Address to the Forty-Second Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards

"No school system is better than its teachers. For your child in his or her classroom on Monday morning, the entire school system is represented by, and summed up in, the personality, culture, abilities, and devotion of the one school teacher who stands ready in the classroom to teach the day’s assignment."
Chicago, IL • November 19, 1956

Twenty years ago Henry Wallace coined a phrase when he described ours as the era of “The Common Man.” In my judgment, one of the most important tasks of the next ten years will be to eliminate that idea once and for all. Never was there a time when the need was greater for the uncommon man than today. Our educational system must be lifted up to create the maximum number of un-common men and women, men and women who are educated not only in the narrow sense of being equipped with a certain minimum amount of knowledge and technical skill, but in the broader sense, for creative work in the arts and sciences, for true humanism, and for moral goodness. These are the only sound foundations for civilization.

The next decade will see the rise of problems beyond the ken of men today, -- even men as great as Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Einstein, Picasso, Bartok, Kierkegaard or Pius XII. The Titans of the first half of the 20th century will have to be replaced in the second half by men and women of equal achievement and perception. Our new leaders will be expected to deal with the problems only faintly foreseen today. But one thing is sure. The problems of our future will concern more than the physical and material universe. They will involve the creation of appropriate ways for uniting men and cultures, rather than splitting molecules and atoms.

Let us agree at the outset, therefore, that we have reached the point where force cannot unite the world. It can only destroy the world. Other methods must be found. It is for education to produce these methods, and most important, the men, who in turn can produce the kind of civilization which will guarantee a united world in the future.

That is easy to say, but how, one may ask, how is it possible for education to perform this task, of transcendent importance, but great complexity?

The first way, in my opinion, is to put our own house in order. Let us decide here and now, in Chicago and in all our Illinois School Districts, that we shall do at least four things: –

First, we shall construct the needed school buildings. In Chicago since 1953, we have added approximately 39,000 new classroom [seats] to our city system. By 1958 we hope to have added a total of 70,000. At minimum figures, this program alone represents an expenditure of $110,000,000 - and this amount does not include any expenses for land acquisition, nor for maintenance and rehabilitation of existing structures, architects t fees, or other incidental expenses. Yes, it’s a huge task, but the Chicago. Board of Education is proceeding “Full steam ahead,” without waiting for Washington, D.C. or Springfield, Illinois to act.

The Board of Education, moreover, has projected a 20-year fiscal plan calling for the expenditure of $382,853,000 for buildings alone – a total of 130,000 (approximate figures) classroom [seats]. [Original: classrooms capable of housing approximately 500,000 more children than today’s school population.]

True, the needs and the times may change. Perhaps we may not require so much money for school buildings. Our plan is not rigid nor immutable. It is only an example of planning, – intelligent planning, I hope, to meet the future head-on, not with lowered head, downcast eyes, and timid heart, anxiously asking “How can we meet the tidal wave of new students?” – But with honest conviction and the firm resolution to say, “We shall do what needs to be done to house our school children properly.” Proper housing is the first thing we can and should do to put our own house in order.

The second is to put the teacher and the principal back on a pedestal of dignity, honor and esteem.

Remember in the old days how the principal of the local school was “The learned man” in the community, the professor or philosopher in our midst, the man to whom all could look for unbiased, thoughtful, wise words on a multitude of subjects. He was a man of culture, a true humanist.

Today, our school leaders have to be public relations experts, management consultants, and financiers. They are busy with contractors, architects, union negotiations, community relations, and lawyers. Their daily schedules and appointments are hardly distinguishable from the bankers, manufacturer, or Chamber of Commerce executive.

This is wrong. School leaders should be educators first, administrators second. But this result can be achieved only by establishing teaching as a learned profession.

The first step in such a program is to increase salaries. We all know that. But, in addition, let’s give the teacher and the principal some “Time to think”, some leisure to prepare classes, some time to develop special interests among their pupils, some moments in which to read the scholarly literature in their field, some opportunity or, perhaps, a requirement - to publish their own scholarly works.

No school system is better than its teachers. For your child in his or her classroom on Monday morning, the entire school system is represented by, and summed up in, the personality, culture, abilities, and devotion of the one school teacher who stands ready in the classroom to teach the day’s assignment.

Adequate teachers’ salaries, and scholarly incentives, are, therefore, a supremely important part of putting our own house in order.

