FDR on Educational Inequity in 1938. Could’ve Been Written Today.

When you read and listen to enough presidential speeches about education, it becomes unsurprising that American presidents tend to frame the need for public education as an economic imperative.  There’s a difference between acknowledging economic need when discussing education and reducing education to the servant of the economy.  In this speech to the National Education Association in 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaks about education in a way that is not dissimilar from policymakers today.  It includes this excerpt, where he nearly names the opportunity gap (or achievement gap, for some).  He declares:

Here is where the whole problem of education ties in definitely with the natural resources of the country, ties in with the economic picture of the individual community or state. We all know that the best of schools are, in most cases, located in those communities which can afford to spend the most money on them—the most money for adequate teachers’ salaries, for modern buildings and modern equipment of all kinds. And we know too that the weakest educational link in our national system lies in those communities which have the lowest taxable values, and, therefore, the smallest per capita tax receipts and, therefore, the lowest teachers’ salaries and most inadequate buildings and equipment. We do not blame these latter communities. They want better educational facilities, but simply have not enough money to pay the cost.

There is probably a wider divergence today in the standard of education between the richest communities and the poorest communities than there was a century ago; and it is, therefore, our immediate task to seek to close that gap…

Give the text a full read over at American Radio Works or, if you have 20 minutes, listen to FDR speak for himself:

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