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Vice President Richard Nixon Discusses Education

September 25, 1960


We are living in a world and at a pitch of crisis that put an ultimate premium on sheer brainpower - fully developed and unstintingly applied. We dare not waste it; we dare not misapply it; we dare not be satisfied with standards of mediocrity.

This is the challenge to American education and we have no time to lose.

The brainpower market will always be out of balance: the supply will never match the demand.

Never has this been more true than today. Never has the demand for trained acute minds been so urgent. A wholly new dimension has been added to the traditional process - education, in its broadest sense - by which each generation passes on to the next its ideas and inventions, its values and cultural gains. The scale of our scientific achievement, the sophistication of our technology, the penetration of our moral insights - our matchless progress in every field has intensified rather than reduced the educational challenge for the years ahead.

What in general is this challenge ? It is to preserve our achievements and our heritage. It is to build on them. It is to move to

new and ever higher levels of achievement. We are, in simple and sober truth, on the threshold of a new golden age with the immediate promise of making such inroads on some of mankind's most persistent enemies - ignorance, poverty, hunger, disease - as to transform our brightest dreams into realities.

But this process is not automatic. There are no guarantees against failures simply because the potential for success is so

compelling. There is only the challenge; all that we are and all that we hope to be depend not only on the wisdom but also on the sense of urgency with which we develop and mobilize and apply our total brainpower to meet it.


This is one dimension of the challenge to American education. And there is a further new dimension - one that turns mere urgency into a matter literally, of life or death. The threat of communism, and the constant danger that the threat will be backed up by recourse to total war, has made precious our margin of safety and, more than this, has denied us the luxury of permissible error, of timelag, of tolerance of half-effort and mediocrity. As the routine norm of our civilization, we can accept nothing short of the best.


Let's look at our situation more closely, in order to specify our needs in detail. Consider such facts as these:

The more we learn about the universe we inhabit and the closer we penetrate to its essence, the more we have to know - if we are to succeed in mastering the natural world and turning it to moral and productive purposes. The technical skill needed to run a steam engine world is far below that needed to run one based on fusion; the problem of controlling the destructive potential of the crossbow and that of controlling nuclear missiles are utterly different. In every field, today's routine demand is for creative genius and for excellence of performance pressing the very limits of human ability.

The world we live in, politically and economically and diplomatically, is one single community whether we like it or not. The

question is no longer when we will achieve a true community of nations - as some far-off ideal goal - but rather how we are going to organize the imperfect community we now live in as an inescapable fact of international life. It is no longer enough to make altruistic promises of aid to newly emerging peoples; we must deal with them as equals, treat them with the respect they deserve - as proud new nations, with legitimate aspirations of their own. To live in such a world - still more, to exercise leadership in it - requires a developed range of skills and knowledge and human sensitivities that runs the gamut from geography and language to diplomacy and the law of nations.

Our own domestic economy is, more and more every day, dependent on advanced technology and professional services. Fully half of our labor force is now rated as "skilled." And the trend is toward more of the same, at an increasing pace, in order to man our automated farms and factories. Research and the development of new products and markets are no longer sidelines to the business of production - they are essential parts of the assembly line.

American society is one of enormous abundance, of goods and services, of leisure and cultural richness. To mobilize this abundance, to distribute it, to equalize opportunities for a fair chance at a fair share of it - these are the problems that we cannot gloss over or postpone. And to solve them within the framework of our traditional institutions and ideals - to achieve a fairly shared abundance in an America that remains free - is a further challenge to ingenuity and moral insight.

What I am saying is simply this: We are living in a civilization and in a world and at a pitch of crisis that put an ultimate

premium on sheer brainpower - fully developed and unstintingly applied. We dare not waste it; we dare not misapply it; we dare not be satisfied with standards of mediocrity. Because the blunt fact is that anything less than performance at a sustained level of excellence will endanger for all time to come the fulfillment of our goals and our dreams.


