OCTOBER 19, 1946
NEW YORK, Friday—Last night, I went over to the East New York section of Brooklyn, where they are trying an experiment by using four public schools in combination as a youth and adult community center. They have a rich program of leisure-time activities from 3 p.m., when school closes, until 10 o'clock at night.
Always, I have felt it was such a waste not to use school facilities for community purposes, and here at last it is being done. The gymnasiums and swimming pools in two of the schools are used for an athletic program. The home-economics department has young people in cooking classes all afternoon, and adults all evening. If twenty people get together and want to learn something, an effort is made to find a teacher to give them the course they desire.
This community center is a far cry from the old-time adult classes in which foreigners who had settled in this country learned to read and write English. But when it comes to the classes for older people, the teachers, who deal with youngsters all day, have to develop an entirely new technique for their evening pupils.
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This center has also had forums in which documentary films were shown and lectures given. For instance, they had one on Russia and one on Palestine, and then they had one on the New York State Legislature. The last, I am told, drew a very small audience. This shows that it is easier to be interested in something far away, which appeals to our imagination, than in something that touches our daily lives but nevertheless seems to have very little interest for the average person.
I think it is a challenge to the movie industry to make some films that will teach us the workings of our government and our obligations as citizens, and still be as interesting as a mystery film. It can be done but, as far as I know, it never has been done.
The other night, at a meeting of young Democrats, a film on how to vote was shown, and I was given to understand afterwards that it was particularly poor. Here is one great weapon of democracy—the secret ballot, which my husband used to say must be controlled by the people and guarded more carefully than any other right because, without it, slavery could steal upon us unawares. And yet we have never used our greatest and most imaginative industry, the movie industry, to dramatize the value of the ballot to us as citizens.
Mark McCloskey of the New York Board of Education, who accompanied me to East New York last night, tells me that centers such as the one now operating there will be started in two other areas this coming week. I think it is a thrilling and exciting adventure in the educational field, and in spite of all the headaches it must bring for those who work in this new venture, it must also bring great rewards.