John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks to Officers of State Education Associations and of the N.E.A.

November 19, 1963

Mr. Wyatt, Dr. Carr, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express a very warm welcome to all of you to the White House.

We are very appreciative to the National Education Association, to your leader--Mr. Wyatt, to your officials, Dr. Carr and others, for the support they have given to our efforts this year to see if we can persuade the Congress to meet what I regard as a very pressing national obligation and responsibility in the field of education. And that obligation and responsibility stretches across a very wide spectrum of needs.

I have just come back from driving through part of the State of Florida. Every time I take a journey which takes me by car and I see the number of mothers with young children who are standing in the streets, I realize once again in a very personal way what a tremendous flood of children are coming into our schools--elementary, high schools, colleges and, we hope, even going beyond.

Now, we cannot get the job done, with all the competing claims for dollars, unless we have determined and dedicated work at the local level, at the State level, and at the national level.

This Congress must be judged, in my opinion, by what it is able to do in the important field of education certainly as much as in any other field before it goes home next July or next August. It is my strong belief that when this Congress does go home on that occasion, it will have done more in the field of education than any Congress in the last 100 years--really, I suppose, since the Morrill Act which established the land grant colleges.

In the field of higher education, vocational education, in the field of assisting teachers who are on salaries--particularly those who are at the low end and those who are at the high end--so that we can encourage the best talent we have got to go into teaching, in the scholarships for needy students, in a whole variety of ways, mental retardation and all the rest, I think that this Congress-some may claim I am optimistic--is going to write, as I said, the best program, certainly, in a century. I think the need is greater than it has been for a century.

I think the number of children who do need an education and the complexities of our society place a much higher burden upon the average citizen than ever before. This is no new role for the Federal Government. You know this better than anyone. Since the Northwest Ordinance and the Land Grant Acts and a dozen other legislative acts by the Congress, we have indicated that we believe a free society must be well educated.

We have a very new responsibility in '63 because of the size of the population and because of the needs of this populace. So I hope that you will continue to do your work; that you will continue to prod us and occasionally, here in the administration, the White House, occasionally the Members of the House and Senate, to see if we can get this job done.

I quoted before and I quote again Mr. Jefferson: "If we expect a nation to be ignorant and free, we expect what never was and never will be." That should be our thesis for the next 9 months, to see that the Congress, before it goes home, leaves something here that is worthy of being remembered in the important field of education.

I want to thank you. Things don't happen; they are made to happen. And in the field of education they were made to happen by you and your members. So we are very grateful.

[At this point Robert Wyatt, president, National Education Association, spoke briefly, concluding with a question as to the timing on the "progress that might be forthcoming in the elementary and secondary field." The President then resumed speaking.]

We have had more photofinishes where the photo was blurred and nothing came out in education--particularly now when the House and Senate still have not completed their work on vocational education, which I think is of particular importance now.

My hope was that because each of these programs has its friends and each of the programs has its enemies that we would perhaps join together all of the friends of education in one bill. So we sent one bill to the House and Senate and urged that the Congress act on one bill, because a child begins at 5 or 6 and ends up possibly at 16, 18, 20, 22, wherever his educational talents and opportunities take him. So we wanted to go the whole way in one voyage.

The members of the House committee decided that that was not possible, so they broke the bill up into a number of sections. Now we have to take that route. But if we can get a decision which is now, of course, before the conference because of the differences in the bills on the two main subjects which are now before us, one of which, of course is vocational education and the other higher education, I would hope that then we would proceed in the House and Senate to the secondary education field.

In the case of the secondary education field, while there are new problems that come up with which we are all familiar and which have caused a good deal of turmoil and discussion, I think the need is very clear. And I think the more that we can do to indicate that need both from the point of view of assisting in slum areas of the United States where the schools are inadequate, some rural areas where the schools are inadequate, where the buildings are unsafe, some areas where teachers' salaries are disproportionately low even though the community may be or the State may be spending a high proportion of its State income on education-and in those cases, we wish to stimulate, as I said before, people going into teaching by increasing their salaries.

So I would hope we would get this work done quite shortly and then we would proceed to the other. My belief is that it is one program that--we expect to continue to try to get that program through. I don't know of anything which is more important. I think the people of this country, if we can indicate the need and continue to do it, will get it done.

Finally, of course, what has happened in the past is that we have united the enemies instead of the friends of these various programs, so now we have to try to continue to unite the friends. But I do not regard this work done at all even if we do these first two steps, so we will get at it.

Note: The President spoke at 4 p.m. in the Flower Garden at the White House. His opening words referred to Robert Wyatt and Dr. William G. Carr, president and executive secretary, respectively, of the National Education Association. Prior to the President's remarks, Mr. Wyatt, who also served as president of the National Association of State Teachers Associations, introduced the group, consisting of executive secretaries of State Teachers Associations and members of their staff.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks to Officers of State Education Associations and of the N.E.A. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives