Franklin D. Roosevelt

Remarks to State Superintendents of Education.

December 11, 1935

I am glad you are meeting down here. I am not going to make a speech to you. All I can tell you is that I have been trying to keep in touch with our educational problems. I got to know the State problems of education very well during four years up in Albany. I do think that we accomplished a great deal, but I know that we still have to go a long way. That applies not only to New York but to every other State. We have only scratched the surface.

I had a very nice luncheon the other day with the Superintendent of Schools of the State of Iowa; and we talked about some of our problems. Of course, one thing that has handicapped us and which has made it difficult to go ahead, as you realize, is that the work has recently been confined both by necessity and by law to relief. It has been on a relief basis. All appropriations which have been made have had that one single objective—relief.

However, I have stretched the law tremendously. I knew that the use of relief funds for the building of schoolhouses and the repair of schoolhouses, for instance, on which we have spent a great many millions of dollars all over the country, would help the physical side. But, I frankly did stretch the law when it came to some other things, such as the employment of teachers who are on the relief rolls, although that was a perfectly obvious thing to do. Helping boys and girls to attend high schools and colleges —that was stretching the law just a little bit. However, we took care of quite a number of them.

I would like to give you some of the figures to show what we have done. Forty-three thousand teachers were given work in the emergency education program. More than five hundred thousand men and women were taught reading and writing. As I said the other day, one of the things that a great Senator from Louisiana actually accomplished in the great State of Louisiana was teaching adults to read and write; and that was one reason for his very great popularity in his own State, which cannot be disputed.

Helping five hundred thousand people to read and write is something, but, again, it is only just scratching the surface. That is why, in planning for the future, I think we have all got to work out a mutual program.

Just a few more figures: In the school year 1933-34, there were fourteen and a half million dollars provided in thirteen States to keep the rural schools open, and in 1934-35, seven million dollars were provided in sixteen States.

And now we are going ahead with certain other things which Dr. Studebaker and I are trying to put in, as what might be called "entering wedges"—I think that is the easiest term to use. They are entering wedges and are comparatively small, so far as the total expenditure of money goes. But, looking at the problem as a whole, we are gradually working toward a greater national interest and understanding in the many things that the national Government can properly do.

Of course, we are trying to cut down the Budget—that is another problem. We are trying to keep the relief part of the Budget as low as we possibly can; but, in these entering wedges, we have started a general education program. I think we are going to go a long way. That is why I am asking you to be kind to me, and not to expect too much in a year.

I think we are going to get somewhere; and I hope very much that this conference you are having will bring, as far as possible, unanimity of thought and action in all the States looking toward a more permanent national policy.

We have made great strides in the past two and a half years in raising the prices of crops, in saving people from bankruptcy, and in opening the banks; but the biggest stride we have made in the past two and a half years has been in interesting the American people in their own Government. I think we have gone further in the past two and a half years than in the last twentyfive years in getting people to understand their Government problems— their social problems and their educational problems. But we cannot go faster than a certain speed, and that is why I am going to ask you people to cooperate and not push too fast.

(The President of the State Superintendents of Education then expressed thanks to the President for his courtesy, and assured the President that he could depend on their cooperation. To this, the President replied:)

That is very good of you. I feel very bad about education in one way because the depression hit education in the United States more than anything else, and because it is hard to bring back the facilities in education as quickly or as easily as it is to raise farm prices or open banks.

As you know, I am acquainted with the educational situation not only in the State of New York, but in the State of Georgia as well. The problem of the State of Georgia, for example, is the lack of taxable values. It cannot raise money for schools because the land values are not there. That is one of the problems not only in Georgia, but in a great many other sections of the country. Under such circumstances you cannot get better physical conditions in the schools or better trained teaching staffs.

I always remember the first year I was in Georgia. One day, as I sat on the porch of the cottage in which I lived, a boy came over very nervously and shyly and said, "Mr. Roosevelt, may I speak to you for a moment? We are having a commencement at our school on Wednesday. Do you think you could come over and say a few words and give out the diplomas?"

I said, "Certainly, I will be glad to come. Are you the President of the graduating class?"

He said, "No, sir; I am the principal of the school."

I said, "How old are you?"

"I am nineteen."

I said, "You are nineteen and principal of the school? How many children are there?"

He said, "About two hundred and forty children."

I said, "Have you been to college?"

He said, "Yes, sir; I finished my freshman year at the University of Georgia."

I said, "How are you getting along?"

He said, "I am taking the year out so that I can get enough to go back next year, and I will be a sophomore.

"I said, "What pay are you getting?"

"I am getting good pay, four hundred and twenty-five dollars."

That is a pretty pathetic story when you come right down to it. It is a pretty tough game.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarks to State Superintendents of Education. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives