I have long been an admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt. I still have my tabbed copy of Eleanor Roosevelt Vol. I: 1884-1933 by Blanche Wiesen Cook, which I read in 1992. Today, twenty years later, I revisited the tabs I left inside my copy of the book. A purple tab marks one of the boldest and truest statements she made. It’s always stayed with me. It’s about a single word. She said the United States needed to resurrect with conviction and daring the good American word “liberal,” “which derives from the word free…. We must cherish and honor the word free or it will cease to apply to us.”
A few more of my tabs mark the section on her teaching philosophy, which inspired me then and now. Natalie wasn’t even born yet when I read Roosevelt’s biography, but I realize that the ideas I found within its pages ultimately influenced the way we approached learning at Applewood School. As Blanche Wiesen Cook writes, Eleanor Roosevelt began teaching in 1927 at the Todhunter School for Girls (ages 5-18) at 66 East 80th Street in New York. Less concerned with an isolated fact or date, she wanted to pass on to her students the tools they needed to make their lives an ongoing adventure in learning and understanding. For her, CURIOSITY and VISION were the two primary tools. The research projects she assigned to students encouraged them to analyze controversial subjects from several perspectives, and to begin to develop their own points of view. (I invite you to read an issue of Natalie’s Applewood Quarterly, which is posted on this website.)
The list of questions that Eleanor Roosevelt’s history and government students were expected to answer on their final exams is below. It’s interesting to see how relevant most of these topics are ninety years later:
What is the difference between a citizen and a subject?
What is meant by a “public servant”?
List the ways in which your government touches your home.
Do you know of any way in which the Government protects women and children?
How does the family income affect the standards of living?
What is the difference between civil and political liberty?
What is the object today of inheritance, income and similar taxes?
Why is there a struggle between capital and labor?
Into what three different parts are our national and state governments divided by our constitution? What is the function of each?
What is a tariff?
What is the World Court?
Who is Mahatma Gandhi?
Who is John Brown?
What were the causes of the Mexican War?
What was the Dred Scott case?
What were the causes of the Civil War?
How did you feel about he solution of the Indian problem in the Southern states during [Andrew] Jackson’s term of office?
Give your reasons for or against allowing women to participate actively in the control of government politics and officials through the vote, as well as your reasons for or against women holding office in the government.
How are Negroes excluded from voting in the South?
Who is the dominant political figure in Soviet Russia?
Write an account of any article or series of articles on a subject you have read with most interest…
(Pages 400-401, Eleanor Roosevelt VOL. I: 1884-1933 by Blanche Wiesen Cook, Penguin Books, 1992)