American Presidents On Education: 20 Quotes Throughout White House History
American Presidents have long been held in high regard for the influence — whether real or imagined — that they have brought to the nation throughout its 237-year history. On everything from economics to education, a President seeks to leave his mark and hopefully improve on what was there going in to the term. While they haven’t always been successful, these gentlemen — still waiting on a female for the top boss — have had some things to say about learning and education. Here are some top education quotes from American Presidents that stand out.
1. Education is not the means of showing people how to get what they want. Education is an exercise by means of which enough men, it is hoped, will learn to want what is worth having.
Ronald Reagan, 40th President
Reagan’s words ring true today more than ever before. A recent Associated Press poll found that “four out of five US adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives,” adding that it is “a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.” But one of the reasons Americans are falling so far behind is that we’ve ceased to care about making our education system the best in the world. The fact we’re still leveling most of the responsibility on the teacher instead of the parent is proof of this. Instead of teaching kids about the things worth having, we’re giving parent and student what they want — a shirking of their responsibilities.
2. It is good to realize that if love and peace can prevail on earth, and if we can teach our children to honor nature’s gifts, the joys and beauties of the outdoors will be here forever.
Jimmy Carter, 39th President
Nature’s ultimate gift in our opinion is the gift of thought. The ability to learn new things and then use that knowledge for affecting positive change on the world. While the crux of Carter’s commentary pertains to the outdoors, it can easily be applied to education and how the gift of learning results in a better nation.
3. No greater nor more affectionate honor can be conferred on an American than to have a public school named after him.
Herbert Hoover, 31st President
Hoover’s quote implies there is more to a school than a simple building, and he’s right. While a school may be comprised of concrete and brick and glass, it does so much more than stand in one place and offer the opportunity for an education to every child. No, what the school does within its walls, is only as good as what the students of that school do outside the walls when it’s time to go. Having one’s name on that building is a symbol that you devoted at least some aspect of your life to feeding young minds and leaving your mark of progress on society. However, it’s not the personal honor of having something, anything, named after you to which Hoover is referring. It’s the honor of knowing you’ve done all you could for the betterment of society. And schools symbolize a society’s progress or its regression.
4. The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.
George Washington, 1st President
He may have lived in a different time and spoke a different form of English than we do today, but you can’t make it any clearer for people in the 21st Century than that. Our nation’s first president — the reluctant leader, who warned us about the dangers of party politics, and boy was he right about that one! — George Washington believed that education was our salvation. When the system fails, so does the country.
5. Education is not a problem. Education is an opportunity.
Lyndon Johnson 36th President
Say what you want about this one-term president, who led the nation through dark days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but Lyndon Johnson had the right approach to American education — at least in theory. So many politicians before and after LBJ talked about “the education problem” in this country. Johnson, however, wanted to stop discussing the system in such negative terms, and to start seeing it as an opportunity to write (or right) America’s future.
6. Think about every problem, every challenge, we face. The solution to each starts with education.
George H. W. Bush, 41st President
George H.W. Bush took the torch from President Reagan after defeating Michael Dukakis by a landslide victory in the 1988 presidential election. Education was a top priority for him, though he likely didn’t get to accomplish all he’d set out to do on account of being voted out in 1992. Regardless of what you think about his contributions, he certainly had the right theory.
7. And when it comes to developing the high standards we need, it’s time to stop working against our teachers and start working with them. Teachers don’t go in to education to get rich. They don’t go in to education because they don’t believe in their children. They want their children to succeed, but we’ve got to give them the tools. Invest in early childhood education. Invest in our teachers and our children will succeed.
Barack Obama, 44th President
While President Obama’s results thus far in the realm of education have been suspect, his words are true. He is to be commended for starting to change the conversation from, “We need good teachers” to “We need to stand by our teachers.” Too many parents today look at their children as “the teacher’s responsibility” from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every Monday through Friday. They’re expecting schools to do more than educate, but to actually do the parenting as well. The American education system — and by extension, America herself — is destined to fail if parents and administrators continue to pass the buck and expect the impossible. Teachers can impart valuable life lessons in addition to classroom instruction. But no component in the educational process has more power than the parent, and the standards THEY set for their children will ultimately be what leads to success.
