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Excerpts of Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, Railroad Station, Ann Arbor, MI - (Advance Release Text)

October 14, 1960

A nation which seeks to lead the world must put its own house in order. We have fallen seriously behind in two areas of our national life - in the education of our young people and the medical care of our old people.

Under Governor Williams leadership, you here in Michigan have moved promptly to take advantage of the meager benefits for the elderly under new Federal legislation. But the Federal program is wholly inadequate - in Michigan it will cover only 60,000 new people, only one-seventh of the number that would have been covered under the Democratic bill that tied medical care to social security without a pauper's oath.

Here in Michigan you have led the Nation in your educational programs. But you are still short an estimated 10,000 classrooms and 7,000 fully certified teachers. And every year tens of thousands of new children are entering your public schools. But Republican obstructionism in Congress has denied help to our communities - and practically the whole burden must be borne by a property tax that is already overburdened.

Ten years ago we in the United States graduated 52,000 engineers from our universities while the Russians graduated 28,000. Last year they graduated 106,000, more than twice as many as our 47,000. Ten years ago Russians were already spreading their new colonialism throughout Asia and Africa and working hand in glove with the Red Chinese. To this day few American universities teach the Chinese language and the African tongues that soon will fall every day on Western ears. But we must improve our education, not only to compete with the Russians but for the sake of education itself. We must teach not only engineering but the humanities, for in our world, engineering skill has outrun philosophical wisdom and moral judgment and human understanding. We must encourage that free spirit of inquiry which alone produces new ideas - the bold new thinking that we need in our brave new world. We must cultivate brainpower as well as airpower. Above all, we must improve our educational system for the sake of our children. For if one child's mind is not improved, is not cultivated to the utmost, we have wasted our most precious national resource.

I am concerned, and deeply concerned, because too many children are attending double-shift schools, too many children are not given the incentive to finish high school, too few teachers are at work in our school systems, and too many teachers are underpaid. Too many mothers spend their days chauffeuring back and forth their children who have to go to school in shifts.

My opponent says now he, too, is concerned. But what did he say before this election campaign began? Speaking for the Republican administration, he said, on February 15, 1960:

We believe that the Federal Government should limit its aid in the case of education to construction * * * if the approach of the Congress * * * is one which provides direct subsidies to teachers, there will be no aid to education this year.

And how did he vote? In February he refused to vote to break a tie in the Senate on an amendment which would have authorized $25 per school-age child or $1.1 billion per year for school construction and teachers' salaries. And then he voted to table a motion to reconsider the measure.

Mr. Nixon pretends he opposes Federal funds for teachers' salaries because he fears "Government control" over education. I say this is an artificial, irrelevant, unjustified, false issue.

The U.S. Office of Education is already spending hundreds of millions to aid local education - $33 million for vocational education, $2 1/2 million for land-grant colleges, $63 million for construction, and $187 million for maintenance and operation of schools in federally affected areas - and the Federal Government has not sought to impose any unreasonable controls.

Moreover, Federal aid to education is nothing new. Throughout our history, the Federal Government has helped to finance educational systems at times when local resources were unequal to the task. The land ordinance of 1785 provided that the 16th section of each township of public lands should be granted to the States for the benefit of common schools. No so-called Federal controls resulted.

The Morrill Act of 1862 gave to the States public lands to aid in establishing agricultural colleges. As a result, agricultural colleges have been established in every State - and no so-called Federal controls resulted.

Through the years special land grants have been given by the Federal Government to endow normal schools, schools of mines, military institutes, reform schools, and girls' colleges - the total acreage granted by the Federal Government for educational purposes is 118 million acres of public lands, an area four times the size of New York State - and no so-called Federal controls have resulted.

Your own great University of Michigan, the first of the Western State universities, was rechartered by the State in 1837 and endowed with proceeds from the educational land reserves - and no so-called Federal controls resulted.

Today, if safeguards are needed, they are simple to erect. The Congress can appropriate funds to be distributed to local school boards and used by those boards to construct more classrooms or pay teachers' salaries, according to their own local needs and at their own local discretion. And if further assurances are deemed desirable, the Congress can specifically declare that the Federal Government shall exercise no control over textbook content, curriculum, teacher selection and tenure, and the like; it can renounce Federal authority in such matters and place authority in the hands of local boards.

This is a simple matter, and Mr. Nixon knows it.

The Republican leaders have always opposed progress in such areas. In 1935 they fought social security every step of the way. They pretended to believe social security would "Sovietize" America. But the truth was that they were against social security. Today they pretend to believe that aid to education will result in "Federal controls" and that medical care for the aged must be "voluntary" and under State control. But the truth is that they are simply against progress.

John F. Kennedy, Excerpts of Remarks by Senator John F. Kennedy, Railroad Station, Ann Arbor, MI - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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