President Carter on Head Start Program
01:27:13 - 01:31:31
President Jimmy Carter continues: "Like so many of us here, I have seen the sometimes awful truth of Lyndon Johnson's analysis, in people who've lived around me in the Deep South, people who were deprived and whose lives were blighted by it. My first public job was on a local school board, and I saw among the children that I served, as a farmer, a young businessman, that deprivation which I did not know how to address. It was not only educational but it was emotional, and sometimes it was physical, as well. I saw that deprivation set children back in school before the first day they ever went there, and it held them back through grammar school, through high school, and through their entire lives. And I saw that it affected not just black children but white children, as well. In 1965, when the Head Start program was begun by President Johnson and the Congress, I was heading up an eight county planning and development commission. And as soon as I heard about Head Start, I began to work to implement it where I lived. It was not a popular thing, because it addressed some very sensitive social issues, as well as educational problems. [Laughter] And we finally identified 2,000, about 1,950 young children who qualified. And we finally forced, because of the influence that I had accumulated, 21 school classrooms to be allotted to the program. In Buena Vista, Georgia, black and white children in 1965 sat down in the same library and participated in the program. I guess it was the first integrated classroom in the State, and it was very difficult to get other county school boards to agree to let the program live. Because of that difficulty, I spent a lot of time moving among those 19 or 20 Head Start classrooms. I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor with the children who were participating and talking to them in the same language within which I had been raised. Many of those children had never seen a book, and they had never held a pencil. They had never tied a shoelace. Some didn't know their last name. They had never had a balanced diet for as long as a few days. At the time, they had never had their minds stretched or challenged, and their hearts could have been shriveled in the future had they been continued in a state of existing deprivation. The first time they saw what it could mean to be gratified in intense, young, human desires and to see dreams realized and to hear a voice of a teacher who knew how to teach and who genuinely loved them and to be provided with the practical things that make a day in a Head Start program so exciting and so successful, I think most important of all, they learned, many of them for the first time, that they were important to the world. I came home several times, and my wife would vouch for this, with tears in my eyes as I told her about my day's experience. I was a tough, young, struggling, conservative, south Georgia farmer, but this program touched my life. And since then I've seen literally thousands of not only children but teachers and parents and the community itself involved in a program that has indeed transformed the interrelationship among human beings."