8. Knowledge -— that is, education in its true sense -— is our best protection against unreasoning prejudice and panic-making fear, whether engendered by special interest, illiberal minorities, or panic-stricken leaders.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President
Education obliterates fear, misunderstanding, and prejudice. The more you learn about what makes us who we are, the easier it is to see each other through our common interests as opposed to our differences, ultimately making for a more cohesive society.
9. You see, we’ll never be able to compete in the 21st century unless we have an education system that doesn’t quit on children, an education system that raises standards, an education that makes sure there’s excellence in every classroom.
George W. Bush, 43rd President
While the Bush Administration — with, and this can’t be emphasized enough, bipartisan support — dropped the No Child Left Behind law on teachers’ heads, resulting in an undeniable setback for the education system, the former president’s intentions were good. Children do deserve higher standards and an education that makes sure there’s excellence in every classroom. Unfortunately, NCLB’s rules failed to realize that for a classroom to be excellent, home life is even more important, and standardized tests are not indicative of a teacher or a student’s quality.
10. If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President
With more and more talk about nanny states and citizens, who are willing to give up their freedoms for security, it’s easy to see how our third President’s words can be applied to American life today. Ignorance is the golden ticket for government overreach. If the people don’t know what their powers are, it’s pretty much like those powers don’t exist.
11. There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.
John Adams, 2nd President
How we treat each other is every bit as important as the type of trade, skill, or profession that we have. While the American Dream is about being prosperous and free, financial stability alone is not the answer.
12. Learned institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.
James Madison, 4th President
If you want and expect freedom in life, to live how you want, you can’t rely on others to do the learning for you. You should want to learn for the enrichment life brings in both freedom and pleasure.
13. Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in. That everyone may receive at least a moderate education appears to be an objective of vital importance.
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President
Not only was Abraham Lincoln the glue that brought the country together in the years after the Civil War (and his own assassination), he was a believer that education brightened every life, regardless of natural intelligence and ability. If you could learn, then you could create a better life for yourself than the one you would have otherwise. This American President quote also implies there is a benchmark standard for education throughout a society, and part of the journey to find out what that standard is, and then decide whether you want to exceed it.
14. If we want to invest in the prosperity of our nation, we must invest in the education of our children so that their talents may be fully employed.”
Bill Clinton, 42nd President
With this quote, President Clinton seems to anticipate big changes ahead, and the importance of preparing American children for a future that would be a lot different from that of their parents or grandparents. No surprise there. It would be during Clinton’s tenure that a little thing called the Internet would come along to rearrange the working of society and business.
15. It is a damn poor mind indeed which can’t think of at least two ways to spell any word.
Andrew Jackson, 7th President
Jackson’s contribution is considerably more playful than the rest, but no less true when you stack it up against the difficulty and complexity of the English language.
16. The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music.
Gerald Ford, 38th President
The Arts often gets overlooked when people discuss education, but President Ford knew it was not something to dismiss. Music engages the creative side of the brain, which in addition to creating, playing, or simply understanding great music, enables one to think of different approaches for conquering almost any problem.
17. To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President
Education is power, but what good is that power to society if it is self-serving and unaware of right and wrong?
18. Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.
John F. Kennedy, 35th President
Translation: The strength of the individual and his ability to set goals and achieve dreams will power the strength of any society.
19. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.
Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President
Let one believe what they think is right and best for the betterment of society, but keep school more about education and less about indoctrination. And yes, you can be pro-religion and pro-separation of church and state.
20. An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President
Talk is cheap. Even so, some people think that the more they talk, the smarter they sound. You’ve met people like this in life. If not, then you probably are one of them.
Which of these American President quotes on education do you think rings the most true?
[Image via Wakeup-World.com via Chicago Sun-Times]