APRIL 11, 1962
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa.—People frequently talk to me about the need that should be made to involve the individual citizen more actively in the work of the government. This is a baffling problem, for when one goes before a group of Americans to talk to them about the difficult form of government our forefathers chose for us—a representative republic—it is very easy to explain that Thomas Jefferson himself gave us one of the big reasons why we must have public schools and extend education to everyone as far as possible.
Jefferson said we chose the form of government that required an educated citizen.
We safeguarded our liberties by giving to every citizen a secret ballot with certain property qualifications, which mostly have disappeared. But still in line with our forefathers' idea that it required education to participate in our form of government, we still require a literacy test in many states. This literacy test, however, is easy enough to pass if the state provides a free and compulsory education through high school, and if the tests are honestly run.
At the present time, though, this test is one of the gimmicks used to keep some of our citizens from using their franchise. But sooner or later this basic right of participation, which requires that each individual shall take responsibility for his government, must be granted to all of our citizens.
Our secret ballot safeguards our liberties, but it does not guarantee us good government unless we are fully prepared for our participation and responsibility.
We must know enough to understand the issues; we must learn not to be swayed by prejudice or even by the charm of a fine orator. We must seek for the facts and, when we think we have sifted out the truth, have the courage to judge and stand by our convictions.
This requires of us more than just going to the polls on election day, or even taking part in the primary, important as that is. It requires understanding what our two-party system presents us in the way of principles on which each party acts.
Unless we have decided which party we feel most frequently represents our own ideals, we cannot take part in the primary. We cannot help to choose the man we consider best to run for an office, or vote for the local leaders in a district. And, since good government in a democracy starts with the smallest unit, our inability to decide which party we belong to is the beginning of our lack of concern and inactivity in our political affairs.
Now, granted that we make the decision and we vote in the primary and we vote in the election, we have still not really become involved in our government. That comes only when we have made the choice of the men we want to have represent us—when we have learned about the issues and taken an active part in doing all we can in our own community to win support for the things we think essential for the good of our country and of our people.
This involves us in knowing not only about domestic problems but about our international problems. Sooner or later it involves us in organizations in our communities that fight to solve these problems. And it brings us perhaps the most important realization—namely, that one of the biggest problems in a democracy is to keep our education at such a high level that it is able to give our children the tools they need to act as good citizens when they grow up.
A new group has just been formed in Washington, D.C., to work for better public schools on the national level. The chairman of this new organization is Mrs. Eugene Meyer, who has devoted many years to the study of education in our country.
As the volume of knowledge about our world increases, programs of study are becoming more and more complicated, and we must strive harder to give our children the kind of education that would fit them for a life that must be lived in a changing world. Science has moved so rapidly forward that every child must have a basic understanding of certain scientific principles.
Perhaps the most important aspect, however, is to provide each child with the knowledge of how to use his mind—how and where to go when he wants to learn new things that he had not had an earlier opportunity to learn or perhaps when he wants to delve more deeply into some special subject.
A disciplined mind is essential for every man and woman today. And a balance must be kept between the science that presses in on us from so many different areas and the natural tendency that many of us have to turn to the humanities and the arts for our real enjoyment and the expression that is essential to good emotional development.
A disciplined mind is essential to analyze problems, and a basic knowledge covering many subjects is essential to finding the lines to follow in searching for solutions.
Every citizen is involved in safeguarding the future of our country, and one of the best safeguards lies in a younger generation able to understand the world in which they live and to give the leadership at home and abroad that is so vitally needed.