"The Hardest Job in America"

Northeast Ohio Teachers Association, Cleveland, OH | October 13, 1972

I say you have the hardest job because today you are asked to teach values to which our society is untrue. You are given the task of teaching concepts in the classroom which the world outside the classroom rejects. You are asking the hearts and minds of your pupils to affirm what their eyes cannot confirm.

I think being a teacher is the hardest job in America today.

It is the hardest -- not just because the teachers of America have been blamed and castigated for all the ills of our educational system -- when the fact is that teachers are not causes of these ills but are victims themselves.

It is the hardest job -- not just because government refuses to recognize what inflation has done to teachers' salaries -- and makes them scape goats for inadequate and short-sighted school budgets.

It is the hardest job -- not just because teachers often work in archaic schools, with inadequate facilities for both teacher and child, and with little prospect of help from overburdened school authorities.

It is the hardest job -- not just because a narrow officialdom has bogged teachers down in massive red tape wasteful of time and destructive of initiative.

All of these are difficult, frustrating obstacles in your profession. All of these conditions make your job hard, but I say, it is the hardest job for a different reason.

I say you have the hardest job because today you are asked to teach values to which our society is untrue. You are given the task of teaching concepts in the classroom which the world outside the classroom rejects. You are asking the hearts and minds of your pupils to affirm what their eyes cannot confirm.

And I say that is an impossible task.

What are the values we expect you to teach in the classroom?

Surely, one is reverence for life.

Our Judeo-Christian heritage affirms that value -- man was created in the image of God. Our American heritage and the humanistic teachings of our great thinkers and writers dwell on the primacy of this concept.

But I ask you, how can reverence for life be taught at a time when we engage in a cruel and purposeless war -- not to preserve liberty, not to preserve democracy, not to further freedom, but to protect the corrupt regime of a General Thieu.

Reverence for life is not just reverence for those who share our opinions. It is also reverence for the thousands upon thousands of civilians being killed by a torrent of American bombs greater than history has known.

What can you as teachers say about the picture -- I'm sure you have see it -- of a little Vietnamese girl, her clothes afire -- screaming in horror. How can you teach reverence for life in the face of our nation's irreverence for life? We must stop the bombing. We must stop the killing. We must make reverence for life a true value for our time, for us and for our children.

Another value schools try to teach is honesty and truth.

We tell heroic tales of truthful men -- we devise rewards for truth and punishments for dishonesty --- we teach mottoes such as "honesty is the best policy." But what of the real world?

Time after time, the President has told us falsehoods about bombing in Laos, about military aid to Pakistan, about the rate of crime in the nation, about progress toward peace.

And paraded before our eyes day after day is a sordid scene of burglary, eavesdropping and sabotage, not by common thieves, but by men in high places in our government.

And when the lies are discovered, they are shrugged off with a glib phrase, or an evasion, or with another lie. We have come to a stage when we are more surprised at honesty than we are shocked by deceit.

Truth has become a victim of war and candor a casualty under this Administration.

How can teachers teach the virtues of truth and honesty in a climate in which morality is dismissed as naive and cynicism has become the norm?

Another value we ask you to teach our children is brotherhood and unity.

The brotherhood of man is a noble concept. It has biblical roots -- "Are we not all brothers?" Micah said. It finds expression in our Declaration of Independence and in other great documents. Idealistic teachers over the years have urged their pupils to help each other.

Yet, the lesson Richard Nixon teaches is not brotherhood, but the destructive notion of "divide and conquer."

In Nixon's four years, he has set hard-hats against students, ethnic groups against blacks, suburbs against cities, south against north.

His rhetoric has been one of division: the "welfare ethic" against the "work ethic"; "criminal forces" versus "peace forces"; "permissiveness" versus "non-permissiveness."

And these inflammatory polarizing tactics are meant to forge political allies by appealing to the baser emotions of man.

What lesson is this for the classroom? Do you think you can keep the separation which Nixon has created within our country separate from your classroom? You know that it's impossible to create unity in the classroom when there is divisiveness in the country.

Then there is the value of education -- knowledge.

Our history books are full of stories of men who reached success because they educated themselves. "Knowledge is power," we say, "Knowledge will set us free." Indeed, as John Dewey told us, "Education is growth"..."Education is life itself.

When Nixon was a candidate, he extolled this value. He said, "...The one area we can't shortchange is education. Education is the one area in which we must do everything that is necessary to achieve the American dream."

Well, Richard Nixon made a nightmare out of that dream.

Three times he vetoed education appropriations which a Democratic Congress passed. When his own Task Force on Urban Education recommended an additional outlay of $5 to $7 billion, Nixon looked the other way.

His brave Commissioner of Education, James Allen, resigned in frustration.

Don't "short-change education," Nixon said -- and he cut funds for school construction, for textbooks, for guidance, for children with physical or emotional handicaps, for the Spanish-speaking and Indian children, and, of course, for the very poor.

