Address by Governor Ronald Reagan
California Teachers Association Legislative Seminar
January 11, 1967
Fellow members of the Administration, the Legislature, ladies and gentlemen of the California Teachers Association, ladies and gentlemen of the press; I am accompanied by familiar faces here and not only from the Administration. I had the pleasure of meeting your Executive Secretary, Jack Rees, sometime ago and having a visit with him. I appreciated this.
I know that education, which should be the subject of this evening’s few remarks by me, is a very broad subject and, therefore, I am sure you will understand that it is only in the interest of time that I confine myself to those parts of education that stop short of the university and college system. Stick around, I’m working up to getting hung in a hospital.
I’m trying to get some comfort from the story of a man who was going down the road one day with his son, leading a burro, and they met a man who said to them, “Don’t you realize you shouldn’t both be walking on this hot day? You have that burro. One of you at least should be riding.”
So the father thought it was a good idea and put his son on the burro and continued to lead the burro until they met another man. The second man said, “Don’t you realize the burro is a beast of burden, perfectly capable of carrying both of you. There is no reason why either one of you should walk.”
And they both got on and rode, until they met a third man, who said, “How can you do that on a hot day like this? How can you be so cruel to a poor dumb animal? The two of you should be carrying the burro.”
So they tied his feet together, swung him over a pole, put it on their shoulders, and went down the road. And then they came to a bridge. And starting across the bridge with this unaccustomed and concentrated load, the bridge collapsed and they were plunged into the torrent below. Well, they both managed to make it to shore, but the burrow, with his feet tied together, drowned.
And the moral is … you can lose your burro trying to please everyone.
There is another version of that story, but …
I’m sure that you are wondering many things, not only about me, but also about what kind of an Administration I am going to bring to the state. And I think this is normal and to be expected after a campaign as heated and lengthy as the one we have just been through.
A candidate sometimes indulges himself in the fallacy that everyone must be aware of his stand, his philosophy of government, and, in this case, his approach to education. Of course this is not so … first, because, even with the miracle of electronic communications, it is impossible to reach and personally regale even a fraction of the populace with your many charms and virtues, and second, because, due to the nature of a campaign, there are others abroad who are more of less vocal with a somewhat different evaluation of those charms and virtues.
Now there is one label that I do accept out of all that have been applied recently. I am a Republican. But I am a Republican without a hyphen. I am neither a Left, nor a Right, nor a Mainstream, nor even an over-there-in-the-ripples-and-shallows-Republican.
It is my belief that the Party which I represent is polarized around a policy of adherence to constitutional limits on the power of government and fiscal responsibility, and that government, to be effective and to be just, must be kept close to the people … and that includes that segment of government known as public education.
Now, let it also be understood that I am a firm believer in public education. We have been brought together tonight – I think all of us – because we have a share in common with the idea that we have here the greatest public school system in all the world. Now this might come as a surprise to some of you, and I wouldn’t wonder at that because I have heard a few of my own words come back at me considerably out of context.
For example, some of you might have heard or read that I am a fellow who said that it is a strange paradox that, in the society created on individual freedom, parents should be compelled to send their children to school. Now I said that; but at the same time, I said that it is a paradox we gladly enjoy or put up with because we know we cannot have a free society unless we have an educated and literate public or citizenry. This is part of the quote that somehow has been overlooked here and there.
Now, you might even have heard that I have described public education, or aid to education – it has come out both ways – as a tool of tyranny. Well, I did say something similar. I said education is the bulwark of freedom, but removed too far from the control of parents and local government, it can become a tool of tyranny.
Public education, in my opinion, is the responsibility of state and local governments. I believe that a diversity in education makes for a strong overall educational system, and I believe it minimizes the danger of an educational system becoming a propaganda system. And that brings me to my position with regard to federal aid to education.
I am only too aware that the federal government has preempted much of the tax base, and this has made it necessary for us to turn to the federal government for aid. Since the federal government created the need in the first place, it follows that the federal government has the responsibility to help meet that need, and in truth, it would seem that they are doing just that … except that when we have federal aid to education … when it is forthcoming … the gift is not unconditional. It comes with strings attached.
This is a country that was founded on the idea that when a lower echelon of government has difficulty meeting its responsibility, the next higher echelon of government has the responsibility to help, in whatever way it can, that lower echelon accomplish its purpose.
It does not have a responsibility to automatically take all the authority and the function away from that lower echelon of government.
Now we in California, I believe, know better than a bureau or agency in Washington what the educational needs are of California. By the same token, we in Sacramento should recognize that you at the district level know better than we do the problems and the needs of your district. Now one of the reasons that school districts have a financial problem, perhaps is because, in recent years, Sacramento has imposed conditions and requirements on the local districts without, at the same time, providing the money to pay for those programs and those requirements. (Applause) The legislators will report in the morning whether they joined that applause.
In consequence though, our state support of public schools has dropped as low, in some areas, as 27 percent and in the overall average for the state, I understand the figure is 37 percent. Now I hope that we will be able to restore the historic 50-50 ratio, but now I have to ask everyone to be a little patient. We are in a very deep hole and first we must climb out.
I am sure some of you heard some whispered rumors to the effect that we have some financial problems. But, we are going to do everything we can to solve these problems because there are so many things that need doing and there are none of us here, regardless of Party lines, either in the Legislature or in the Administration, who do not want to get at the job of doing these things that do need doing.
There is, not least among these problems, the problem of teachers’ retirement. No provision has been made for a cost of living increase. A teacher who retired ten years ago finds today that inflation alone has cut the income by 23 percent, and it continues to go down as inflation continues, and a provision must be made to meet this particular problem.
