Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at Dedication of Three New Schools in Hyde Park, New York.

October 05, 1940

President Smith, Principal Juckett and my old friend—I still call him—Senator Cole:

Senator Cole said something about how, in the old days, he used to belong to one party and I belonged to the other; but I think that both of us can agree that on matters that relate to education, there is very little that is decided, or done, or even thought of, along the lines of party politics. Education is over and beyond party politics. And sometimes I wish that other things were, too.

As I have been sitting on the platform here today, I have been thinking of the time nearly a century and a half ago when Morgan Lewis, a citizen of the Town of Hyde Park, became the Governor of the State of New York. His home was just north of Staatsburg Village and he was the Governor who was chiefly responsible for starting the Union Free School System for the children of the State of New York. This township therefore can claim a kind of sponsorship for free and universal school education in our State.

My mind has gone back also to the days when I used to spend many hours as a small boy, holding my father's horse in the village of Hyde Park while my father attended meetings of the school board. Long before those days— back about 1870— my father had helped, with very great pride, to build the red brick schoolhouse over in the village of Hyde Park. It is still standing and in those days it was considered a model school.

Compare that old brick schoolhouse with these new three schoolhouses. See how these new ones emphasize how much more complex our civilization is today than it was seventy years ago. Education these days calls for equipment and instruction that were unthought of seventy years ago. For that reason we are now under the necessity—the painful but willing necessity—of paying out many hundreds of thousands of dollars to substitute modern equipment for what we must admit was out of date.

May I bear tribute to the taxpayers of this Town of Hyde Park and of certain portions of the Towns of Poughkeepsie and Pleasant Valley and Clinton for their willingness to do a new job of school construction rather than a repair job. If our old schoolhouses, scattered throughout the districts, remained useful to the community for threescore years and more, I think we can be confident today that in all human probability these three new schoolhouses will still be used and busy one hundred years from now. To the trustees of the consolidated district also, we owe a very deep debt of gratitude, for they have shown the finest spirit of cooperation. And I know that all of us miss today the presence of our old friend, Arthur White, who was one of the trustees when the whole project was started. Personally I am happy that, without any additional cost, we have built these buildings of the native field stone of old Dutchess County, most of it stone which for nearly two centuries has served a useful purpose as a part of our famous stone walls.

Finally, we are all happy that the trustees, with rare foresight, have secured adequate acreage for the schools, enough for expansion in the century to come that I have spoken of. Every boy and girl in these schools will have elbow room, plenty of space and plenty of air for sports and games and recreation of all kinds. The next generation will not have to worry about buying more athletic fields or about the high cost of adjoining property.

These three new schools symbolize, I think, two modern Government functions in this country of ours, each of which is proving itself more and more vital to the continuance of our democracy.

One of them is an old function, based on the ideal and the understanding of the Founding Fathers that true democratic Government cannot long endure in the midst of widespread ignorance. They recognized that democratic Government would call for the intelligent participation of all its people, as enlightened citizens—citizens equipped with what we used to call in the old days "a schooling." From their time to our own, it has always been recognized as a responsibility of Government that every child have the right to a free and liberal education. So, today, I think that we can dedicate these buildings to that old American function—the institution of universal education.

In the last decade, this right of free education, which has become a part of the national life in our land, has taken on additional significance because of certain events in certain other lands. For a large portion of the world that right no longer exists. Almost the first freedom to be destroyed, as dictators take control, is the freedom of learning. Tyranny hates and fears nothing more than the free exchange of ideas, the free play of the mind that comes from education.

In these schools and in other American schools, the children of today and of future generations will be taught, without censorship or restriction, the facts of current history and the whole context of current knowledge. Their textbooks will not be burned by a dictator who disagrees with them; their teachers will not be banished by a ruler whom they have offended; their schools will not be closed if they teach unpalatable truths; and their daily instruction will not be governed by the decrees of any central bureau of propaganda. They will get not all of the story part of the time, or only part of the story all of the time-they will get all of the story all of the time.

Here, in these and other schools, will be trained the young people of a nation—not for enforced labor camps or for regimentation as an enslaved citizenry, but for the intelligent exercise of the right of suffrage, and for participation as free human beings in the life of the Nation.