The challenge to American education is, in my view, of such dimensions as these. How can we best face up to that challenge? By what use of our total national resources - including the Federal Government, but as only one institution among many - can we mount the effort required?

We can begin by centering our attention on the major targets.


There is, first, the teaching profession itself - at the very heart of the educational process. We must attract to teaching the best men and women the Nation has to offer. We must help them obtain the best possible training - a process, of course, that continues through a lifetime and therefore involves graduate training and access to the latest advances in a progressive art. We must induce our teachers to commit themselves to lifetime careers; and this means, in plain terms, rewarding salaries, stimulating opportunities for advancement, and the sustained public appreciation and support that lend prestige to a professional calling.

Art of teaching

There is, second, the target of improving and enriching the art of teaching - through research and study, through free experiment and the sharing of varied experience. We must stimulate and support such research and see to it that the experience of a vast number of public and private groups is most efficiently mobilized and most widely applied. There is today a great and exciting ferment within the profession - just a few developments are teaching aided by sound tapes and by television, the use of specialized teaching teams, the year-round school, the community college, and advanced training for the highly gifted - which we must neither fence in with rigid central controls nor fail to exploit to the fullest through sheer lack of a general clearinghouse.

Facilities, costs

There is, third, the bread-and-butter problem of facilities and costs - adequate classrooms and laboratories and dormitories, and the money to build and staff and maintain them. Let us give due credit to the superb accomplishments of the last several years. Local school districts in every part of the Nation, and public and private college boards, have carried forward an unparalleled building program. But we are faced with classroom shortages right now, and in terms of projected enrollments, the decade ahead offers no breathing space. We must, therefore, set precise goals for new construction and for both capital and operating budgets; and we must then find the means to fulfill these goals on schedule.


There is, finally, as a major target of our national effort, one basic problem that cuts across all the others: to evolve and maintain standards of excellence appropriate to a free society that has set its sights high. This is a concept both difficult and dangerous to put into words, because such standards are not simply to be devised, on order, by some elite committee or central authority. Indeed, to invent and then impose standards would be to destroy what is, in my view, the greatest traditional strength of American education - its freedom and variety and flexible response to local and special needs.

To adopt the techniques of totalitarian societies, because they have had some spectacular success in the training of technicians and scientists would be to admit the failure of the central principle of our American creed. We must remember that our overriding faith in individual freedom is the one best path to national achievement. I have not lost this faith. And I am convinced that the American people need only the knowledge that a challenge exists and the offer of leadership, and that then their response will be overwhelming.

There is a further danger in raising the question of standards of excellence. The tendency is to translate this general quality,

the pervasive "tone" of a civilization, into some such formula as "every man a Ph. D. in nuclear physics." This, of course, is wide of the mark. There is need for excellence in every field. We need wise housewives even as we need wise philosophers. It is urgent that the whole American people be skilled in the ways of free citizenship.

If any general formula can be stated, it might run in some such terms as these: The target of American education must be that

every individual has the opportunity and the facilities to develop to the highest power the full range of his inherent ability. There must be no arbitrary barriers - neither racial nor economics. On such a scale, the excellent lathe operator and the excellent biochemist are not only equal as Americans but also equally valuable members of our Nation's pool of skilled manpower. And this, in a free society, is as it should be.


I have sketched briefly the dimensions of the current challenge to American education. I have pinpointed some major targets of a total national effort to meet this challenge. Now let me turn to the practical question; in this total effort, what role can and should the Federal Government play? What are the outlines of an imaginative and a workable Federal program in support of American education - a program measured not by how much money is spent or how fast, but rather by its effective impact in stimulating and supplementing local and private efforts.

(1) Aid for elementary, secondary schools

A cornerstone of Federal support for American education must necessarily be a program of debt-servicing and matching grants, to the States, to accomplish two interrelated goals. First in importance is releasing State and local funds for urgent increases in teachers' pay by taking up a substantial share of the heavy burden of construction cost. The second goal - and the direct target of the grants-in-aid - is closing the gap, over the next 5 years, between projected enrollment and classroom space.

