President Eisenhower addressed a gathering of the National Education Association, on the occasion of their 100th anniversary in 1957. Some 60 years later, the institution of Education and higher learning and the imperative need for knowledge have come under fire. As a reminder that there was a time Education was the single most important weapon in our arsenal to combat ignorance and war, President Eisenhower explains the need to continue and expand on what has become a crucial ingredient to our national heritage:
President Eisenhower: “Thus, the education of our children is of prime importance to each of us. Moreover, to maintain the common defense and to guarantee the progress of our Nation, each of us must discharge his own rightful and proper role in developing the intellectual capacities of all children living in every corner of our land. Each individual, each community has a vital function to perform.
For I remind you that the great colleges and universities that sprang up under Lincoln’s College Land Grant Bill were not Federal projects. By no means! Most of the capital and organization for these institutions was provided by the States themselves. In this, as in all other things, Lincoln believed that government should do for people only what they could not well do for themselves. The Land Grant Bill furnished the stimulus for greater local effort. At present, the Land Grant colleges and universities receive most of their support and all of their direction from local citizens. Also, a healthy proportion of support comes from the students themselves. I add this because it is unwise to make education too cheap. If everything is provided freely, there is a tendency to put no value on anything. Education must always have a certain price on it; even as the very process of learning itself must always require individual effort and initiative. Education is a matter of discipline–and more, it is a matter of self-discipline.
Lincoln’s faith in education is part of America‘s faith in the ability of people to govern themselves. When men and women know the facts and are concerned about them, we believe they will make the correct decisions. Prejudice and unreasoning opposition will more and more give way before the clean flood of knowledge.
This has always been my faith in democracy. Lincoln and education are closely associated in the memories of my boyhood. Indeed, the first school I attended, sixty years ago, was called the Lincoln Grade School. It was located across the street from my home in Abilene, Kansas. Nowadays, they refer to it as the “Old” Lincoln School because, old and dilapidated, it happily was replaced some years ago by a larger and stronger school.
And so each generation must build better schools for its children. Especially in today’s complex and challenging world, we need stronger and bigger schools in which to train our children to accept their magnificent opportunities and grave responsibilities–opportunities for life even richer than ours, responsibilities for the defense of their homeland and strengthening of the free world. This puts a greater burden on education than ever before–a greater burden on our teachers, classrooms and curriculum.
The school building program of America suffered three grievous setbacks in this generation: the Depression of the 30’s, the War of the 40’s, and the Korean crisis of the 50’s. These three periods caused a drying up of normal schoolroom replacement and expansion–almost like three successive droughts. During the Depression we were unable to build schools for lack of money; during the war we were unable to build schools for the lack of men and materials because most of these resources were diverted into the war effort. The same applied to the war in Korea and to very much of the cold war of later years.
So now our educational plant is not ample to cope with the enormous burden of present and future enrollments. Therefore, it is my firm belief that there should be Federal help to provide stimulus to correct an emergency situation; that help does not imply a permanent acceptance of responsibility which belongs, not to Washington, but to the local governments and to the local communities and to the people themselves.
Federal help in building schools will not mean federal control. After these new schools are built, after the bricks are laid and the mortar is dry, the federal mission will be completed. All control and use of those schools will be in the hands of the states and of the localities.
Every phase of the educational process, especially in our system of public schools, is important to all.”
And now, more than ever, education – useful education. The pursuit of knowledge and intellectual freedom by way of our schools and teachers, is crucial for our survival.
Think I’m kidding?
Here is that complete address, as it was given on April 4, 1957.