How smart were our leaders?

How smart were our leaders?

One never went to school at all, while several others received little more than an elementary-school education.

And only one earned his doctorate.

The education of the 43 presidents of the United States is the focus of Southern Oregon native Barbara Olexer's latest book, "Presidential Education: Prelude to Power."

"I wrote this book because it occurred to me one day that a number of our presidents would not meet minimum requirements to seek a job as a receptionist in these days when many firms require a college degree," said Olexer, 66, who now lives in Milwaukie, a Portland suburb.

"I became interested in exactly how these men had been educated," said the former Ashland resident, who was born in Klamath Falls. "The Founding Fathers did not lay down any educational requirements for the president, nor did they describe the ideal candidate. There is no qualifying exam."

The author of more than 20 books and screenplays, including the nonfiction book, "The Enslavement of the American Indian in Colonial Times," Olexer examined the education of presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. She hopes to add the education of Barrack Obama, soon to become the 44th president, when the book is updated in a new edition.

After researching the presidents' formal education, she also looked at other educational influences such as parental guidance, travel and military service.

She writes that Andrew Johnson, the president who took office after Lincoln's assassination, never went to school while both Lincoln and Jackson had scant formal education. Woodrow Wilson was the only president with a doctorate, which he earned in political science at Johns Hopkins University in 1886.

"I could not find the correlation," she said, between being a good president and being well-educated. "Some of our greatest presidents — Washington and Lincoln — didn't have degrees.

"Washington rates right up there. He was an extraordinary man and a very good president."

Her personal favorite was Harry Truman, whose formal education included studies at the Kansas City Law School (now the University of Missouri, Kansas City School of Law).

"He was so direct, so up front," said Olexer, who finished the book this past summer after five years of work.

"It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed the research," she said. "These are very interesting guys."

Andrew Johnson may get short shrift in the history books, but she believes he wasn't as bad as his impeachment would indicate.

"Johnson never spent a day in school, but he was a better president than he is given credit for," she said. "They impeached him because he wasn't a hardliner on punishing the South. But he was trying to honor Lincoln's legacy of healing the nation."

In the book, she noted Lincoln's father objected to his reading and studying. He felt it was a waste of time and an indication of one's laziness, she indicated.

A fourth-generation Oregonian whose ancestors followed the Oregon Trail, Olexer has lived throughout Oregon, from Ashland to a logging camp known as Wetmore in Wheeler County. She is retired from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in Washington, D.C.

Her education? She is a 1960 graduate of Tulelake High School in far northern California.

"I love to write," she said of her interest in writing books.

Although the official publication of the books is Presidents Day, February 16, 2009, the book now is available for $24.95 through Joyous Publishing and

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Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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