Symbols of New America
FREE SCHOOLS IN A FREE AMERICA
By PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Delivered at the dedication of three Dutchess County schools at Hyde Park, N. Y., October 5, 1940
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 20-21.
PRESIDENT SMITH, Principal Chucket, my old friend, I still call him Senator Cole. Senator Cole said something about how he in the old days used to belong to one party and I belonged to the other. And I think that both of us can agree that on matters that relate to education in this State of ours, and in this country of ours, there's very little that's decided or done, or thought of along the lines of party politics.
Education is over and beyond party politics and sometimes I wish that other things were, too.
As I have been sitting here on the platform, I have been thinking of the time nearly a century and a half ago, and I don't suppose there are many people here today who know about it. It was nearly a century and a half ago when a citizen of the town of Hyde Park became the Governor of the State of New York. His name was Morgan Lewis, and he lived just north of Staatsburg Village, and he was the Governor who was chiefly responsible for starting the Union Free School System for the children of the State of New York. And so, this Township of Hyde Park, can claim a kind of sponsorship for free and universal school education in our State.
Father Served on School Board
Also my mind has been going back to quite a long time ago when I knew—about the same age of, what shall I say, some of the younger people in the front row—their grandparents, and the parents of some of the older people in this school—when I used to spend a great many hours, when I was a small boy, holding my father's horse in the village of Hyde Park while my father attended meetings of the School Board.
Long before those days, before I was born, about 1870, I think, my father had helped, with very great pride, to build the red brick school house over in the village of Hyde Park, the school house that is still standing, and in those days it was considered a model school. Compare that—the old red brick school house—compare it to these new three school houses.
See how these new ones emphasize how much more complex our civilization is today from what it was seventy years ago. Education these days calls for equipment and for instruction that was unthought of seventy years ago. For that reason we are now under the necessity, all of us—the painful necessity, if you like, but at the same time the willing necessity—of paying out many hundreds of thousands of dollars to substitute modern equipment for what we must admit was a bit out of date.
Tribute to the Taxpayers
And may I bear tribute to the taxpayers of this town of Hyde Park, and of certain portions of the towns of Poughkeepsie and Pleasant Valley and Clinton, for their willingness to do a new job of school construction rather than a repair job. If our old school houses, scattered throughout the districts, remained useful to the community for three score years and more, I think we can be confident today that in all human probability these three new school houses will still be used and busy 100 years from now.
To the trustees of the consolidated district also, we owea very deep debt of gratitude, for they have shown the finest spirit of cooperation. And I know that ail of us miss today the presence of our old friend, Arthur White, who was one of the trustees when the whole project was started.
Personally I am happy also that without any additional cost of materials we have built these three buildings of the native field stone of old Dutchess County. And let us remember that most of the stones that have gone into these buildings were stones which for nearly two centuries served a useful purpose to the original settlers of this country as a part of our famous stone walls. And so this building behind me and the other two are very definite historical reminders of the first white people that came to Dutchess County in 1700, in this part, 1739 and 1740 and 1750.
Stresses Right to Education
Finally we are all happy that the trustees, with very rare foresight, have secured adequate acreage for the schools, enough for expansion in the century to come that I spoke of. Every boy and girl in the schools will have elbow room, plenty of space and plenty of air for sports and games and recreation of all kinds. And so, when you children grow up you will not have to worry about buying more athletic fields for your children.
These three new scnools symbolize, I think, two modern government functions in this country of ours, each of which is proving itself more and more vital to the continuance of the thing we call our democracy.
One of these is a very old function, based on the ideal and the understanding of the Founding Fathers that true democratic government cannot long endure in the midst of widespread ignorance. They recognize that Democratic government would call for the intelligent participation of all of its people, as enlightened citizens who had what we used to call in the old days "a schooling."
From that time on down to our own days, it was always been recognized as a responsibility of government that every child have the right to a free and liberal education. So to-day I think we can dedicate these buildings of ours to that old American function—the institution of universal education.
Tyranny "Hates" Free Minds
In recent times, in the last decade, this right of free education that has become a part of the national life in our land has taken on an added significance because of certain events in certain other lands. For a very large portion of the world that right no longer exists. Almost the first freedom to be destroyed, as dictators take control, is the freedom of learning. Tyranny hates and fears nothing more than the free exchange of ideas, the free play of the mind that comes from education.
In these schools of ours and in other American schools the children of today and of future generations will be taught, without censorship or restriction, the facts of current history and the whole context of current knowledge. Their textbooks will not be burned by a dictator who disagrees with them; their teachers will not be banished by a ruler whom they have offended; their schools will not be closed if they teach unpalatable truths, and their daily instruction will notbe governed by the decrees of any central bureau of propaganda. They will get not all of the story part of the time, or only part of the story all the time; they will continue to get all of the story all of the time.