It is imperative that teachers' salaries be raised to levels more nearly commensurate than now with their high professional calling and the rigorous training we demand of them. Surely it is true to say that our schools can never be any better than our teachers - and we will neither attract in the future nor keep the best men and women in the profession at the generally prevailing salary levels. At the same time, we must avoid the danger of rigid Federal controls over who teaches and what is taught in our public schools - both of them properly matters of local responsibility.

We can achieve these goals by earmarking Federal funds matched with State funds, (a) for servicing debt already incurred for school construction; (b) for servicing debt incurred for new construction; and (c) for grants which will enable the construction of new buildings to go forward on a pay-as-you-go basis. More of the local funds can then be used for teachers' salaries. Thus, we will be moving in simultaneously throughout the nation on three great problems of American public education: salaries, facilities, and substantial equality of opportunity. And we will do it without menacing the invaluable freedom of our schools by inhibitive Federal control.

I would, of course, add that in local areas where Federal activities put a special burden on the schools, and take land off the local tax rolls, we must additionally, as we do now, provide supplementary Federal grants.

(2) Aid for colleges, universities

Just as important to a vital educational system as its elementary and secondary schools are its colleges and universities, public and private. The present Federal program of low-cost loans for dormitory construction should be continued - and greatly expanded into a program of both loans and matching grants for classrooms and laboratories and libraries as well. Furthermore, Federal grants should be provided to help finance State commissions to survey and inventory their higher education needs - an imperative first step in planning effective action.

Matching grants to help our colleges meet the demand for rapidly increasing enrollment are especially important for this

inescapable reason. Tuition charges do not begin to cover the total educational cost per student. Each new student added to the rolls puts an added burden on the operating budget. Help is needed if we are to provide adequate opportunity to the growing number of young Americans - an additional million, at least, during the next 5 years - who want and deserve education beyond the high school. I will have more to say about assistance to the student in various sections below.

(3) Stronger teaching process

This is a tremendously important and varied area of action where the need is for a combination of Federal loans and grants, professional advice and technical services, and what we might call the national clearinghouse function - of gathering and disseminating information about local experience and experimentation.

More specifically, a program for this area should include Federal grants for research and development of teaching aids, such as closed-circuit television; grants for the purchase of technical equipment, grants for aid in setting up guidance, counseling, and testing services, research and demonstration grants for new administration procedures for teaching more students, and teaching them better. The Federal Government also should put special stress on establishing institutes for improving secondary school instruction in various subject areas - patterned after the successful model of the present institutes for language teaching.

(4) Loans, scholarships

A start and a good one, has been made under the National Defense Education Act to provide funds for college student loans. More than 100,000 students have taken advantage of this program already. But this was in a sense "emergency" legislation.

We should now extend and expand this program. And we should certainly initiate, as a top-priority target, a national

scholarship program for our ablest secondary school graduates - a program administered by, and its costs shared by, the States on a basis of relative ability to pay. Based on need and competitive examinations the scholarships should be flexible and can be as large as $1,000 a year.

Many of our best qualified high school graduates do not go on to college simply because their families cannot afford to meet the mounting costs of higher education. We as a society cannot afford such an appalling waste of valuable brain power.

As a further spur to higher education in combination with these scholarship and fellowship programs, I believe that the next time the Congress acts on tax reform legislation it should consider extending tax credits or reductions to cover tuition and other costs for higher education.

The exact procedures for all these programs in support of higher education are many and varied and ought to remain so. But the aim is simple: to expand the opportunities open to all our young people for all the education they can assimilate.

(6) Incentives for teachers

In my view we should raise substantially the number of graduate fellowships that can be granted annually under the National

Defense Education Act. In addition, the provision of this act under which potential primary and secondary schoolteachers are "forgiven" up to 50 percent on repayment of loans should be extended to those preparing for teaching careers in higher education, where the cost of long years of advanced study is a special burden and one that lasts a life-time.

