Jimmy Carter photo

Department of Education Remarks at a Program Marking the Inauguration of the Department.

May 07, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Secretary Hufstedler, other members of the Cabinet, Members of the Congress, distinguished leaders in the field of education, parents, and other friends of our students of all ages:

There's an old saying that "victory has a hundred fathers." And I think this afternoon it's appropriate to say that this victory to establish a new Department of Education has more than a thousand fathers and mothers assembled here this afternoon.

We're very delighted that this delightful ceremony has been made possible by you. This evening we will have a special ceremony here on this same platform, comprised of distinguished Americans who will give us entertainment and inspiration and who will bring with them their favorite or most significant teacher.

This morning for a few minutes, about 8:30, I had to go back to the White House on an errand. And when I walked through the second-floor hall, my wife, one of Amy's teachers, was giving her instruction in violin. And I walked past the television set on the second floor, and Loretta Lynn was introducing to one of the morning talk shows her favorite and most significant teacher—her mother.

It was pointed out by her, Ms. Butcher, that she only had an eighth-grade education. And Loretta Lynn pointed out that she and her brothers and sisters in Butcher Hollow were inspired as much by her own mother in the home as even the classroom teachers, who changed quite often in that one-room schoolhouse, because the big boys quite often beat up the female teachers.

This Nation has been inspired and transformed and constructed by educators of all kinds: mothers in homes, teachers in the classroom, those on a training, giving people an opportunity for a new job. You and millions of others whom you represent have made this ceremony and this celebration possible. You've given of your time, your energies, your spirits; some of you, a major part of your own life. You've made a difference between victory and defeat for this new Department and victory and defeat for the quality of education now and in the future.

You have a right to cherish this personal achievement and this personal victory, which has been made possible, for the rest of your lives. I congratulate you, and I thank you all.

Because of you, today there is a full-fledged, Cabinet-level Department of Education and a chair in the White House, not many yards from here, in the Cabinet Room, marked "Secretary of Education." And we have an outstanding Secretary, whom I'll introduce in a few minutes, to fill that chair and to fill the responsibilities of this new job.

Because of you, the voice of education, the concerns of education, the needs of education will now be more clearly heard and more clearly represented at the highest possible level of our Government.

For the new Department, this day marks a commencement. It's a time to look not at our achievements of the past, which have been notable, but to look at what we can achieve and what we face in the future.

Today our Nation is confronted with serious challenges. We are being tested both overseas and here at home. We see a new and vicious form of international terrorism in Tehran, and we confront a brutal and dangerous aggression in Southwest Asia that has taken thousands of lives already and which literally threatens world peace. We are threatened economically, as well, by an excessive dependence on foreign oil, and by a global inflation that results from that overdependence.

Certainly these are awesome challenges. But this is not the first generation of Americans to face severe tests. This is not the first generation of Americans to have to make difficult and shocking changes and adjustments to face new conditions. This is not the first generation to seek the new opportunities which have always accompanied change.

Ours is a nation born in the rough and rugged wilderness; a nation that has endured a bloody and divisive Civil War, the Great Depression, two World Wars, and more recently, social and political changes and political shocks of both stunning dimensions and whirlwind speed. Our Nation has done more than simply endure these historic challenges. We have prevailed; we've grown stronger as a nation in every way. And with each new test, we've become ever more devoted to fundamental principles and fundamental commitments and fundamental beliefs of freedom, of democracy, human rights, that have guided us since the very earliest days of our Republic.

Time and again, under the most difficult of circumstances, we have been able to adapt to change. Time and again, we have exploited these new opportunities that come with change. And always, we Americans have seen the vital role that education must play in this process.

Almost 200 years ago, as the early pioneers struggled just to survive from one day to another, new settlements in this new land began to put aside a specific section of land and specific commitment of time on a personal basis for the building and the maintenance of schools. This commitment to education, part of our Nation's heritage, is something that we've honored in times of strife as well as in times of peace.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said that education is the most important subject in which we, as a nation, can be engaged. It was Abraham Lincoln who, in the very midst of the Civil War, signed the land grant college act. It was Franklin Roosevelt who, in the climactic days of World War II, signed the GI bill. It was Dwight Eisenhower who, in the difficult and somewhat embarrassing months following the Soviet launching of the first Sputnik, signed the national defense education act. It was Lyndon Johnson who, in a time of great social unrest, signed the landmark elementary and secondary education acts.

