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I joined the staff of the Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum as the Education Specialist in April 2001. At the time I was still under contract as an Instructor of Government and American History with Dutchess Community College. As soon as the semester ended in the early part of May, I began my full-time Education Specialist responsibilities and was shocked to find myself starting my new position just at the very peak of the school fieldtrip season!
With the help of two seasoned volunteers, Joe Gleeson and Bob Richardson, and with the support and guidance of Lynn Bassanese, who had been running the education department until I was fully on board, I assumed the burden of teaching the students of today about the world of the Roosevelts’ in the 1930s and 40s.
My biggest concern was, how was I going to make a president who lived in a time before television, computers, and the widespread use of air conditioning, pertinent to the net-connected (addicted?) young learners of the 21 first century? Sadly, it was not long before events would answer the question for me.
The surprise attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th 2001 stood in direct parallel to the surprise attack on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. Concerns over WMD’s -weapons of mass destruction- had direct tiebacks to the Manhattan Project and the development of the Atomic Bomb. In November 2008, the United States broke a significant racial barrier and elected our nations’ first African American President, this just sixty-seven years after the racially tainted internment of Japanese Americans. As economic conditions went from bad to worse I was probably one of the only people in America who welcomed the “Great Recession” for its wealth of teachable moments which make the teaching of the Great Depression so much easier.
To my astonishment, my biggest concern turned out to be my biggest lesson, and it’s the lesson that my staff and I try to instill in the more than 15,000 students who visit our site each year: that so many of the issues and concerns faced in the Roosevelt era are still with us today. And that as we press to move forward, we must pause to look back at the lives and legacies of an extraordinary President and First Lady, who left us with so many rich and valuable lessons from which we all can learn.
March 4, 1944
“…I am quite sure that every writer finds as I do, that every time he goes over something he has written, he wants to change it a little. Sometimes writers want to tear their work up and start again, because they feel they have presented the subject from the wrong point of view. Sometimes they just want to change words so they can express the meaning more exactly. Sometimes they despair of ever putting into words what they feel and want others to feel.
If you are a good reporter you have a chance to study so many of the different aspects of the world about you, social questions, political questions, questions of national and international importance. You find yourself constantly being introduced to worlds of thought, and you are never without something to study. From my point of view it is a satisfactory profession, if not a glamorous one.
Mr. Vander Veen emphasized the necessity of having your facts and telling the truth as well as you can. One young girl said afterwards: “It looks to me as though you have to wait until you are a columnist before you can be a crusader.” I wonder if it isn’t being a crusader to learn to give facts and to try to get the truth before the readers of a paper. It is not easy for the average person to get at the truth. Even a statement which results from one person’s honest search is helpful to many people….”
January 24, 1956
“NEW YORK—…It is not too early, I think, to remind my readers that the 59th anniversary of the founding of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers will be celebrated on Founder’s Day, Friday, November 17. Mrs. Rollin Brown, the national president, has announced that special programs will be held in most of the 41,000 local units across the country.
I feel that the PTA is one of the most important organizations in the country, primarily because it can wield the greatest influence on our future because of its close touch with the children of our country.
The organization was founded in Washington, D.C., on February 17, 1897, by two valiant women, Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who held that “what is right and good for the favored children is right and good for all children.”
This was a most advanced view for those days, and even today we have not achieved the equality of opportunity for all children which they hoped for. However, we are doing better every year, and I think this organization has helped in the progress achieved for all of our children.”
March 3, 1938
“NEW YORK, Wednesday—…Do you ever find that something you hear about today, puts you in close touch with some entirely unexpected person tomorrow? I walked into the Steinway Building the other morning and was taken up to see the members of the firm and our friend Mr. Junge. After the first greetings, Mr. Steinway said to me:
“I have a boy at Bard College near your home, and we are so much interested in it because of his interest and pleasure in his work there.”
Only last week, at Hyde Park, one of my country friends, Mrs. Hamm, who has a marvelous roadside stand on the Albany Post Road, came to see me and begged me to help them keep this small college open because it meant so much to their community. I confess I had never thought of it from the community point of view.
She explained that up as far as Hudson and down as far as Poughkeepsie, this college served the people of the countryside. The professors made speeches at local club meetings. The people Bard College brought from the outside world for lectures or for music, created opportunities of interest to everyone. The college gave work to people nearby and trade to the shops, but it was really the loss it would mean in cultural opportunities which stirred the whole rural community. One thing the College music department has done, for instance, is to draw numbers of people in to sing in a neighborhood chorus. This has brought pleasure to the participants and an increased appreciation of music.
It seems to me that when a small college means enough to its people and the countryside, for them to go out and raise money to keep it open, as Mr. Steinway tells me his boy and other pupils and people are doing, it is fulfilling its educational function so well it deserves the interest of the public. I hope the college will also receive a measure of outside support.”