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Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "Education for Excellence, Freedom, and Diversity"

October 20, 1968

From among his many achievements Thomas Jefferson toward the close of his life personally selected two he wanted most to be remembered by. He did not select his service as George Washington's Secretary of State — not the monumental fact that he had doubled our nation's area with the Louisiana Purchase — not even that he had served as the third President of the United States.

No, he wanted to be remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence and as founder of the University of Virginia.

Jefferson knew that the destiny of America was inseparable from education — that in the fulfillment of the promise of this new nation education would be the key.

We have tried hard to hold to Jefferson's ideal. We have seen our schools and colleges flourish and grow, ever enriching our heritage.

Now almost two centuries after Jefferson we also know a sterner truth. The philosopher and educator, Alfred North Whitehead, warned: "In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute: the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed." So education, long the key to opportunity and fulfillment, is today also the key to survival.

So I pledge my Administration to be second to none in its concern for education. I pledge it because we will be second to none in our concern for America.

As we move together into the 1970's, we will have to be bold. We must ask again the fundamental questions, for we are entering a new age — a time of tension and danger, but a time of exciting opportunity as well. Like Thomas Jefferson we in our time must have the courage to be founders, to devise new answers. And so let us ask ourselves:

•  How we can devise more equitable methods of school support to overcome imbalances among school districts, particularly in urban areas.

•  How our basic subjects, the intellectual tools of our civilization, can be better taught.

•   How we can encourage the growth of variety and flexibility, even as our society grows more complex, for diversity is inseparable from freedom itself.

•   How our schools can be brought closer to the people of our communities and how much they can better serve the community at every level.

•   How vocational education can be rejuvenated by making it relevant to the jobs not only of today, but of five and ten years from now.

•   How we can make the training of our teachers commensurate with the demands of the space age, and how we can provide more incentive and greater professional recognition for our teachers.

•   What role the miracles of technology can play in the schools of tomorrow.

•   And how we can best preserve the traditions of our civilization, and whether, too often, we have not allowed inspiration and excitement to disappear from the classroom.

These are some of the urgent questions we all must answer — first as citizens, then as leaders of government. For at every level of government — local, state, and Federal — elected and appointed officials have the duty to listen before they have the right to lead. They do not own the public schools. These schools belong to the people who paid to build them and who pay to support them. And I believe that government has not been listening well enough lately.

We all know, too, that those listen best who are closest to the people, part of the community the school serves. They cannot be deceived in the long run, for they know better than anyone in Washington what is best for their children.

The needs of school children in a small New England town must not be presumed to be the same as those of children in downtown Detroit; and the needs of both may differ from those of a child in suburban Los Angeles or in rural Tennessee. We want no rigid blueprints or inflexible guidelines.

I saw a recent study of the ten best high schools in America; and while each had an outstanding record in preparing its students for college, each had an approach, a technique, an attitude of its own. These are qualities to be guarded and cherished, or else in time we will become deadened by conformity and will lose the creativity and innovative abilities that are the key to our future progress.

So where education is concerned, I deeply believe it is vitally important that local school boards and local and state government have the primary responsibility and the primary right to dispense funds. I will press, therefore, for a federal program to turn back to state and local control, through the bloc grants such funds as are urgently required to upgrade their educational performance. Bloc grants, administered at the state and local levels, provide greater flexibility than any other form of assistance. What our communities want from Washington is not dictation but constructive counsel and sorely needed assistance.

One of the great issues of the 1970's will be to determine the distinctive role of each level of government in the enterprise of education. I believe that our philosophy of encouraging the maximum local control and local participation will provide the answers the times demand.

I consider education a Federal concern, a state responsibility, and a local function.

The Federal government with its ability to raise funds on a national basis should aim at reducing the discrepancies among the various states in their resources for the support of education. State government must bear the legal responsibility of setting standards for attendance, teacher certification, per pupil expenditure, and the development of long range plans. Local school systems should be responsible for developing specific projects and programs, and they should be permitted maximum flexibility, subject only to the broadest of policy definitions.

I believe that on state and local levels many moves should be made as matters of the highest priority as we move into the 1970's.

First of all, serious imbalances exist in the financial support available to many of our school districts. In many states the system of support for schools needs drastic revision. School districts often have developed haphazardly. Some are residential, others possess industry or commercial enterprises, still others are in poverty areas. Many are in transition from one phase to another. As a result, the tax base differs from district to district, and many schools suffer from undersupport. But it is plainly wrong for the funds available to any school to remain indefinitely below an acceptable minimum. It is imperative that our state governments take the initiative here.

