JANUARY 27, 1947
NEW YORK, Sunday—People are writing to me constantly now on the subject of juvenile delinquency. All over this country people are troubled at the increase in the number of youthful criminals and at the way delinquency extends down even to small children.
I think it is time that we reexamined our theories of education. "Progressive education" is an interesting grouping of words. Naturally, we want education to progress to meet the times. We do not want it, however, to progress to the point of doing away with some of the tried and true customs and traditions. These do not have so much to do with the actual school curricula as they do with the molding of character. I sometimes wonder if what is commonly called progressive education, in the effort to make children enjoy school and develop their individual personalities, has not done away with some of the essential disciplines. These disciplines made education in the old days, both at home and in the schools, seem somewhat harsh at times; but even the children came to recognize that in some ways they were valuable.
In Mrs. Kleeman's book about my husband's childhood, she tells a story that my mother-in-law loved to recall. At a very young age—somewhere around seven, if I remember correctly—little Franklin came to his parents and sighed: "Oh, for freedom!" Struck by the tone in which he said it, his mother asked him what he would do if he had complete freedom. He didn't seem to know exactly, and so his parents told him that for one whole day he could do exactly as he chose. The day seemed glorious to him at the start; but as it wore on he found freedom less and less interesting, and by night he was quite willing to return to his usual obligations and restrictions.
Until he went away to boarding school, my husband was taught almost entirely alone, so that the problems of the average school room were not present. But every now and then, when I go into a school room where every child is supposed to be developing his or her own personality, I find it somewhat confusing.
Of course, parents in the home are to blame quite as much as the school for any condition that exists on a large scale. Perhaps what we really need is an investigation of how the parents of this generation, which is providing us with so many young delinquents, were brought up. They grew up to maturity in a post-war period like the present generation. Their parents were confused and the mechanics of life had outstripped our ability to cope with the changes.
Now, perhaps, we need to sit down and look over our whole educational system, from primary school to college; to examine as adults our own beliefs and standards by which we live, and which we transmit to our children. That might be the shortest cut to finding the cause for juvenile delinquency. Courts and reformatories and prisons are not the final answer.