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

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NEW YORK—There seems to be more hope at this session of Congress that a bill providing for Federal aid to education may pass.

I think it has been apparent for a long time that Federal aid to education was needed in two particular areas—one, in providing more classrooms, and the other in raising teachers' salaries. There are many regions of this country where schools must hold double and triple sessions. In the last report made by the Eisenhower Administration it was admitted that the shortage of classrooms had increased from 135,000 to 142,000 in the last year of the Administration. Enrollment of new children continues to mount, so that at all times on the ratio of population growth we should be increasing the classroom space in the country.

The fear has always been, of course, that in accepting Federal aid we incur the danger that in some way the Federal government would control the curriculum of local schools. Yet our history shows a long record of Federal aid to education, beginning with the land grant provisions of almost 100 years ago. It includes the Federal school construction program during the great depression, and, finally, the GI Bill of Rights of World War II and the Korean War. In all this time, the Federal government has not interfered in the management of the school curriculum.

There are moments, indeed, when I wish that certain basic standards would be demanded by the Federal government. These would include a minimum number of weeks a year that a school must be kept in sessions, as well as minimum qualifications for teachers. Many of the poorest states in our country, for example, put more of their budget into education than the richer states, yet are still unable to achieve decent salaries for their teachers. Inevitably they find that the meagre amount of $3,500 a year does not seem to attract the excellence in teaching which the modern world requires for a well-equipped child.

To many New Yorkers it has been clear for some time that population changes taking place in the city would eventually create some real problems in many of the city departments. Foremost among these is the problem of integration in the schools, for in one-fifth of the city's schools today 85 percent of the children are Negro and Puerto Rican. But it is not only in the schools that this change in population is making a difference. There are complications which affect the city budget because the increase in non-white population requires more services from the city in the way of protection, guidance and control—and much of this population cannot pay its full burden of city expense.

Perhaps because of such problems, the Republicans are having as difficult a time as the Democrats in trying to find a candidate to run for Mayor against our present incumbent. They have tried a brother of the Governor's, my Republican son, John, and now Senator Jacob Javits, and each one seems to have turned down this great opportunity with equal firmness.

I can quite understand this. The present Mayor knows something about the city government. He may know more than he would willingly tells us about all the problems and the difficulties of reform. No one questions that reform is needed, and no one except those who hold office would question that the whole system of boss rule in the Democratic party in city and state is outmoded and unpopular. But the intricacies of governing a big city would probably mean that anyone coming in would require at least a year before feeling sure of his judgment on a number of the questions facing him. He might not like or trust some of the officials elected with him, yet could not change them. His effort would have to be bent toward finding knowledgeable men and women of integrity and courage to place in appointive positions in order to change the atmosphere and the standards of the city administration.

One might well be a long time in accomplishing these results, and so it is understandable that in both Republican and Democratic ranks there is a reluctance to accept this task. One can only hope that the evident unrest and anxiety on the part of many people will move those who are in office to a greater sense of responsibility and a greater effort for achievement of reform along many lines. The old boss rule system is on the way out, I think, all over the nation. But it is becoming more and more evident that people need training to hold office in the complicated government situations presented by our large cities.

E. R.

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • New York (N.Y., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, May 15, 1961

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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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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MEP edition publlished on June 30, 2008.

TEI-P5 edition published on April 28, 2017.

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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.