Remarks at the Dedicatory Exercises of the New High School Building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

November 22, 1902

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

I am glad to have the chance of being present at the formal dedication of this new building, which in its management stands in line of succession to a series of buildings, themselves typifying in no small degree the extraordinary development of the public school system of the United States. It was some sixty-four years ago that this institution was first established under a man of great eminence alike in the work of pedagogy and in other fields— Professor Biggs. At the time when it was started the public-school system of the United States had begun and was in the process of its first development. Now, in the city of Philadelphia in attendance upon the public schools, including the night schools, there are some hundred and seventy thousand pupils and over four thousand teachers. The development of the high school, especially during the last half century, has been literally phenomenal. Nothing like our present system of education was known in earlier times. No such system of popular education for the people by the representatives of the people existed.

It is, of course, a mere truism to say that the stability and future welfare of our institutions of government depend upon the grade of citizenship turned out from our public schools. And no body of public servants, no body of individuals associated in private life, are better worth the admiration and respect of all who value citizenship at its true worth, than the body composed of the teachers in the public schools throughout the length and breadth of this Union. They have to deal with citizenship in the raw and turn it out something like a finished product. I think that all of us who also endeavor to deal with that citizenship in the raw in our own homes appreciate the burden and the responsibility. The training given in the public schools must, of course, be not merely a training in intellect, but a training in what counts for infinitely more than intellect—a training in character. And the chief factor in that training must be the personal equation of the teachers; the influence exerted, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, by the man or woman who stands in so peculiar a relation to the boys and girls under his or her care—a relation closer, more intricate, and more vital in its after-effects than any other relation save that of parent and child. Wherever a burden of that kind is laid, those who carry it necessarily carry a great responsibility. There can be no greater. Scant should be our patience with any man or woman doing a bit of work vitally worth doing, who does not approach it in the spirit of sincere love for the work, and of desire to do it well for the work's sake.

Doubtless most of you remember the old distinction drawn between the two kinds of work, the work done for the sake of the fee and the work done for the sake of the work itself. The man or woman in public or private life who ever works only for the sake of the reward that comes outside of the work, will in the long run do poor work.

The man or woman who does work worth doing is the man or woman who lives, who breathes that work; with whom it is ever present in his or her soul; whose ambition is to do it well and to feel rewarded by the thought of having done it well. That man, that woman, puts the whole country under an obligation. As a body all those connected with the education of our people are entitled to the heartiest praise from all lovers of their country, because as a body they are devoting heart and soul to the welfare of those under them.

It is a poor type of school nowadays that has not a good playground attached. It is not so long since, in my own city at least, this was held as revolutionary doctrine, especially in the crowded quarters where playgrounds were most needed. People said they didn't need play grounds. It was a new-fangled idea. They expected to make good citizens of the boys and girls who, when they were not in school, were put upon the streets in the crowded quarters of New York to play at the kind of games alone that they could play at in the streets. We have passed that stage. I think we realize what a good healthy play ground means to children. I think we understand not only the effects for good upon their bodies, but for good upon their minds. We need healthy bodies. We need to have schools physically developed, Sometimes you can develop character by the direct inculcation of moral precept; a good deal more often you cannot. You develop it less by precept than by your practice. Let it come as an incident of the association with you; as an incident to the general tone of the whole body, the tone which in the aggregate we all create. Is not that the experience of all of you, in dealing with these children in the schools, in dealing with them in the family, in dealing with them in bodies any where? They are quick to take the tone of those to whom they look up, and if they do not look up to you, then you can preach virtue all you wish, but the effect will be small.

I have not come here to try to make any extended speech to you, but I should hold myself a poor citizen if I did not welcome the chance to wish you Godspeed in your work for yourselves and to wish you Godspeed in your work as representatives of that great body of public school teachers, upon the success of whose efforts to train aright the children of today depends the safety of our institutions of to-morrow.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Dedicatory Exercises of the New High School Building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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