One of the most disturbing features of urban education today is the tense atmosphere of alienation and mistrust which prevails in some neighborhoods among students, parents, and teachers. We will overcome this when we are able in a variety of ways to bring the schools closer to the people, to bring them into the community. There is no reason why, within broad limits, curricula cannot be tailored to the needs of different groups. Spanish history and culture, for example, could be given more emphasis in one school, and African studies in another. Members of the community could play an important part in the daily program — for example, as teaching assistants.

Buildings, books, administrative structures — all these are important. But everyone knows that the key to learning is the gifted teacher. We must make a serious and comprehensive effort to rejuvenate the teaching profession at the elementary and secondary levels. Too often the gifted teacher, the man or woman of talent and experience, is numbed by routine and stifled by red tape; too often, the incentive to excellence succumbs to a system which fails to distinguish and reward superior performance. We should explore ways of restructuring the teaching profession, and of creating different categories, with different functions and rewards, corresponding to ability and performance. We must also level with ourselves all across this country about teachers' salaries. We tend to fancy that we have done very well in providing for these men and women whose role in our society is so crucially important. Yet one teacher I know in an eastern school still receives only $5,400 a year even though she has taught elementary pupils for 30 years. I say this is wrong for America and a reflection on our sense of values. For too long we have riveted our attention on the needs of higher education. Important these still are, but we must now turn more attention to the quality, effectiveness, and requirements of classroom teachers from kindergarten through the twelfth grade.

Sub-professional personnel, volunteers from the community or salaried individuals, can relieve the professional staff from many of its non-teaching burdens. Many of our future teachers might well be recruited from this group. A junior or apprentice level might assume some teaching duties, but also assist in the performance of routine house-keeping tasks now occupying the teacher. Intermediate ranks would have increasingly advanced classroom responsibilities. Individuals of outstanding experience and ability, who continued to pursue their professional studies and contribute to their fields, would be recognized as master teachers. They would divide their time between the classroom and exploratory work in improving the curriculum and in seeking new and more effective ways of teaching.

The professional teacher should not advance by seniority alone. Imagination, ability, artistry, and achievement deserve to be recognized as we move into the 1970's. We cannot do without this great potential. We must emancipate and honor the great leaders.

It is also essential that our universities take more seriously their obligations in the area of teacher education. Our goal must be to produce teaching scholars and not educational technicians.

Today we are on the threshold of a vast breakthrough, in part brought about by technological advance. Revolutionary possibilities are opening to us. Both elementary and secondary education will increasingly become the province of the highly trained men and women who will be at once scientists and artists. The training of such teachers will be as serious and exacting an enterprise as the training of a nuclear physicist or a heart surgeon. The education of our teachers deserves equal emphasis with other disciplines within the university structure.

We must also take a searching look at our methods of vocational education. Too often such training is geared to jobs which are obsolescent or in short supply. Too often the student loses interest, for he sees, correctly, that there is little or no connection between what he is learning and the realities of the job market. He might well doubt, for example, that there is much point in learning to operate the lathe or the drill press of five years ago, when, increasingly, this function is performed by automated, computerized equipment.

Here private industry and business can play a genuinely creative role. I would urge the leaders of state governments to call for the formation of task forces composed of knowledgeable citizens in business and industry and from the academy. They would ascertain what the job market is likely to be five or ten years hence. Then with the aid of tax incentives business and industry in each state could cooperate with the schools in preparing our young men and women for the real jobs which will await them. As the student moves through his vocational schooling, he should spend some of his time on the actual job for which he is being trained. This connection between training and opportunity would be vivid and concrete.

In vocational education our goal must be a flexible system of training and part-time work experience. Each year it can enable millions of young people with varying abilities, inclinations, and habits to make an effective transition from full-time schooling to full-time productive employment.

And we must get over the idea that vocational and mechanical training is less important than other kinds of education. A skilled worker in industry, a trained technician or machinist, is every bit as important as an office worker; and America cannot survive without them.

Increasing numbers of jobs in our economy require training and education beyond that available in most secondary schools, yet do not demand a college or professional degree. To meet this expanding demand for skilled technicians and semi-professional workers, and to offer the high school graduate a choice other than ending his formal education or pursuing a four-year program, I will press for the expansion and strengthening of two- year technical institutes and community college programs.

As we move into the 1970's, local and community colleges and so-called educational parks will play a more important role. Pioneer educational parks at the secondary school level are already being developed in several states. They consist of a number of schools built in a single park-like setting. They are able to offer a range of possibilities and a degree of flexibility that only a large facility can provide, and they provide ways of economizing through the sharing of such facilities as computers, data banks, and advanced laboratories.