In each period of our history, new opportunities have accompanied new challenges, and in each period we saw the vital role of education in realizing these new and great opportunities. In the last century, Americans knew that the opening of the West could bring the development of a new agriculture. In the 1940's, Americans decided that those who shared the risks of battle could share in the responsibilities and the opportunities of a college education after the war was over. In the 1950's, Americans saw the challenge of Soviet technology and rose to that challenge with a major new commitment to the natural sciences. And in the 1960's, Americans faced the great challenge of long-overdue social change and the end of racial discrimination, and we resolved to meet that challenge with a dramatic new commitment to the educationally disadvantaged.

Time and again, our investment in education has paid rich dividends. It is no coincidence that the same nation that set aside land and other resources for education in the first days should one day set the living standard for the world; that devoted itself to science which would one day lead the world's scientific and technological explosion; that constructed the land-grant college system a century ago is now today the breadbasket of the entire world; the nation that set the world standard for free public education, while protecting educational diversity in the private schools, would set the world standard for democratic government as well; and that a nation that knows the importance of education from all of these facts and all these experiences should one day finally form a Department of Education.

Finally, it's also no coincidence that those who argue that the solutions to our Nation's problems are obvious, that our Nation's challenges lend themselves to simple solutions and simplistic approaches, should be the same people who opposed the establishment of this new Department.

Most Americans know the value of education, not just in triggering economic and social progress, as important as they are, but in strengthening democracy and freedom. Education does more than add to the skills of the labor force or to the gross national product. Its contribution is more basic than that. Education is the way that our society regenerates itself, the way it actually recreates itself. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, it's the very "engine" of our democratic government. Without education, democratic society would be inconceivable.

Sometimes we do place too heavy a burden on our schools. But the fact remains that the schools are where society can speak to itself. The schools are the place where American people take new strength from the American past, from the whole common experience of mankind. The schools are the place where Americans develop the intellectual and moral force to face the future, no matter how forbidding or how uncertain that future might be.

Our country constantly faces new challenges; we face them today. We are on the cutting edge of change; we are on the cutting edge of progress. If we are to prevail against these challenges, we need a deep and enduring commitment, a new commitment, to education in America.

The new Department of Education can be the catalyst for this new commitment. It will make education programs more responsive. It will make those who administer and who carry out these programs more accountable to the students and to our people. And most important of all, it will heighten attention to education and the challenges it and we face today. In exploiting this new opportunity, we are now only crossing the starting line. We have a long way to go.

Those of you here today—teachers, administrators, members of school boards, parents, and others—have fought many battles on behalf of education in our country. These battles have been long and hard. They've been won, not because of decisions made by a few people here in Washington, but because millions of people across this country cared enough to give of their time, to give of their energy, and to give of their spirit. That fight must go on, because what happens in American education affects the future of our country itself.

Like it or not, it has been our fortune to live in a complex and rapidly changing time. If we are to master these times, we must face up to the challenges as they really are. We cannot afford to mislead ourselves.

Today, let us dedicate ourselves to an educational system that encourages scientific curiosity, fosters artistic creativity, supports research, rewards good teaching, and honors intellectual accomplishment. By making this commitment, we pass on a tradition of educational excellence and equal opportunity which Americans of the next century will need to make their own contributions to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in our great country.

It is now my pleasure to introduce the person who is doing such an excellent job for me and for education, the first Secretary of Education of the United States of America, Shirley Hufstedler.

SECRETARY HUFSTEDLER. Hi, Amy, Mr. President, Mrs. Carter, Members of Congress, members of all of the Cabinet-level Departments and of the Department of Education's new family, and friends of education:

It is a warm and hallowed tradition in American families to set another place at the table to welcome into the family circle an honored guest. Today, Mr. President, you act in that tradition by setting another place at the Cabinet table by welcoming education, the Nation's most important enterprise, to full Cabinet status.

And today, it is my pleasure, on behalf of millions of students, teachers, parents, and friends of education, to say in return, thank you, Mr. President. Your persistence in advocating a new department and your success in achieving it will surely be remembered by Americans 'as signal achievements of your leadership. I believe that they will stand the test of time as key contributions to a more civilized society.

In a few moments, Amy will unfurl the new flag of the Education Department. Amy, we chose you for one of many reasons, and you are a very special person to us this day. This great house, the home of America's first family, has known the laughter of many children of all ages. As we have watched you grow up here, you are a welcome reminder to us not only of those earlier White House children but of all the children in America. It is to those children, to their education, and to their futures that the new Department is dedicated. So, we have asked you to stand in for them today and to unfurl the flag on their behalf.

On that flag, as you will soon see, there is an oak tree, the living symbol of strength and of shelter. Beneath the tree is an acorn, which represents the seed of knowledge and the never-ending renewal of life and learning. In the background, you will see the Sun's rays, symbolic of the light of learning, as they illuminate a brilliant blue sky. We could, of course, easily have picked other symbols for education. With a concept of such power and subtlety, there are many, many possibilities.

On the posters you will receive today-and you have smaller editions of the magnificent poster in back of me—we have Joseph Albers' painting "Glow," giving striking visual expression to the idea that learning never ends. It also suggests the diffusion of light and knowledge, a ripple effect that I hope will approximate the role of the new Department.

So, the symbols of this flag and on our departmental seal—we did not have a lack of alternatives. We chose these symbols because of their own natural strength and simplicity and for the insights they offer into the role of education in this country. Thus, the acorn should serve as a reminder that education begins with the very youngest among us, with children. And perhaps the tree will remind us of the immense, unknowable potential that is locked within every child and remind us, too, that our responsibility as educators is to help each individual achieve the fullest possible expression of that potential.

In the same way, I hope that the sight of this flag will recall to mind the gentle poetic lesson on natural limits that Joyce Kilmer taught many of us as children. It is a lesson with many applications in the adult world of education and of government.

None of us can really educate a child any more than we can make a tree. A child's education is a natural process of growth and interaction, which begins at home first, with his family. As the process continues, the child moves out into the community, progressing from school to school, coming in contact with an everwidening circle of people and ideas. Each new experience builds on those that went before and lays foundations for those to come. The process continues long after school days are over. Learning truly never ends.

Today we celebrate the beginning of a Department of Education that must find its own supportive role within the natural ongoing process of learning. In the Department, we are not only ready to begin, we are very anxious to do so. If you would like to have a symbol of our enthusiasm for the task, look at the exuberant rays of the Sun on our flag.

Mr. President, we are determined to build a Department of Education of which you will be proud. It will be a department that strives unceasingly for the highest possible quality at every level of the educational process, a department that seeks out models of success and of excellence and holds them aloft for everyone to see.

It will be a department that stands the 200-year success story of American education and knows that while Federal structures may come and go, the homes and communities of the Nation will continue to be the front line of education. It will be a department that sees its role as a helping, supportive friend of education, as a simplifier and streamliner of regulations and paperwork, and not as the holder of an unlimited Federal purse and not as a power beyond the reach of local decisions.

It will be a department responsive to all and owned by none, a department unequivocally committed to educational opportunity under the law, a department secure in the knowledge that the people, the parents, and the teachers of America are our most vital educational resources.

It will be, in short, a new national voice for every person in this country who participates in or who cares about the whole process of learning. And that voice will not be silent. We will encourage our Federal citizens to ask themselves insistently, again and again, a question phrased by someone on this platform: "Why not the best?"

In your proclamation marking this day, Mr. President, you take note of the deep and abiding faith that we Americans have always had in the power of education. Some would question that faith today. Some would consider it quaint and naive. But I would answer that there are far worse things to believe in, far worse enterprise in which to place our trust. Faith in education, after all, is faith in the power and integrity of ideas, faith in the value and majesty of human knowledge. And anyone who doubts these things has never seen the face of a child at that magic moment of discovery. The bright Sun on our flag is but a very pale reflection of the inner light that shines in that face.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, let us have the pleasure of seeing Amy Carter unveil the flag for the Department.

THE PRESIDENT. I'd like to ask all those who have ever been schoolteachers in your life to raise your hand. I think that's beautiful. And I'd also like for all those who will be serving the new Department of Education to either stand, if you're seated, or raise your hand, if you're already standing. Very fine.

I particularly want to recognize the Members of Congress here. This bill would never have passed had it not been for Jack Brooks, Frank Thompson [Horton], 1 Father Drinan, and others. Would you please stand and let the group recognize you.

It's a wonderful day for our country. I'm particularly grateful that Shirley Hufstedler would take this position. She'll be an inspiration to all. I know she'll do a fine job for all Americans who look to her for leadership.

Thank you. And now we have some beautiful singing next on our program.

1 White House correction.

Note: The President spoke at 3:05 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Department of Education Remarks at a Program Marking the Inauguration of the Department. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250122

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