• 5 Things to Know About: Harry Truman's education

  • Harry Truman was the only U.S. president in the 20th century who didn’t earn a college degree.

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  • Harry Truman was the only U.S. president in the 20th century who didn’t earn a college degree.
    But that doesn’t mean Truman wasn’t well-educated or well-read. In fact, Truman even looked the part of an intellectual with his signature spectacles.
    As part of the second Saturdays “Talkin’ Truman” series, Truman Library archives specialist Jim Armistead will present “Harry’s School Days: The Education of a Future President” from 11 a.m. to noon Aug. 11. The program is included with museum admission.
    As yet another summer away from the classroom draws to a close, Armistead had these reflections to offer on Truman’s education.
    1. A love of reading
    Truman’s mother had taught him to read by age 5, so when he started first grade at age 8, he was well ahead of his peers, Armistead said.
    “He did very well in school,” Armistead said. “He loved school, and he was always reading.”
    2. He skipped the third grade
    A bout of diphtheria kept Truman from finishing the second grade with his classmates, but when he attended summer school to get caught up on the missed material, Truman worked ahead so much that he skipped the third grade and went straight into fourth grade.
    “The teachers loved him, and he loved them,” Armistead said. “He doesn’t have any disparaging remarks about any of them – he genuinely liked his teachers, and I think they genuinely liked him, too.”
    3. He didn’t give up on his military dreams
    Truman couldn’t afford college because his parents were poor farmers, Armistead said.
    Still, Truman considered applying to West Point or Annapolis, but he knew he wouldn’t be accepted because of his poor eyesight. So, when he entered the Missouri National Guard in the summer of 1905, four years after his graduation from Independence High School, Truman memorized the eye chart.
    4. He did try higher education
    Truman did start courses toward a law degree and in business college at several different points in his life, although he never formally graduated or completed a degree.
    “He sought higher education, but for whatever other obligations, he wasn’t able to finish them,” Armistead said. “I think he was aware that getting a higher education was very important.”
    Years later, as the president, Truman was instrumental in passing legislation to create more community colleges, so those with fewer financial resources would be more likely to afford college, Armistead said.
    5. He never stopped learning
    Truman was always intrigued by historical figures, including Andrew Jackson, and history’s greatest characters were among Truman’s favorite reading subjects, Armistead said.
    “He wanted to know why they succeeded or not,” Armistead said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Later on in life, Truman said – in his opinion – that Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt were the greatest presidents in the 20th century.
    Truman also read four or five newspapers each morning so he would remain as well-informed as possible. When pondering a crucial decision, Armistead said, Truman would surround himself with many different people who knew about that subject and then hear their viewpoints to make a well-educated decision.
    “He never stopped learning,” Armistead said of Truman’s self-education. “I think if he had had the opportunity, he’s one of those people who would’ve gone to school for the rest of his life. He just liked learning that much.”

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