Housing patterns, not laws, are causing today's crisis. But John F. Kennedy's critique of American education still rings dismally true.
In his commencement speech at San Diego State College, the President of the United States covered unsurprising territory in describing the challenges facing the nation's public schools -- inequities for minority students, a high dropout rate, and the need for better teacher training.
What might be surprising is that the president was John F. Kennedy, and he was addressing the class of 1963.
"Our current education programs, much as they represent a burden upon the taxpayers of this country, do not meet the responsibility," Kennedy said on June 6, 1963 at what is now San Diego State University. "The fact of the matter is that this is a problem which faces us all, no matter where we live, no matter what our political views must be."
Five days after that graduation speech -- and 49 years ago today -- Kennedy delivered his historic speech on civil rights from the Oval Office. His commencement address "was a recognition of what needed to be done," said Gary Orfield, an education professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. "The last time the three branches of government worked together to do something about segregation started with that period."
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The familiarity of Kennedy's remarks from a vantage point of nearly half a century "speaks both to the aspirations we all have for education and how tough these issues are," said Andrew Rotherham, who co-founded Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit in Washington, D.C., focusing on improving opportunities for low-income students. "He's talking about exactly the same problems we're talking about now."