To cover such costs might help greatly. For example, tax allowances might substantially help the experienced teacher who wants training for advancement but cannot fit its cost into a head-of-family budget, and who is thus denied promotion. We must as a matter of national policy give every possible assistance to our teachers as they plan their career development.

(6) Medical education

Matching grants to accelerate the growth of educational facilities in the broad field of medicine and nursing and public health have so special an importance as to merit special attention. At present levels of training, medical manpower shortages in the future are inevitable. These shortages raise obviously grave consequences for our own people and for increasing numbers around the world who have come to depend on us for technical aid in the medical sciences.

Consider just this one dramatic statistic: In the United States we have 1 doctor for every 750 people, and even that is considered a shortage; but in Indonesia, the ratio is 1 for every 70,000. Surely an investment we make now to head off a short supply of American medical technicians - for services here and abroad - will be doubly wise.

(7) Vocational education

Since World War I' the Federal Government has provided funds to the States for a variety of programs in support of vocational education. The objective of these programs, which serve both youth and adults, is to equip people for useful employment. And now more than ever, because of the march of science and technology, we must constantly develop our vocational education programs, so that they meet current needs, needs which are ever increasing and ever more complex. We are making and should continue to make a significant investment in grants that will stimulate research and demonstration projects designed to update and strengthen these important programs.

(8) Education for handicapped

The mentally retarded, the crippled, the hard of hearing, the partially seeing, those with speech defects, those with special

health problems, the deaf, and the blind - all have a potential contribution to make to the life of our society. As a nation we have an obligation to provide them with the opportunity of making whatever productive contribution they can. Progress has been made in the development of teaching methods specially adapted to the needs of these groups. Much more, however, can and must be done, and Federal grants are needed to support the work of State agencies and private research organizations.

(9) Adult education

We are becoming more and more aware that education must be a continuing and lifelong process. Unless we reflect this awareness by continuing to strengthen our programs of adult education, our people will not adjust as they should to our rapidly changing and complex world. Programs in language, in arts and crafts, in vocational subjects, in citizenship and world affairs, refresher courses in all the formal disciplines - these are just some of the possibilities in this varied field.

To illustrate: The number of our citizens who go to other countries on governmental, educational, and business missions as well as for personal enjoyment are increasing literally by the tens of thousands every year. These citizens become, inevitably, our citizen ambassadors abroad. Adult education could make a major contribution toward preparing them to be far more effective representatives than many of them are today. The modest start we have made in supporting adult education programs must be accelerated.

(10) Libraries

It goes without saying that libraries are basic to our total educational system. The Federal Government has wisely been making grants available to stimulate and support these facilities - to strengthen such important developments as rural bookmobiles. These grants should be continued until we have achieved the same standard of performance in this area as we demand in every other sector of our more formal educational system.


These, then, are the elements of a broad program of Federal encouragement to American education. I do not claim, either, that it is exhaustive or that each element in it must be adopted in one precise form - that nothing more nor less will do. Clearly, it will be the job of the Executive and the Congress to work out details, to estimate costs, and to make precise outlays for the period of testing ahead.

Indeed, to make sure of sustained concern for the problems of education, and sustained support for effective action, I think we should organize a permanent top-level Commission on Education to advise, directly, the President and the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. Such a Commission should provide a continuous evaluation of what is being done in every field of education, and also it should identify what is not being done that should be. It should help focus the interest of all Americans on the quality of our total educational effort, from kindergarten to graduate school.


I think it is accurate to say this much about the program outlined in this statement: Any program that is to be in line with out

needs must come to grips with all these problems. The Federal Government will not solve them all - and Federal funds are not limitless. But the Government must fulfill its traditional role of calling the Nation's total resources, in all their local and private centers of authority, to effective action. We have no time to lose. We have a menacing world in which we must live and a world of potential achievement to gain.

Richard Nixon, Vice President Richard Nixon Discusses Education Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project