John F. Kennedy on Education



1950s: Supported federal aid to parochial schools

Jack was active in the fight for public housing; favored federal aid to parochial schools; sought to broaden social security; wanted higher minimum wage provisions; voted for liberalized immigration laws; and backed price controls. He opposed the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act.

Jack was not a liberal and did not seek that label. Congressman Kennedy repeatedly favored fiscal conservatism and often expressed wariness about big government.

Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p. 91 , Dec 10, 1997

1960s: hasten school desegregation; integrate public places

The Kennedys decided to submit civil rights legislation to Congress, and they began a series of meetings with congressional leaders to see what might have a chance of passing. After Birmingham, Jack realized that the "terrible problem" was "going to get worse and worse and had to be dealt with."

Jack was also undoubtedly responding to a harsh public attack by Martin Luther King, who said that Kennedy had been as ineffective in civil rights as Eisenhower. Above all, King declared, the president should start talking about integration in moral terms, showing him capable of rising above politics.

Jack announced that he would soon be submitting far-reaching legislation to Congress that would integrate public accommodations, hasten school desegregation, and add protection for the right to vote.

Appeals were made to the Golden Rule. "In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children be treated."

Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.353-355 , Dec 10, 1997

Refused any federal financial help to parochial schools

In 1947, in Everson v. Ewing Township, the US Supreme Court ad declared constitutional a New Jersey law authorizing the use of state funds to provide bus transportation for parochial school children; the benefit, a majority of the Court ruled, was going to the individual child, not to the school. This formula was taken up by a number of Catholic and non-Catholic leaders as a way of justifying a variety of indirect aids to parochial educational institutions. The approach figured in White House discussions in the early 1960s, but Pres. Kennedy stuck to his refusal to propose any federal financial help to parochial schools, indirect or direct.
Source: Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson, by Eric F. Goldman, p.298-299 , Mar 1, 1974

Liberty without learning is always in peril

President Kennedy at Vanderbilt in May of 1963: "Liberty without learning is always in peril; and learning without liberty is always in vain. Any educated citizen who seeks to subvert the law, to suppress freedom, or to subject other human beings to acts that are less than human, degrades his heritage, ignores his learning and betrays his obligations."

An estimated one-third of all principal Kennedy programs made some form of education a central element, and the Office of Education called it the most significant legislative period in its hundred-year history. Nevertheless his bill for general aid to elementary and secondary education failed, unable to survive a harsh combination of controversies of which religion was only the most conspicuous.

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 492 , Jan 1, 1965

Aid to Education Bill defeated when private schools excluded

The NDEA enacted in 1958 included loans for private school education in categories necessary to defense. [Kennedy's] bill for general aid to elementary and secondary education failed. In 1961 Kennedy presented a massive Federal aid to education bill limited, as he emphasized, to public schools "in accordance with the clear prohibition of the Constitution." The national Catholic Welfare Conference, representing the full hierarchy in America, immediately called for the Kennedy bill's defeat unless loans to nonpublic schools were added. The President reflected his determination
  1. to promote public school education AND
  2. to preserve church-state separation.
It was a sorry ending to a sad story. Solid Republican opposition, joined not only by conservatives Democrats but by those unwilling to face voting the bill up or down on its merits, overwhelmingly defeated a motion even to bring the bill up for consideration. Federal aid to education was dead.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 359-262 , Jan 1, 1965

The human mind is our fundamental resource

Kennedy linked education to our military, scientific and economic strength. "Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource."

The one domestic subject that mattered most to John Kennedy was education. Throughout his campaign and throughout his Presidency, he devoted more time and talks to this single topic than to any other domestic issue. Without notes he would cite all the discouraging statistics: only six out of every ten students in the fifth grade would finish high school; only nine out of sixteen high school graduates would go to college; one million Americans were already out of school and out of work . He said to me "That's the fifth governor I've talked to who doesn't see how he can squeeze any more from property taxes to build enough schools. "

Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 358 , Jan 1, 1965

1963 Higher Education Act: more grants; more colleges

Patience on the part of the President--and new constructive NEA leadership--produced the Higher Education Act of 1963, authorizing several times more college aid in a five year period than had been appropriated under the Land Grant College Act in a century, and providing classrooms for several hundred thousand students, 25 to 30 new community colleges a year, 10 to 20 new graduate centers, several new technical institutes and better college libraries.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 359 , Jan 1, 1965

Pray ourselves, if courts won't allow school prayer

The President took much of the force out of any drive to amend the Constitution [such as] the prayer case: "It is important that we support the Supreme Court decisions even when we may not agree with them. We have in this case a very easy remedy and that is to pray ourselves. We can pray a good deal more at home, we can attend our churches with a good deal more fidelity, and we can make the true meaning of prayer much more important in the lives of all of our children. That power is very much open to us.
Source: "Kennedy" by Ted Sorensen, p. 364 , Jan 1, 1965

Comprehensive education from pre-school to post-college

I am proposing today a comprehensive, balanced program to enlarge the Federal Government's investment in the education of its citizens--a program aimed at increasing the educational opportunities of potentially every American citizen, regardl race, religion, income and educational achievement. This program has been shaped to meet our goals on the basis of 3 fundamental guidelines:
  1. An appraisal of the entire range of educational problems, viewing educational opportunity as a life-long process, starting with pre-school training and extending through college & job training, and such educational resources as the public library;
  2. A selective application of Federal aid--aimed at strengthening, not weakening, the in of existing school systems and aimed at meeting our most urgent education problems and objectives, including quality improvement; teacher training; and shortages of educational facilities; and
  3. More effective implementation of existing laws
    Source: Special Message to the Congress on Education (APP#43) , Jan 29, 1963

    Wants federal money to go to states for teacher salaries

    acquire the power to set standards and to tell the teachers what to teach. I think this would be bad for the country; I think it would be bad for the teaching profession. My objection is not the cost in dollars. My objection is the potential cost in Q: [to Nixon]: You refused to vote in the Senate to break a tie when that single vote, if it had been yes, would have granted salary increases to teachers. Please explain?

    NIXON: When the federal government gets the power to pay teachers, it will construction or teacher salaries. I voted in favor because it provided assistance to teachers for their salaries without federal control. I don't want the federal government paying teachers' salaries directly. controls and eventual freedom for the American people by giving the federal government power over education.

    KENNEDY: The issue was that money would be given to the state. The state then could determine whether the money would be spent for

    Source: The First Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate , Sep 26, 1960

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    Other past presidents on Education: John F. Kennedy on other issues:
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    Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
    George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
    Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
    George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
    Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
    Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
    Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
    Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
    Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
    John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
    Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
    Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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    Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022