When a Democratic Congress tried to restore over one billion education dollars, Nixon vetoed the bill for "failing to recognize priorities."

Let me tell you about Mr. Nixon's priorities. He found the money to widen the war in Laos and Cambodia -- but he couldn't find the money to widen children's minds. He found the money for bombs, but not for books. He could help expand ITT but not expand the teaching of ABC's.

The truth is that education is not a Nixon priority.

In such an atmosphere, how can education flourish?

Of course, it cannot flourish!

Education cannot flourish in an Administration which exacts $440 from the average taxpayer for military purposes -- but only $12 for educational purposes -- a miserly contribution to ease state and local burdens.

We must change that allocation!

Education cannot flourish in an Administration that pays 90% of the cost of highways but only 7% of the cost of schools.

We must change that allocation!

Education cannot flourish in an Administration which spends $21,600 to kill a Vietcong soldier and only $44 to educate a child in primary school.

Education cannot flourish in a land in which our government creates conditions under which school bonds are voted down and school district after school district goes bankrupt. There is a bankruptcy in the soul of an Administration which allows this to happen.

And education can't flourish under an Administration which neglects hungry children, sick children, discrimination against children, and uncared for children. This Administration doesn't even seem to comprehend that those problems are all handicaps to a child's education.

So, how do you teach values of: reverence for life, truth and honesty, brotherhood and unity, desire and respect for education, -- when our leaders fail us in these values?

Remember the song: "Where have all the flowers gone?" Soon, all too soon, we shall ask ourselves: Where have all the values gone?

I believe the teachers of America know what I am saying. I believe that they are eager and anxious to have George McGovern in the White House -- to have once again a President who believes in and lives by the values you teach.

George McGovern and I can enable you to teach values that are observed in our national life. And we can also provide you with the schools and equipment. We can raise the federal share of the cost of education from 7% to at least one-third. We can relieve the local property tax burden. We can insist on suitable salaries and the funding of needed programs. We can stop short-changing education.

I believe we can do even more!

A school does not exist as an isolated citadel within a community. Slum housing, inadequate recreation, miserable health care, drug abuse, racial discrimination, joblessness and hopelessness all find their way to the school door.

A child who is hungry, or sleepy or sick or on drugs cannot learn. A child who is emotionally turned asunder by abusive treatment at home cannot learn.

A latch-key child who goes home to an empty house, to a dinner of Coca Cola and Cornflakes, to an evening in which rats and roaches and TV compete for his attention with his homework -- is not a candidate for educational triumph.

That's why our programs of full employment, accessible health services, an end to discrimination, and a vigorous assault on the narcotics problem -- all reinforce your ability to teach successfully -- all advance the quest for quality education.

There is still another aspect.

We stand again at a threshold of a new baby bulge. Demographers tell us that the numbers of school age children are soon to increase rapidly. What should we be doing about their advent?

We know now that a greater number of their mothers than ever before will be working mothers. We know now how critical it is to have early identification of learning defects. We know now more of the destructing effect on children's learning from nutritional inadequacy.

We have learned more of the value of early preparation -- even earlier than Head Start.

What are we doing to translate our knowledge into programs that can be used by the generations that are coming? By the time school starts, the damage may be done. Rescue must come early -- if we want to have whole children prepared to enter school life without a handicap.

And what are we doing to plan for the new set of educational problems which will arise out of new patterns of living, the development of new towns, the mobility of labor, the re-emergence of block and neighborhood unity, the development of communication technology.

Retailers, merchandisers, manufacturers, baby food producers are all busily planning new techniques, new devices, new approaches to cater to the next generation of children, and to sell products to them and their parents.

But what is being done by our government to plan for their educational preparation?

The answer is virtually nothing! Already there has been four years of lost time and wasted opportunity. James Allen once said we must have a crusade to work with early children. But he did not survive the Nixon neglect and apathy. Nor have others with vision in this field -- whether a John Knowles or an Edward Ziegler or the others who might have provided this Administration with direction if it had the will to receive it.

Even Robert Finch, when he showed a spark of understanding, was shunted aside.

The fact is that this Administration is not receptive to new ideas and not sensitive to the immense problems of preparing our children for a creative humane life in the society of the future.

Anthony Lewis of the New York Times recently wrote that not since Harding has there been a government so devoid of intellectual content.

And even the Wall Street Journal -- hardly a Democratic sympathizer -- described this Administration as largely "inhospitable to men of vision and intellect." George McGovern and I will change that.

We will provide the support you need to do your work. And we will begin the planning and initiate the programs to prepare our children for school. We shall not allow these programs to languish for lack of funding, or die for lack of leadership, or fail to be born for lack of foresight.

And we will make the government hospitable to your profession, instead of hostile to it. We will see that men and women of vision and intellect are welcome again in Washington. We will restore ferment and excitement to education.

Our children are our nation's fundamental resource. You are the guardians of that resource.

George McGovern and I pledge ourselves to help you reach your goals -- and thus help all of America.