The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK—It would seem important that our young people coming out of school now should have studied the geography of the world.

Geography and history go hand in hand. We cannot really understand the history of the world without knowing its geography, and so a survey was taken of more than 2,000 high-school students in four states. The questions were compiled by Professor Herbert K. Gross of Concordia Teachers College, River Forest, Ill.

The average of correct responses was 39 percent. The questions that the average youngster failed on were, to me, interesting.

For instance, only 12 percent knew that Ottawa is the capital of Canada. This seems to me almost incredible, since over and over again they must have heard in their history classes that it is a remarkable thing that we have an unfortified line between the U.S. and Canada and that we have been at peace with each other for more than 100 years.

It would almost seem impossible to learn that the capital of the United States is Washington, D.C., and at the same time not learn that Ottawa is the capital of Canada.

But there are many other things that should be learned as you learn geography—that is to say, geography is not just a knowledge of places and rivers and mountains. Understanding climate is part of geography, and climate had a great deal to do with the historical development of most areas of the world.

The kind of people that developed in different places depended largely on the climate in which they lived. What grows and what can live in different parts of the world has an influence on how the people develop.

One of the things being studied today is what foods actually grow in certain areas of the world, where children suffer from malnutrition, and have never been used for food purposes because the people lacked the knowledge of how to use them.

Interchange of food products, which are surplus in one country and needed in another for a balanced diet, is often hampered by the fact that the people of the needy area do not know how to use the surplus food sent them.

There was a famous story I heard in India of our sending corn to an area where corn had never been seen before. The people there tried to eat it without cooking and the results were disastrous.

People sometimes have starved because they did not know that growing in their country were things that could be made edible.

Puerto Rico for years imported beans from us as a basic feature of their diet when they had many things that they could have used and become accustomed to. It was not until some of their men served in the U.S. Army that they learned to eat a varied diet, and of course, it was far healthier than the one most of them had grown up on.

So geography is not just knowing the names of places, although that knowledge is essential, too.

In this geophysical year I wonder if more schools might not set up in their lobby a big globe of the world and then, with charts on the walls, note the products, animals, and climates of the different countries.

The study of the United States, because of its vast area, is in itself most varied and interesting, and when you compare it with other countries in the world, you begin to understand some of the problems of trade and production. History and economics take on an entirely new face.

It has always seemed to me that geography was a basis from which you started to a world of knowledge.


(Copyright, 1957, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, July 5, 1957

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.