And here in these and other schools will be trained the young people of the nation, not for enforced labor camps or for regimentation as an enslaved citizenry but for the intelligent exercise of the right of suffrage and for participation as free human beings in the life of the nation.
These buildings are also a symbol of a second, a newer, responsibility that our democracy has assumed as one of its major functions. As you know, they have been paid for, these buildings, in part by the taxpayers of the Consolidated District and in part by the Federal Government in accordance with the purpose of the Federal Government to give work to many Americans who otherwise could not find work.
"New Doctrine" of Responsibility
About eight years ago, at a time when our national economy had been prostrate for several years, when starvation or undernourishment or bankruptcy had almost become the order of the day, the government of our country for the first time took on this new responsibility. There were some in those days who chanted that nature had to run its course of misery, that deflation could not be stopped and that the depression was only the working of natural economic laws in a system of free enterprise.
The American Government, through its elected representatives in the legislative and executive branches, decided to reject that philosophy of inaction and irresponsibility and indifference to the destitution of its citizens. In its place was substituted a new doctrine—that the government owed a continuing responsibility to see to it that no one should starve who is willing to work but was unable to find work. That was the responsibility, the duty, that the collective strength and will of all of the people imposed upon themselves to alleviate the suffering of their fellow-beings and to stimulate recovery in their national economy. That responsibility expresses itself in the example that stands before us today.
Schools Built in All Districts
And remember that the nation, all the way from one coast to the other, all the way from Canada to Mexico, is dotted in almost every one of its thirty-two hundred counties with schools, to the construction of which the Federal Government has contributed—new schools, useful schools, schools to replace outworn schools, schools that were needed by the communities where they were created, and schools, incidentally, for which the communities were ready and willing to contribute their own share out of their own pockets.
There isn't a single person in the United States who has not seen some new useful structure—not just a school, perhaps a hospital, or a bridge, or a town hall, or a highway, or an airport, or a dam, or a new water works or sewage disposal system—one of the hundreds of thousands of new necessary improvements that were built recently in the United States—illustrations of the results of giving employment on useful projects that were approved by each community.
The public wealth of the United States—the property that all of us own jointly—has been increased by means such as these. In a hundred ways the idle funds of the nation lave been put to work so that idle hands could be put to useful tasks.
Says Stores, Business Gained
Into every project went money for wages. Where did they go? Why, the wages were spent in local stores, thestores replenished their stocks and the wheels of industry and business moved that much faster. Into every project went materials for construction, materials from every part of the United States.
For example, right here, while our own local neighborhood provided the stones for these schools and perhaps the sand and the gravel for the concrete foundations, almost everything else, the steel and the lumber, and the desks and the vocation training equipment and all the other things that are in these schools, came here from other places in our country.
In terms of dollars and cents, no sounder investment could be made for the American people, as well as for the Consolidated District. But the material return from that investment was not the most important gain. There came with it a development of morale, new hope, a new courage, a new self-respect among the unemployed—a definite gain in the fiber and the strength of American life.
In building for the well-being of America I think we have built for the defense of America as well.
Stresses New Advantages
To you of the younger generation who are here today I could, perhaps, if it were not for the fact that I am talking on the air to several parts of the country, I might be able to tell you the stories about your parents and grandparents when they were your age. But I am not going to do it. All I'm going to do is offer you my very sincere congratulations today. You have the privilege of improving your education in buildings that have the best of modern equipment and high standards of instruction and curriculum.
You have a great many advantages which your fathers and mothers did not enjoy. We do not begrudge them to you. For it will be the obligation of the youth of America to maintain under the more strenuous condition of modern life our cherished traditions of democratic freedom.
Yes, you live in a more complicated world than we did in the older days. Your lives will be much more intimately tied with the lives of those in other cities, in other towns, and counties and States.
You are a vital part of an America which more thoroughly than ever before thinks in terms of national unity. The greater desire for general education is steadily improving that unity.
Need For Unity Emphasized
The older school children here will well understand the difference that has been taking place in America in recent years. They will know that that word unity has gone a long ways in our own lifetime.
We know today that older school district units throughout the nation are being merged into consolidated districts in the cause of better education. They, in turn, these consolidated districts, are operating in State systems which are constantly striving to improve standards and facilities.
And, finally, with the aid of the Federal Government itself, education is coming to be regarded throughout the country as part and parcel of the general well-being of old and young alike, and as a necessary factor in raising standards of our life.
All of this is typical of the knitting together of our people in every State and every county and every town, in a unity that is so necessary to our salvation in these days of what we know are great emergencies, emergencies that threaten the democracies of the world.
And so, my friends, I am very happy and I am very proud to take part in these symbols of a new America, built on the old America, that's going to live through all of the centuries to come.