We all recognize how much there is to be done in education on state and local levels. But the individual has an important part to play, too, perhaps the most important part of all. The community must be involved with its schools. Parents must make it their business to find out what their children are learning and ask themselves whether or not the curriculum in their own local schools can be greatly improved. Do the children seem pleased with school? Are they excited by the things learned that day? If not, the chances are it is not because they are lazy and apathetic by nature.

So take an interest in the classroom. After all, it is your school. Are the children learning things that not only interest them, but also are relevant to our history and our civilization? If not, no wonder they learn grudgingly. It is up to you to make it clear to your school board that a good book costs no more than a dull one. It is up to our local communities in all their diversity and with their differing needs and interests to see that education is a living and relevant thing, and that it uses the past in ways that enrich the present.

I would add that the communities of America need to stand behind their teachers in the classrooms insofar as discipline is concerned. For too long an undue permissiveness has been either indulged or imposed. It is time to restore teacher authority where it has been allowed to erode, and parents and community leaders must work cooperatively with teachers to that end. This view is not a punitive one toward the students; rather, it is recognition that good education requires an environment of reason and order. I know of one child who failed admission to the college he had his heart set on, simply because of a math deficiency caused by having seven math teachers in one year. One after another they resigned because they were powerless to enforce discipline in the classroom.

But if education is and should remain primarily the responsibility of the state and local community, the federal government still has a vital role.

Let me highlight a few of the more important needs my Administration will fill. We will seek to:

• Create a National Institute for the Educational Future to serve as a clearing house for ideas in elementary and secondary education and explore the revolutionary possibilities that modern science and technology are making available to education.

•   Maintain our national commitment to pre-school education, expanding as necessary such programs as Head Start and Follow Through.

•   Create a National Teachers Corps which would bring carefully selected colleges and high school students into action as tutors in core-city schools.

•   Encourage diversity by urging states to present plans for federal assistance to be distributed by the states to non-public school children and including non-public school representatives in the planning process.

•   Help to encourage the growth of our private colleges and universities by allowing tax advantages for donations up to a specified level.

•   Propose the formation of community resource units composed of individuals, organizations, and groups within the community who will make their experience available for the encouragement of education.

•   Devise new ways by which, through long-term loans, the federal government can further assist students to gain a higher education, and devise ways by which private capital can expand its participation in the support of students who need assistance.

The National Institute for the Educational Future will be a consortium of educators, scientists, social scientists, and technicians. It will also include classroom teachers with practical experience on elementary and secondary levels. It will have a dual function. First, it will serve as a clearing house of ideas, attacking the problems of communication and coordination. Our far-flung communities have too little communication with one another. Information about programs being instituted throughout the country must be centrally available so the experience of one community can guide another. The Institute will make evaluations and offer advice regarding programs which have succeeded or which have failed.

The Institute will have another important function as well. It will take us into the space age in education. We are on the threshold of great changes, many brought about by the possibilities inherent in new technology; and though in the past, advances in technology have tended to mean standardization and the submersion of the individual, the most recent developments and others in the offing promise the opposite. Our schools a generation from now may be very different from those of today. The use of electronics, of television, of computerized knowledge banks promises to allow far greater scope for programs tailored to the individual. Busy work and dead time may be all but eliminated. Through greater efficiency and effectiveness, the rate of learning may increase geometrically. It is possible that students will spend far less time in the classroom and will also spend less time in school. Through what is called programmed learning, they may be able to learn many things more effectively at home. Learning will be brought closer to daily life, rejoined to the community and to the family. We must be ready to use all possibilities our new technology makes available, and this the National Institute for the Educational Future will help us to do.

While planning for future possibilities, we must not neglect the things only recently found effective. We know now that a child can be so far behind by the time he reaches first grade that he has little or no chance of catching up. The battle for the development of the mind of a child can be lost even before he enters kindergarten. A child who has never learned how to learn, who has never mastered the basic reading skills, the basic mathematical premises, the basic ways of looking at the world which are the heart of all formal education is sure to fall further and further behind. The urban crisis in America will never be resolved until the quality of education for all children attains a level commensurate with the demands of life in our complex urban society.

Effective programs already in operation, such as Head Start and Follow Through, will be expanded as the need grows. When research indicates the desirability of new programs in this area, they will receive support from my Administration. All of us need to understand that perhaps our greatest deficiency today is in the teaching of reading. Moreover, despite the current emphasis on pre-school training, some one-third of our schools do not have kindergartens. I keenly feel these shortcomings and hope to play an important part in their correction.

I would emphasize here, before proceeding on with the Federal effort as a whole, that a critical need exists for consolidation and improved coordination throughout the structure. There are some 60 different Federal programs now that impinge upon education. Our educational system, the states, and the tax-paying public are entitled to a major realignment of this over-proliferated effort.

