearning, seeking knowledge." This is the first time they had the facilities, equipment and staff, and so forth, to give it to them.

I am glad that Senator Benton and his vision and his generosity are going to make available the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I hope it is not one 200 years old, because that school is Cotulla--Cotulla. It is a Latin-American school. You probably have the Latin pronunciation.

But we didn't have an Encyclopaedia Britannica then. We didn't deal with this business of "station." Johnson City doesn't have an Encyclopaedia Britannica either, or didn't have when I went to school there some years ago.
I am glad you are recognizing those two. But what makes me prouder than ever, Senator, is that for many years you have been in the forefront of a movement in this country to get the Federal Government deeply concerned about giving every boy and girl all the education that he or she can take.

When you take that slogan, or that motto, or that objective, I think that is a rather remarkable development. There has never been anything like it in the history of the world. The horizon of opportunity has been broadened for millions of children--young children.

Do you know what we are doing for education in this country and what we have done in the last 3 years, too? Because the Federal aid to education was a very dirty word in all of my campaigns for 24 years--12 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate.

But we are giving them education in Head Start at 4 years old. You move down the street two blocks and we are teaching them to read and write at 74 years old.

Aren't you proud of that kind of a program?

In 3 years the number of children from 3 years old to 4 years old in nursery schools in the United States--children 3 to 4 in nursery schools in the United States--has jumped 29 percent--in 3 years.

The dropout rate is down by more than a fifth in 5 years.

There were 4.3 million students in college in 1963, when I took the oath of office. Today there are 6 million--not 4 million--6.1 million in college 3 years later. We haven't got this year's gain--4 to 6 to 7, whatever it is.

The Federal Government has had a very major role in education. That may be one of the big reasons for our deficit. We don't like deficits. We don't want deficits. We are going to try to do something about deficits. But the big deficits we have had in this country have been in the deficits in education, and the deficit in health. We are doing something about those deficits, too.

In the last 3 years our educational spending: when I became President it was $4 billion a year--today it is $12 billion a year. In 3 years, up 3 times.

Our spending for university research has gone up 61 percent in the last 5 years--and is now bearing the sort of fruit that you are going to be reading about tomorrow morning.

What are you going to read about tomorrow morning? It is going to be one of the most important stories that you ever read, your daddy ever read, or your grandpappy ever read.

At this very moment, the biochemists at Stanford University are announcing a very spectacular breakthrough in human knowledge. They have for the first time finally succeeded in manufacturing a synthetic molecule that displays the full biological activity of a natural molecule in a living organism.

In the words of this Nobel Peace Prize winner, and others associated with him, they have come "the closest yet to creating life in the laboratory" by manufacturing "the living genetic material of a virus." When this manmade viral material infected bacteria, it began to reproduce itself.

Think about the state ordaining life. This is going to be one of the great problems-one of the big decisions. If you think about some of these decisions the present President is making--it is going to be a kindergarten class compared to the decisions some future President is going to have to make.

These men have unlocked a fundamental secret of life. It is an awesome accomplishment. It opens a wide door to new discoveries in fighting disease, in building much healthier lives for all human kings. It could be the first step--these great laboratory geniuses say--toward the future control of certain types of cancer.

The work of these scientists, headed by Dr. Arthur Kornberg, is living proof of the creative partnership which has developed over the years between science, between the universities, and their Government. If you want to say "Federal", then "Federal Government."

We are quite proud that their explorations have been made possible by public grants from the Federal Government's National Institutes of Health and their National Science Foundation.

We are quite proud that there has been a substantial drop, as a result of our program for children--our appropriations in behalf of medicine for children--in the infant death rate.

There has been a substantial drop--we hope it continues as it shows now--in our death rate. How much that is connected with the fact that all of our people over 65 have a chance to have Medicare and hospitals, have a chance to have their doctor bills paid, have a chance to go to a nursing home, have a chance for your mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers to be taken care of how much that is having to do with the declining death rate is a matter of conjecture. We can't prove that. I don't want to get my credibility involved any more, because I have all the election year problems I can deal with now.

But I want to ask you, when you read about what they are doing here at Stanford, when you read about what they are doing out here at NIH, when you read what they are doing in Head Start, when you read about what they are doing with 74-year-old men and women learning to read and write, and when you read about cutting that infant death rate, you read about reducing that total death rate in the country, and you read about pulling people up above the poverty level by the millions for the first time is there any satisfaction in the world that can really be greater than bettering humankind by educating the mind and building and preserving the body?

I was thanking Senator Benton for some more of his generosity. He came to see Mrs. Johnson the other day. He had admired some paintings in Senator Lehman's office many years ago. And he went down to the art gallery when he got enough money to pay for them and bought some himself. He saved them through the years and treasured them very much.

He saw Mrs. Johnson and said, "I want to give this to my country. I want to give it to the White House." That beautiful painting is there in the White House where it is admired every day by thousands of Americans who come and go from that house-that first house of the land.

But what Senator Benton and his people are doing here today is going to live long after people forget that beautiful painting.

The knowledge that he is going to open up and expose to these children--the information-in all the Cotullas and Johnson Cities and other places of the land--is going to pay results long after the pictures have faded.

So I want to say that as man continues with this work--in education and health to make these wonderful discoveries such as Dr. Kornberg has just made at Stanford University--I devoutly hope that men like him will grow in the wisdom that is needed to apply the results of this study to all mankind.

I remember how frightening it was when we split the atom how frightening it still is. But thank goodness we have had the wisdom of men with prudence and understanding to deal with this problem.

I devoutly hope that men like Dr. Kornberg will grow in wisdom with the years.

While this is being announced today-this afternoon, tonight, at Stanford University, across the land--another great experiment is under way all across America. That is one that Senator Benton is participating in. That is in unlocking the power--unleashing, not Chiang Kai-shek--but unleashing the power of the human potential.

Unleashing the power of the human potential has always been the American dream in this country. If we can keep the momentum of education going--it is going to slow some when we start balancing these budgets and we try to have guns and butter, and try to protect our freedom with one hand; keep our guard up and our hand out with education and health and the others--we cannot do it all overnight.

But we are moving forward. We are moving again. That curve is going up in education and in health.

If we can improve the quality of education and the quantity of education at every level, and we can make education available to every child. There are really not many types of children. There are not many types of human beings. And there is really not any difference in them. They have two legs, two arms, and just three colors.
If we treat them all alike--my little Luci made the best civil rights speech I ever heard. She said, "I don't understand why all of this misunderstanding and hatred and everything about civil rights." She was 11 years old and was out in California.

I was frightened to death that she was going to eliminate me from the race with the civil rights speech.

But she said, "I have white hair and blue eyes, and my mother has brown hair and brown eyes. My sister has olive skin and black hair, and my daddy--what little hair he has got--has black hair. He is fair. We all have different colored eyes, different colored hair, different colored skin, and we have the most wonderful family. We just get along fine. If we can get along well together, I don't know why all the world can't get along together."

So if we can make an education available to all who are fair, all who are blonde, all who are brunette, and all the different colors, all with the same legs, same arms and the same hearts, if we can do that we shall make this country the America that we want it to be.
We shall make this country the American reality. We shall make this country the land that our great grandparents thought they were coming to when they first set foot on our shores.

Pardon me for asking you to stand this long. I appreciate your indulgence. I always have the feeling that I enjoy talking about the potentials, the human potential and bettering humankind, by conservation, by education, by medical care and health care--I enjoy talking about it perhaps more than some people enjoy hearing it.

Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: "Remarks at the Smithsonian Institution at a Ceremony Marking the 200th Anniversary of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.", December 14, 1967. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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