We are not only aware of this, but we also are aware of the problem that 50 percent of our teaching staff comes to us from other states, and we must, and will, find an answer to the provisions that are necessary for their retirement program.
The Fisher Bill, an admitted noble goal for improving the quality of teachers, hasn’t worked out as well as could be hoped by those who passed it. Recruitment problems have multiplied and now we must review what changes are needed if we are to have enough qualified and dedicated teachers.
But let me return briefly to the area of finance. The state must bear a fair share and a larger share of the school cost. It must bring relief to the property taxpayer in so doing, and bring an end to what has become virtually a taxpayers’ revolt. Bond issues based on sound policy have been voted down by people who are simply expressing – in the only way left open to them – their objection to the ever-growing cost of government. I am sure that they, in their own hearts and minds, know the justification for many of these issues, but, as I say, they have only one way of expressing a disapproval in this one area. This is why all of us must have some patience and must cooperate to achieve a sane, fit fiscal position.
Education must be sustained and improved and money to make this possible must come from a system of taxation whereby all the citizens bear equitably a share of this burden.
Now, much as I may wish to learn about the intricate details of California’s vast educational system, I am sure that no one person has, or can have, a complete knowledge of the school system that has been designed to educate millions of young people, children, and adults … a program that is costing billions of dollars a year. Nor can one man find the answers to all the problems by himself. I will seek the advice and counsel of many, but high on the list will be the counsel of those who teach. I depended on you too many years for the answers to quit now.
But I want to see more problems solved at the local levels. I want to see teachers, administrators and school board members working together with regard to curriculum, selection of textbooks, student discipline, assignment, salaries and benefits.
I think all of us are aware of the problems that I think are being improved which only a few years ago so desperately needed attention. The problem of teachers’ pay … I don’t know whether we can ever reach as much as a teacher should receive. Every parent knows on every Saturday afternoon: teachers are underpaid.
I am sure that most adults carry through life, and are influenced by, the memory of at least one stand-out teacher, and I know this is true of me. I question whether this would have been true – I know it wouldn’t be true of me – and I wouldn’t perhaps have that same memory or have that influence – if I had seen that teacher in a picket line engaged in a strike. (Applause)
But, if this is true, then it is equally wrong for a school board to ignore the counsel of educators and not meet with them in a mutual atmosphere of good faith to arrive at a fair answer with regard to the problems of professional pay and working conditions.
You know, talking about some of these things and about my concern of government, and government power … I have been accused of being too fearful of the power of government. But I don’t think I should rule out as extremism of one kind or another a reasonable concern that government should always be aware that its power is no more than the people give it. What I must not do, government must not do. And let me illustrate this idea – why I am fearful – with a little item that came to [my] attention … that appeared in the press recently.
Catherine B. Ottinger, who is the Chief of the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Washington, has written a letter, quite widespread, soliciting subscriptions to the Bureau’s journal. The journal is titled “Children.”
And in this letter, Miss Ottinger said, “Articles in the journal are by specialists in child development, mental health, child welfare, education, related fields …” etc. And then in the letter, she goes on to say, “Because most of these specialists are not associated with the federal government, these articles reflect their free opinion.”
Now, is it impossible for us to maybe envision or dream of a day when specialists who are associated with the federal government will be able to reflect their free opinion? How hollow rings the cry for academic freedom if there is someone who says, “Well, I agree with your position, but publicly I must come out against it.”
Children learn by example. Nowhere is understanding, mutual respect and cooperation more essential as an example than in our schools, the place which society has established for the teaching of its young. This training must encompass more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. I think the school is a place for training and discipline, and responsibility; and, yes, if we carried on with all other things. I believe in love for country. And I don’t say that in any narrow, chauvinistic sense, but I think that it is proper to instill devotion, for the dreams that are as old as mankind are dreams that have advanced farther here in this country of ours than in any society heretofore known to man.
School is a place to learn basic morality, without which no society can exist. I know this is supposed to be the prime duty of the home. But sometimes the home fails, and even when it does not, I think that school and home should not be working at cross purposes. They should be working together so that constantly there is this example.
Of all your many obligations … administration, and school boards, and taxpayers … you know that the highest … the highest and the one that sets you apart as having a calling … is the place you have in the lives of other people’s sons and daughters.
I know there must be many times when you are tempted to cry out that a satisfying inner glow doesn’t pay the rent. But at the same time, I think down in your hearts you also know that money alone can’t but that kind of inner glow.
Knowledge is the essence of education, but it is a two-edged sword. It can be good, or bad. It can be believed, or disbelieved. It can be wisely or foolishly used. The key is the integrity of the source. And you happen to be in that position.
You are the source and you are the example. It is, at one and the same time, a holy trust and an overwhelming and mighty challenge. I am sure that you will meet that challenge.
And I would like to promise you that we who have been meeting with you here, and those who have been meeting with you in this seminar on government … that we will try to meet our challenge … try to give you examples that you can use in executing your public trust … examples you can point out to the children.
There is great concern today, I am sure, among you, among us, and among parents throughout this land, of a decline in morals, a decline in standards, of a weakening of the social structure that has been a long time building.
And I wonder if we – if we really look at it – don’t have the greatest opportunity, and the greatest responsibility, because I know of no two places that can be that can be found where it is more important to have the examples of maintenance of the social fabric, maintenance of principles and morals and standards, than in the halls of government and in the halls where you are engaged each day with our children.
All of us have such a limited time to determine how, and in what manner, we are going to be remembered by the coming generation and I believe you, representing a segment of government – the public education field – and those of us who have been chosen to represent the people, do have this one thing in common. It is a very sacred trust.
Between us, let us have a mutual pledge to try and meet our challenge, and our responsibility, and perhaps – if we sweep the walk in front of our own door, we will find out one day that all the street are clean all over.