The problems of the disadvantaged child are too often more than educational. His performance may lag because he has health or diet deficiencies, or because of emotional problems brought about by unstable conditions at home. Early education, therefore, should focus on the whole child. It should involve a flexible cooperation and consultation among teachers, health officers, and social workers, with the school providing common facilities and a central coordinating function.

One of the persistent shortcomings of our society is that it provides too few opportunities for the idealism of our young people to express itself. Yet this is a great resource, one which should be turned to constructive rather than disruptive purposes. This is one reason why we should have a Student Teacher Corps of high school and college students: carefully selected, paid volunteers, who would tutor core-city children. They would aid in extended training programs in core-city schools — programs available after school hours and during the summer months. We want no more talk of "long, hot summers." We must plan for summers of productive learning, summers of hope rather than of idleness and destruction. Nor do we want to "make jobs" — we want to build citizens.

One of the most profound challenges of our time is the preservation of diversity, the preservation of freedom itself, in the face of increasing complexity and interdependence. And yet increasing complexity need not mean standardization, if only we make the decision that it must not. The private schools and colleges of America have always been a source of diversity, of possibility, of experimentation. They have long provided the cutting edge of progress, pushing ahead with new ideas and new techniques.

The private schools and colleges have also provided the diversity which is one of America's great strengths. We must also remember that private schools of various kinds are able to draw upon financial resources not available to public institutions — and which would not otherwise be available to education. Yet our private institutions are now experiencing severe financial pressure as the costs of public education increase. In my view it would be a tragedy of the first magnitude if tax-supported state schools were to drive private institutions out of existence.

Without weakening our commitment to public education, my Administration will protect and encourage the private option. The private option should not be available only to the wealthy: that is not the American way. And America is richer for the diversity of those groups which prefer a distinctive schooling.

Therefore, we will urge state-prepared plans for state-administered Federal assistance to non-public school children and will advocate special tax advantages for donations to private colleges and universities.

For more than a generation we have seen the increasing concentration of power in government. I think the decade of the 1970's will see a reversal of this trend. We are entering a period in which the citizen wants more control over his destiny, more participation in his community, and more responsibility for the quality of his life. In no area is this more relevant than in education. With this in mind I will propose the formation of community resources groups, composed of individuals and organizations who want to help the educational program in the schools of their community.

A local lawyer, a man familiar in the community, might talk to a class of teenagers about the laws which affect their personal lives. He could inspire not only respect for the laws, but also an interest in the process by which laws are made. He could lead the students to thoughts about the sources of law.

A local athlete discussing with a high school class the ceremonial games in the land might make the difference between a dull lesson and a real insight into other cultures and other times.

People from all backgrounds — housewives, businessmen, factory workers, professional people, political leaders — could embody for the students new ways of thinking about the world.

A local businessman and a local labor union leader would be an ideal team to bring home to the children a link between what goes on in the world and what goes on in the classroom.

And finally, my Administration will commit itself to the proposition that no young American who is qualified to go to college will be prevented from doing so because he cannot afford it. I will support existing programs which aid needy students, and will call for their expansion when it is indicated. I also believe, however, that the individual who receives higher education has the primary responsibility of paying for it. I will recommend continuance of Federal grants and loans to students who require such assistance. I will also explore ways in which the private sector of the economy can increasingly become a working partner in enabling more students to go on to higher education. One proposal, which will be carefully considered, would permit private capital to provide loans to students, the interest on such loans to be paid by the Federal government. The student would repay the loan when he became a producing, earning citizen.

I know myself what outside aid can mean to a young man about to embark on his career. I know, because without financial aid I would never have had the opportunity to go on to law school, and so my commitment to such programs is more than just a political commitment to education in this country. It is an expression of my own gratitude to those who, without realizing it at the time, helped a boy discover a new world. I intend to make the new Administration one which will not allow men's worlds to remain closed to those who need only money.

These, then, are some of the educational challenges of the 1970's.

But they are more than that. They are challenges issued by a time of revolutionary change to the very essence of America and to the meaning of the American experience.

To be an American means that you can grow up in a remote town or in the midst of poverty and still go to college and make whatever you can of your own gifts and your own dreams.

When I look at American education, I do not see schools, but children, and young men and women — young Americans who deserve the chance to make a life for themselves and ensure the progress of their country.

If we fail in this, no success we have is worth the keeping. But I say to you tonight that we will not fail.

APP NOTE: From section five of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "Unmet Needs and America's Opportunities".

Richard Nixon, Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "Education for Excellence, Freedom, and Diversity" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/326777

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