Reagan: Value-Neutral Education Is ‘Misguided’

September 04, 1985 4 min read

President Reagan’s Saturday radio address on Aug. 24 contained his “back-to-school” message, in which he urged that God “should never be expelled from our nation’s classrooms” and that education should not be “value neutral” but emphasize the nation’s “Judeo-Christian” traditions.

Following is the full text of his speech, as reported by the Associated Press:

My fellow Americans, as summer draws to a close, our thoughts naturally turn to the coming school year. Few things could be more central to the life and health of our nation than the education of our children. Our schools hold the future of America in their hands. They will decide whether the future is enlightened, free, and informed or shrouded in the darkness of ignorance.

From the beginning, our Administration has made excellence in education a top priority, and from the beginning, we’ve recognized that excellence is formed in the classroom by teachers, administrators, and parents working closely together to give their children the very best education possible, not by bureaucrats in the far-off city of Washington. When it comes to education, it’s the classroom, not Washington, where the real action is.

That’s why, starting in the next couple of weeks, Bill Bennett, our Secretary of Education, will be traveling to eight elementary, middle, and senior high schools across the country, teaching a class in each one. Secretary Bennett will not only be honoring the teaching profession and paying tribute to the art of teaching, he should be having something of a learning experience for himself as well.

Now, I remember from my own school days the tough time we used to give the substitute teachers, and I warned Bill he might be getting in over his head. But he said he’s had lots of practice dealing with unruly groups like the Congress. Still, I’m going to ask all of you kids who may be in his class, as a favor to me, go easy on him.

A recent Gallup poll found that the overwhelming majority of Americans want their schools to do two things above all else: to teach students how to speak and write correctly and, just as important, to teach them a standard of right and wrong. They want their schools to help their children develop, as Thomas Jefferson said, “both an honest heart and a knowing head.”

Unfortunately, parents today all too often find themselves confronted with so-called experts and a large battery of misguided opinion that says their children’s education should be what they call “value neutral.” Well to me, and I bet most Americans, a value-neutral education is a contradiction in terms. The American people have always known in their bones how intimately knowledge and values are intertwined. We don’t expect our children to rediscover calculus on their own but some would give them no guidance when it comes to the even more fundamental discoveries of civilization: our ethics, morality, and values. If we give children no guidance here, if we give them only value-neutral education, we’re robbing them of their most precious inheritance--the wisdom of generations that is contained in our moral heritage.

Our Founding Fathers weren’t neutral when it came to values. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Our forefathers found their inspiration, justification and vision in the Judeo-Christian tradition that emphasizes the value of life and the worth of the individual. It most certainly was never their intention to bar God from public life. And, as I have said before, the good Lord who has given our country so much should never be expelled from our nation’s classrooms.

Around the country, the education picture is improving. Violence in schools is dropping and test scores are up. Most important, community pride and involvement in our schools is way up. My message to parents is simply this: Your school system exists to serve you. Keep getting involved. The more parents get involved with their children’s schooling and education, the better it will be and the brighter the future of our country will be.

Finally, I’d like to address a few words to all you students. If you’re anything like me when I was in school, you’re looking forward to the beginning of the school year with I mixed feelings. You’ve probably got those “end-of-summer blues” now, but soon you’ll be wrapped up in the excitement of your classes.

But you, too, can help make America’s educational system second to none. If your teachers don’t give you homework, ask them, ''Why not’’? If discipline is lax, see how you can help make it better. It’s your right to learn, your right to the opportunities that a good education can bring. Remember, you’re not only studying for yourself, but for your family, your community, your country, and your God. So, go for it, kids. Give it your best effort.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

A version of this article appeared in the September 04, 1985 edition of Education Week as Reagan: Value-Neutral Education Is ‘Misguided’