These buildings are also a symbol of a second and a newer responsibility which our democracy has assumed as one of its .major functions. As you know, they have been paid for, in part by the taxpayers of the consolidated district, and in part, by the Federal Government in accordance with the purpose of the Federal Government to give work to many Americans who other. wise could find no work.

About eight years ago, at a time when our national economy had been prostrate for several years, when starvation or undernourishment or bankruptcy had almost become the order of the day, the Government of our country for the first time took on this new responsibility. There were some in those days who chanted that nature had to run its course of misery, that deflation could not be stopped, and that the depression was only the working of natural economic laws in a system of free enterprise.

The American Government, through elected representatives in the Legislative and Executive Branches, decided to reject that philosophy of inaction and irresponsibility and indifference to the destitution of its citizens. In its place was substituted a new doctrine- that the Government owed a continuing responsibility to see to it that no one should starve who was willing to work but was unable to find work. That was the responsibility, the duty, which the collective strength and will of all the people imposed upon themselves, to alleviate the suffering of their fellow beings and to stimulate recovery in their national economy. That responsibility expresses itself in the example which stands before us today.

And remember that the Nation, all the way from one coast to the other, all the way from Canada to Mexico, is dotted in almost every one of its thirty-two hundred counties with schools, to the construction of which the Federal Government has contributed—new schools, useful schools, schools to replace outworn schools, schools that were needed by the communities where they were erected, schools, incidentally, for which the communities were ready and willing to contribute their own share out of their own pockets.

There is not a single person in the United States who has not seen some new, useful structure—a hospital or a bridge or a town hall or a highway or an airport or a dam or a new waterworks or a sewage disposal system—one of the hundreds of thousands of new necessary improvements which were built recently in the United States—illustrations of the results of giving employment on useful projects that were approved by each community.

The public wealth of the United States—the property that all of us own jointly—has been increased by means such as these in hundreds of ways. The idle funds of the Nation have been put to work so that idle hands could be put to useful tasks.

Into every project went money for wages. Where did they go? Why, the wages were spent at local stores; the stores replenished their stocks; and the wheels of industry and business moved that much faster. Into every project went materials for construction-materials from every part of the United States. For example, right here, while our own local neighborhood provided the stone for these very schools, and perhaps the sand and the gravel for the concrete foundations, almost everything else, the steel and the lumber and the desks and the vocational training equipment and all the other things that are in these schools came here from other places in our country.

In terms of dollars and cents no sounder investment could be made for the American people as well as for this consolidated district. But the material return from that investment was not the most important gain. There came with it a development of morale, a new hope, a new courage, a new self-respect among the unemployed—a definite gain in the fiber and the strength of American life. In building for the well-being of America, I think we have built for the defense of America as well.

To you of the younger generation who are now attending these schools, I offer my very sincere congratulations. You have the privilege of improving your education in institutions which have the best of modern equipment and high standards of instruction and curriculum.

You have advantages which your fathers and mothers did not enjoy. We do not begrudge you them. For it will be the obligation of the youth of America to maintain under the more strenuous conditions of modern life our cherished traditions of democratic freedom.

You live in a more complicated world than we did in the older days. Your lives will be much more intimately tied with the lives of those in other cities, in other towns, and in other States.

You are a vital part of an America which, more thoroughly than ever before, thinks in terms of national unity. The greater desire for general education is steadily improving that unity. We know today that the older children here will well understand the change that is taking place in America in recent years. They will know that that word "unity" has gone a long ways in our own lifetime.

The older school district units throughout the Nation are being merged into consolidated districts, in the cause of better education. They in turn are operating in state systems which are constantly striving to improve standards and facilities. Finally, with the aid of the Federal Government itself, education is coming to be regarded throughout the country as part and parcel of the general well-being of old and young alike, and as a necessary factor in raising the standards of our life.

All of this is typical of the knitting together of our people in every State and every county and every town in a unity that is so necessary to our salvation in these days of great emergencies which threaten the democracies of the world.

And so, my friends, I am very happy, and I am very proud, to take part in these symbols of new America, built on the old America, that is going to live through all of. the centuries to come.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at Dedication of Three New Schools in Hyde Park, New York. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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