Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Accepting the Charles B. Stillman Award for Outstanding Service to Education

September 30, 1965

President Cogen, Mr. Meany, Mr. Bates, Secretary Gardner, Commissioner Keppel, distinguished educational leaders all:

I thank you so much for the undeserved and extremely generous statements that you have made, and particularly these two awards that you have presented to me. I value them more highly almost than any other that I might receive.

Their purpose is to, as I understand it, recognize and honor an educator, and I still think of myself as one, though my classroom career was momentarily interrupted about 35 years ago.

I wouldn't ever want the teachers to believe that my teaching experience was limited to high school in Houston, because that, in our State, is usually regarded as where the big city boys live, and I started my teaching at the little town of San Marcos in a high school there. Then I was promoted as principal of a grade school at Cotulla, down in south Texas near the Mexican border, where I earned the magnificent and munificent salary of $125 a month. Then I advanced to a position of greater responsibility as a principal at Pearsall, Texas, and there I made $175 a month. From there I went to Houston, and made the great mistake of leaving the teaching profession and coming on to Washington.

But I value this award, particularly because it bears the name of the dedicated public servant, Charles Stillman, who, as you said, was your first president.

When President Stillman organized your American Federation of Teachers in 1916, the responsibility for teachers was very high, but, as I have just indicated, the rewards were quite low. But his vision and his energy and his leadership brought a great many of his fellow teachers into your very fine organization. And today, when the teachers' salaries are still unequal, in my judgment, to the great load of responsibility that they bear, that energy, that vision, those hopes of his leadership continue to be felt.

Your founder would be the first, I think, to say, if he could be here with us this morning, that we have much unfinished work yet to do in the field of education. I do think that he would share our pride in the progress that we have made and to which you have alluded.

I would like for all of us to try to remember that more than 54 million Americans-one out of every four in this country--are in school today.

Total American expenditures for education have more than doubled in the past 10 years, from $15.9 billion to more than $32.6 billion.

The number of Americans graduating from high school has doubled in the last decade, from 1,351,000 to 2,567,000. And we are trying to work out arrangements where practically every one of those graduates that needs financial help to go to college will have it made available to them in one form or another--grants, loans, or some type of thing. That's a great breakthrough since my day.

The number of college graduates each year has risen 85 percent--think of it--85 percent, from 388,843 to 746,124 in the last 10 years.

In the last 2 years, we have enacted--the last 22 months since I have been President-we have passed through the House and the Senate and this President has signed 24 major measures to improve education in America. We have appropriated more than $5 billion for education, and we have established or enlarged 70 programs which brighten the educational future for more than 54 million Americans.

I think that Mr. Meany deserves very special recognition. A lot of measures that labor is interested in, you just read about them in the paper these days, but every single one of these 24 measures, no one has done more to help bring them to the attention of the American people than the leader of this great organization. And it is not only true of education, but it is true of health, it is true of social security, and it is true of conservation, it is true of beautification. It is true of everything that makes this a better land to live in.

These things that I have alluded to, I think, could be termed a very proud record. We are not going to rest upon it either. What we are going to do is take this record and we are going to build upon it--and we have just begun.

This year, with the help of your organization and many other friends of education, Congress enacted its crowning achievement in education--the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

Under the provisions of this legislation, more than 5 1/2 million schoolchildren in areas of poverty throughout this Nation from coast to coast will be helped; teacher training and educational research is going to be materially improved; State education departments in every State in the Union are going to be substantially strengthened. Supplementary education centers will be established in all the communities throughout the land.

Now, through all the years of your existence as a union, I am proud to say that you have never abandoned faith in the future that teachers can really build for America, and, thank goodness, you have never abandoned each other, either.

You have won better salaries for your people, you have helped to improve the working conditions for the teachers, and you have made real progress for your profession. And, I'm glad to say, you haven't stopped there. You have gone to the school boards, you have gone to the State legislatures, yes, you have even come to Washington on behalf of America's schools and America's students.

When the AFT was organized in 1916, I was an 8-year-old schoolboy back in the hills of Texas. Since then, both you and I have moved along some. I think, though, we have really been traveling the same road-the road toward a chance for all Americans to enjoy better education, better housing, better health, better conservation. And all of it just adds up to one thing--a better future for our children who will come after us. I don't know of any higher road that man could desire to travel.

So it is with a great deal of pleasure and a real honor to me that I welcome you here today. I would be less than human, I think, if I didn't tell you that I appreciate very much the honor that you have paid me by your visit.

In conclusion, I want to say that the thing that I would like to do perhaps most of all, in the allotted time that the Good Lord has given me here; and particularly in this position of leadership, I would like to feel in my own heart that I had been deserving, and that I had not failed in the eyes of at least my fellow teachers, who have helped me along with their encouragement and with their faith every step of the way along the long, long, winding road.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:10 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House following the presentation of the first annual Charles B. Stillman award for outstanding service to education. In his opening words he referred to Charles Cogen, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who presented the award, George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO, Harry C. Bates, president emeritus of the Bricklayers, Masons and Plasterers International Union of America, John W. Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, and Francis Keppel, Commissioner of Education.

Along with the award the President received a scroll which reads as follows:

"To Lyndon B. Johnson, who taught school in Houston, Texas, during those desperate depression years, who kept aglow his burning dedication to education throughout a long and distinguished career as a Congressman, who remains a teacher at heart as he serves in the highest office in the land, and who, as President of the United States, has sponsored the most far-reaching educational legislation in our Nation's history, we proudly present this first annual Charles B. Stillman award for educational leadership.

"The American Federation of Teachers, September 30, 1965.
"Charles Cogen, President."
The text of Mr. Cogen's remarks on presenting the award and scroll to the President is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 1, p. 333).

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was approved by the President on April 11, 1965 (see Item 181).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Accepting the Charles B. Stillman Award for Outstanding Service to Education Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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