JULY 25, 1962
HYDE PARK —I have before me a paper written by a 16-year-old boy, an honor graduate of St. Andrew's High School of Charleston, South Carolina, on the subject of freedom and democracy in the U.S. Judging from his composition, the education this boy has received is not one that creates a free and open and enquiring mind but a type of indoctrination.
Only indoctrination could produce a sentence such as the following: "What is freedom? Webster defines it as 'exemption or liberation from slavery, imprisonment, or restraint, or from the power or control of another,' but to most Americans it means that which has been granted them by an unknown work called the Constitution of the U.S. of America."
Do the schools of South Carolina teach the children that the constitution is an "unknown work?" Are they taught to accept the constitution as the fundamental document on which our law is based? Are they differently taught than the children of other parts of the country? How can one grow up with proper respect for those who wrote the constitution and who founded the government of our country if their work is so lightly regarded?
In this astonishing essay the following paragraph occurs: "The U.S. was originally intended to be a republic" (it not only was so intended, but it is a republic) "in which the people would have a voice in all affairs of the government; but because of the trend of our government in the last 30 years, the U.S. is now what might be termed a liberal democracy in which people elect the leaders who then decide on laws and all matters pertaining to government and the country without first securing the people's consent."
Evidently the boy does not know that the election of representatives by the people was what was laid down as the procedure in a republic. The people control their elected representatives if they wish to do so, and keep in touch so that their representatives know what they want. But the majority rules, as it always has.
If science creates a very much more complicated society than existed even 30 years ago, there is need for certain changes in government; but the basis remains the same. The power lies in the people. They elect their representatives. They can at any time refuse to elect them. But since we are a government that abides by law and the rule of majority, the laws and their enforcement will largely represent the majority opinion of those who take the trouble to be active in their government.
Our 16-year old solon proceeds to tell us: "This trend results in a form of dictatorship called socialism. Socialism is that type of government in which all power is placed in the hands of a centralized body." (The young man should talk to some of the old Socialists—Norman Thomas, David Dubinsky, and a few others.) "The country is then termed a 'welfare state' in which the people are completely supported by the government." (Where does the government get the wherewithal to support the people unless it comes from the people?) "To continue these trends would lead directly towards communism, a complete control of all government powers, in the hands of small, highly centralized body."
It is evident that the teaching in South Carolina about the difference between socialism and communism needs to be elaborated and somewhat sharpened.
The writer's last paragraph shows the despair to which our younger generation is being thoroughly indoctrinated in this type of South Carolina public school. He ends his essay this way: "In any manner one states it, one is sure to find a total loss of freedom at the end of this trend unless one realizes the danger in our present government and loves one's country enough to stand up for the few rights and freedoms one had left."
I can only say to this young man that if he would like to realize how many rights and freedoms the people of the U.S. still have, he had better spend a year as an exchange student in the Soviet Union. He will soon find out the difference between what he calls a "liberal democracy" and what exists under communism as practiced in the Soviet Union.
The important thing about this essay which has seriously troubled me is the fact that it reveals a type of teaching given today in probably more than one of our Southern states. I hope there are not many which produce at the age of 16 a young man who writes such complete and ignorant nonsense. On the other hand, if this is the kind of indoctrination which is being done in the high schools of certain states, I cannot help but be a little apprehensive about our youngsters' capacity for straight thinking in the course of the next few years.
About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, July 25, 1962
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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