The third part of our own responsibility as school board members is to assure efficiency, economy and honesty in the expenditure of the taxpayers’ money. This we have done in Chicago to the best of our ability.

We have required independent audits of all our accounts by recognized, “Outside experts” whose authority to inspect our financial operations is unlimited.

We have invested all public funds to earn maximum returns on idle cash. Last year, $463,000 was produced from this source alone.

We have charged tuition to “Outsiders” using our facilities. More than $500,000 per annum is earned in this way.

We stepped up the speed with which we pay our bills. As a result, in 1955 we increased our income in discounts for prompt payments by 28%.

We have employed outside consultants on municipal finance who have studied our operations and reported on, them in detail to the banking and investment community nationwide.

These are only a few of the specific steps taken to increase public confidence in our financial integrity and public approval for our business-like administration. This effort is, I believe, an integral part of putting our own house in order. It is the third effort required of all school boards.

Fourth, in our efforts to put our own house in order is the imperative need to develop sound legislative programs. Our Chicago program faces up to the facts of the school situation today. More children, more teachers, more textbooks, and more buildings cannot be financed on last year’s budget. Therefore, our legislative program requests local taxpayers to assume a heavier tax load. Through bond issues, it apportions part of the financial burden over twenty-year periods; it reasserts the fact that the primary responsibility for “Common school education” rests on the State of Illinois; it advocates a new look at the outmoded tax assessment procedures; it requests increased state aid because of growth in population, inflation, and higher quality in educational standards.

These are our methods of approaching the current problems facing both the State Legislature and ourselves. You may have other and different specific proposals in this field. But I hope and believe we can make all our proposals jointly and in a spirit of willing cooperation.

But, let us assume we have all acted honestly and effectively in meeting the four objectives I have mentioned. Let us assume we have all developed good teachers’ salaries, proper buildings, economical and efficient administration; and let us assume in Springfield that our legislative requests have been proper and successful; would we then be able to say to the world, "...our public schools in Illinois are in first class condition?”

I think not. We should have solved the physical and financial problems – at least temporarily – but the basic educational problems would remain.

I do not mean to minimize the great achievements which would be ours. They would be unparalleled in all the world. Like our national commitment to universal, democratic education they would be unique in the history of education.

But the educators keep reminding us – and rightfully so – that numerous, important educational problems would still remain.

Since education is our primary business, not administration, construction, or legislation, we must concentrate on educational problems. We must solve them correctly to produce the top-quality-products Americans demand of their public as well as private enterprises.

Public education can and should produce scholars and scholarship equal to the best. There is no place in America for second-rate automobiles or refrigerators or businesses. Competition drives them out of existence. So let it be with education. Either we in public education match the best of the present and the past, or we get out of the way and let those do the job who can do it properly.

I am convinced public education can equal any form of education in terms of intellectual achievement. But we must work at it.

For example: - How much attention are we giving at Board of Education meetings to the question of curriculum? There is ample evidence that we need to restudy our requirements and standards at all educational levels. In Chicago we have found that foreign languages can be taught with excellent results in elementary school. We have found, too, that many students can achieve extraordinary results in science and music early in their careers. But are we giving enough attention to these and other possibilities of improving the intellectual tone, and toughening the work load, in our education Program? I think not.

Or, take our basic philosophy in America that parents are responsible for the proper’ education of their children. Haven’t we permitted parents to shove this responsibility off onto the shoulders of our schools? Home has become little more than a boarding house. School has always taken care of the formal teaching; but today, school takes care of the child’s physical training, health program, aesthetic and cultural life as well. The parent accepts even the school’s evaluation of the emotional and psychological state of-the Child. What is left to parenthood? Paying the bills and providing shelter. Is that all We expect from parents? Is that all they wish to give their children? I think not.

I think, therefore, we should explore ways of bringing parents back into the week-to-week educational process. Let them be encouraged to participate in the reading of their children; let them be shown how home movies, TV shows, and reading, can be integrated into their child’s educational program. Even summer vacations, if properly coordinated with school work, can supplement the geography lesson, the botany classes, physics and chemistry.

Or – take the sacrosanct subject of the general high school. Once upon a time there was only one type of high school, a general high school. Then we started vocational high schools and technical high schools. But why have we stopped at this point? If specialized educational opportunities are useful for students in these areas, why shouldn’t we offer similar opportunities to students of the humanities and social sciences?

