AUGUST 22, 1951
HYDE PARK, Tuesday—I have an interesting letter from an ex-schoolteacher with many years of experience behind her.
She heard my radio talk with Dr. E.C. Lindeman. While she says that her letter is purely personal and not meant for public use, I do not think she will object if I write of some points that she has brought up.
This woman is depressed because she feels our schools have deteriorated. She does not think it is because of low salaries or poor equipment. She feels the philosophy of education has gone wrong, that the experiments which were made with young people of above average intelligence, are really of no value to average pupils.
She deplores the reading habits of the present day, not only among children but among their elders. She feels that we make a mistake in trying to educate, in academic ways, people whose intelligence would really develop far better if they proceeded into the channels which really interest them. She believes it might be better if they were trained for some type of skilled labor, after learning the fundamentals.
The last point is to me a very important one. I am not sure, when we try to force young people into the groove of academic education, that we do not spoil their chance of becoming interested in the work that they may do with their hands.
That, in itself, is often a way of developing certain types of intelligence. It seems to me that the important thing for all children is to read and write their own language fluently, to understand the simple mathematical processes, to have a fundamental knowledge of history and geography, and to know how to get more information on any subject in which they may later become interested.
If they read easily and fluently and the reading habit is developed young, that will be an important part of self-education as they grow older. Sometimes a youngster will have some particular gift, music or art, dramatics or dancing. Nowadays any of these can become a very delightful avocation adding to the pleasure of any home.
What my correspondent hints at but does not actually say, is that both teachers and students have lost a little integrity in striving for higher academic instruction and standing. I think perhaps one of the things that should be stressed is the teaching of ethics.
Nearly all religions include in their teaching the example of a perfect or a near-perfect character, whose way of living can be held up as an ideal to strive for. There is no reason why this study should not be suggested to children as a way to help them in their daily lives.
I was very sorry to see a notice the other day of the death of Dr. Zook. He has long been a figure in educational circles whom everybody has looked upon with respect. I remember well his efforts with many young people's groups while I was in the White House. I have always been grateful to him for his ready cooperation.