My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

Text Size: Small Text Normal Text Large Text Larger Text

NEW YORK—The Soviet Union is a place of constant contrasts. You see new apartment houses alongside old log houses. To be sure, these wooden houses, whether of logs or of planks, are going to disappear just as rapidly as possible, you are told, for the Soviet people think they are a tie to the old Russia and not really worthy of the new Russia which they are building.

And there are many other contrasts. In many fields you are given the feeling that everything they do may change, since they keep telling you that they are experimenting.

I had chosen to spend my time in Leningrad and Moscow because I decided I wanted to see the best of what they are doing. I wanted to know in greater detail about their accomplishments in the day-to-day medical care of people, which includes public health and the district organization that stands ready on a day-to-day basis. I wanted to see the educational system at its best and to understand if I could the theory upon which they are trying to develop their schools.

One of the things I had not been able to find out about was juvenile delinquency. So, one of the first things I asked, "Do you have children's courts similar to ours?" The answer was "no". From the age of 14 a youngster may be taken into the regular court. There is only one, and it deals with all types of cases.

I asked the Minister of Health what was done with emotionally disturbed youngsters. His answer was that they practice the preventive theory.

In every school a teacher is trained to watch for any signs of physical, mental or emotional disturbance, and it is his duty to call into play all the social services that would improve conditions in the home, which might be responsible for such disturbances. If necessary, the child would be sent to a sanitorium till he seemd to have recovered his normal equilibrium.

I discussed the same subject with Mme. Muravyeva, who is in charge of social service for the Soviet Union, and received practically the same answer.

These spokesmen did concede that here and there, both in the country and in the cities, there might be bad conditions brought about by inadequate housing, which they still have to acknowledge exists in the big cities, or bad relationships between parents, or undesirable conditioning brought about by heavy drinking. Even Premier Nikita Khrushchev has urged less drinking and apparently the feeling is that this may occur in country areas even more frequently than in the city, but the effort to handle the situation is the same in all areas.

Part of the secret of the handling of children, I think, lies in the basic Pavlov theories on which they are brought up from the time they are very young. I will tell you a little more about this later on, but I think the extracurricular activities provided after school are probably one of the most effective means of helping to control jueveniledelinquency.

In Leningrad, as we were being shown the Children's palace, which was once the palace of some great prince, I was told that from all over the city children came from different schools twice a week for two-hour sessions to take part in activities there. In the main building there are lectures on outer space, a chess-playing room, which has already developed three international champions, story-telling rooms, dancing and singing.

In an adjacent house all kinds of opportunity is given for practicing and developing crafts through whatever bent or interest a child may show. The shops are as good as any trade school in our country and the youngsters make the greatest variety of complicated appliances which are then taken back for use in their own schools.

Smaller houses, all part of the Pioneer Youth Movement, exist in every district of the big cities. In the villages there may be only one room available, but the organization is present everywhere. In addition, there are circles formed in factories and on farms for both older people and children. These groups keep children under supervision and allow them to develop interests of their own as well as encourage them to learn other things outside of their regular academic work.

There is, of course, much real Communist party training in the Pioneer groups. There is regular supervised play on the school playground, but there is also much planned in the way of athletics by the different groups to which the young people belong.

It seemed to me that, perhaps because most homes are crowded and because in most cases both parents work, the need for keeping the children busy and supervised had been given considerable thought. Of course, these activities would not take care of a really sick child, but apparently this planning does a great deal as a preventive in certain emotional situations.

E. R.
TMs, AERP, FDRL