Everyone agrees that we have advanced so far and so fast in the physical sciences that we may not be able to control the deadly weapons created by them.

We look about for the specialists who would have been produced by high schools catering to those exceptionally interested in, and able to do advanced work, in the humanities and social sciences, – but we look in vain for such specialists.

Where are the philosophers and metaphysicians, the priests, the ministers, and rabbis, the social workers and psychiatrists we need? Many religious people are reduced solely to prayer as a means of inspiring the vocations necessary to produce saints, as well as scientists. Proper education should be sup plying some of these needs.

These are only a few of the educational problems still unsolved, and for the most part, untouched. And I haven’t even mentioned the whole complex and crucial area, of teacher training. Water cannot rise higher than its source, and most of our students are not going to surpass their teachers.

What happens if the teacher himself is mediocre? What can we expect from the student?

Are we encouraging our teachers, therefore, to join learned societies, to produce scholarly articles, to participate in graduate studies? Do we reward them adequately for advanced studies? Do we give them “Time to think,” to contemplate, and to compose? How many books on cultural subjects have been produced by the faculty at DeKalb, at Chicago Teachers College, or any other of our teachers’ colleges, except Columbia?

If we fail to investigate teacher training before employment, and provide adequate opportunities for in-service cultural development of our teachers, can we truly claim we are fulfilling our obligations as school board members. Once again I think not.

Civilization is a communal production. It requires the highest labors of many minds focused on the pursuit of truth, the acquisition of wisdom; the development of true humility and genuine love of knowledge. The role of the teacher and the scholar is essential to raise the whole level and tone of society.

We cannot always depend on an occasional Dr. Schweitzer to appear. Like Mount Everest, he rears his head above all other teachers. But Mount Everest is only the highest peak of a mountain range, all of which are Supremely higher than other mountains in the world.

It is our responsibility as school board members to make sure all our teachers reach heights like the Himalaya Mountains as a whole. Then we can leave the development of the genius like Schweitzer, to God, who after all, created both Everest and him.

And we ourselves, how much if at all, have we realized that education is an art, and that the essence of art includes what the artist omits, as well as what he puts in?

It has been said that “The good schoolmaster is known by the number of subjects he declines to teach.” But do we as board members help our teachers to resist the pressures tending to force them to reach everything to everybody? What courses are we prepared to omit? – And are we ready to explain why?

Are we prepared to say that courses constitute an academic high school program; what courses comprise a vocational high school program; and what courses make up the technical school syllabus of studies? Or, do we leave all these essential questions to the professional educators?

I have no brief and glib answers to these questions. I am sure there are none. But I hope I have conveyed to you powerful and influential school board members my conviction that the public wants us to study our educational programs and improve the quality wherever we can.

Today the appearance of our cities and towns is being transformed. Steel and glass skyscrapers have replaced old-fashioned masonry structures, Streamlined buses, --scenicruisers --dram cars fill the streets. Super markets, super aircraft carriers, super shopping centers, super highways, – yes, even some men who think they are super-men appear not only in the comics, but in the Kremlin. But I’ve never seen a super-church; or a super school, with super students and super teachers.

I long to see such schools and churches because I think it will mean we have turned in the right direction, that we have finally begun to emphasize adequately the things that count: – The home, the church, the school and the community.

Here in Chicago and in Illinois it is said we are located in the “Heart of America.” It is, perhaps, our special responsibility to make known the true nature of that heart, – a heart dedicated to the enlightenment of man’s mind and the inspiration of his soul.

The people in this room this morning can do more to assure such a development and revelation than any group in our entire State. If we want Illinois to be famous for its churches and schools, we can guarantee that result by our work.

Paris is famous for its university, for Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur, and for the Louvre; London is famous for St. Paul’s, the British Museum and Parliament; Athens for the Parthenon and for its philosophers and teachers of ancient days.

In the future will Chicago and Illinois be famous still, and only, as “Hog Butcher to the world, The City of the Bread Shoulders?” I hope not.

Great and good as our former achievements have been, let us dedicate ourselves as school members to future accomplishments based on the mind and, soul of man, not on his stomach or back. Then we shall be fulfilling our main purpose and true vocation. Then we shall be providing educational opportunities of greater quality to greater numbers of children of all men, of all races, of all creeds.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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