Speech Delivered before the Public School Association by Louis D. Brandeis on December 2, 1904
Nearly fifty thousand voters omitted last year to cast their votes for members of the school committee. We want those fifty thousand men and women to vote this year. If they do, the nominees of the Public School Association will be triumphantly elected.
We have little to fear except from indifference or ignorance, and if the indifference of our citizens is removed, most of the ignorance will vanish too. What the Public School Association desires coincides fully with the interests of the vast majority of the people of Boston. That vast majority wants the children of Boston now and hereafter to have the best advantages that it is possible to afford them.
In order to give the children all the educational advantages they should have, the control of the schools must rest with men and women who are scrupulously honest; who are absolutely disinterested, and who are efficient.
It must be indeed a small minority of the people of Boston who desire anything else. It is those who seek "jobs" at the public expense for themselves and their friends; it is those who seek by corrupt means to obtain from public officers corrupt contracts to enrich themselves. These are the only people who can desire anything else than what the Public School Association stands for; the only people, unless it be persons who are so biased by partisanship or fanaticism as to believe that no one can properly serve the public interest who is not a member of their particular party or an adherent of their particular religious faith.
There is no such thing as a Republican or a Democratic principle in reading, or writing, or arithmetic, or any of the other subjects taught in our public schools.
Why, then, should anyone desire that the politics of an individual should determine whether he should be entrusted with the important duty of seeing that the children of Boston get the best preparation for life that it is possible to give them.
That is all that the Public School association stands for, and all that it seeks to accomplish.
Now, how are its ends to be attained? How are you to get for the children of Boston these opportunities which few indeed in our community would be willing to deny them? This good, like any other, can be attained only by effort. Few things in the world are worthwhile having that are not attained by struggle. But whether or not we desire to have good government without struggle, it is obvious that in a democratic community we cannot have it. Democracy means that the people shall govern, and they can govern only by taking the trouble to inform themselves as to the facts necessary for a correct decision, and then by recording that decision through a public vote.
It is customary for people to berate politicians; to speak with horror of those who take an active interest in elections. But after all, the politicians, even if their motives are not of the purest, come much nearer performing their duties as citizens than the so-called "good" citizens who stay at home.
One of the Public School Association workers who was recently urging a woman to call her husband's attention to the necessity of voting received the following answer:
"Oh, John won't vote. He says he will have nothing to do with dirty politics."
It is men like this John, not the machine politicians, who are responsible for all of the bad government that we get and the only thing we have to do in order to get good government is to make the men and women of Boston feel the dishonor which they bring upon themselves and upon the city by neglecting their obvious duty to vote and vote intelligently.