Eleanor Roosevelt often said, "is the cornerstone of liberty."
And she should know. She began life as a history teacher. She
wrote more on education than she did on human rights. And she
rarely turned down an opportunity to visit a school - refusing
to cancel after she had been hit by a car. "Young people
are the rock upon which I stand."
its children - and education, after housing and food, was the
major gift it could provide them. Not just as a right but as the
essential tool the nation needed to lead.
believed we could not fulfill our responsibilities as citizens
if we were not educated. History, geography, foreign languages,
math, science and English formed her canon - and each were taught
across the disciplines. She loved to quote James Madison: "Knowledge
will forever govern ignorance."
But she railed
against those who promoted "education for survival. This
is a hideous concept. This is placing the bogey man of fear at
the forefront of our objectives. It is not fear, it is freedom
we must maintain."
In her final
book, written when she was 78, Eleanor Roosevelt told us that
"we must teach the young how to learn and where to find
the information they need. The mind must be trained, rather than
the memory . . . The mind must be formed as an efficient working
tool, so that education will be a continuing process, rather than
a matter of learning by rote."
the basic contest of the future will not be settled by bombs but
by the amount and quality of education." But this will never
happen if the country "spends more money on alcohol, on tobacco,
and on cosmetics than it does one education.
We all know
Eleanor Roosevelt loved to garden. How many of us know that she
loved to read irrigation maps, that she worried that strip mining
would devastate West Virginia and the mountains of the west, and
that in the late 1950s she flirted with an early recycling plan.
let us just listen to what she said in 1948 about one of the most
pressing issues of our time - American dependence on foreign oil:
been wondering for a long time why some of our own defense officials
do not put more emphasis on finding a good substitute for oil
and worry less about where more oil is to come from. Our people
are ingenious. New discoveries are all around us, and when we
have to make them, we nearly always do.
For instance, if the war had not made them important, the sulfa
drugs and penicillin might still be undeveloped, because it was
expensive to do the necessary experimentation. But when these
drugs became essential, the expense made no difference. If it
is essential to find a substitute for oil or rubber or any other
material, I have faith that it can be done, because it has been
done in the past.
understood the cost of peace, and campaigned to have Americans
understand it too.
have to want peace, want it enough to pay for it, pay for it in
our own behavior and in material ways. We will have to want it
enough to overcome our lethargy and go out and find all those
in other countries who want it as much as we do.
We have to understand things that we have never understood
or really cared about before, things that we were glad to turn
our backs on, things that we hoped profoundly would never be our
business. Today it is our business, if we don't want war.
fool ourselves that another war will see us come away scot free
again. . . We are going to examine what we do believe in and why,
and we are going to look at the rest of the world, at least we
are going to try to look at what other people need and what they
believe in and what their fears and desires are
counting entirely on individual strength and try to build up collective
strength, not just collective military strength but collective
moral and spiritual and economic strength, so that the world may
be able to live in the future. Hunger, lack of opportunity, poverty,
unhappy people-they make war; they make revolutions, and there
are no more unreachable places. An epidemic today can reach us
just as easily from Europe or from the Far East as if it started
right in our midst.
Eleanor Roosevelt knew this would be difficult, but she challenged
us to do the work. But she didn't pull any punches in her instructions:
to avert war. But . . . we seem to have forgotten to weigh our
values and to realize that we have to pay for the things we want.
The payment which can bring about friendly and peaceful solutions
is infinitely less costly than the payments which will have to
be made if we are going to be any enemy to all the world.
knew war intimately. She walked upon the bloated, unburied bodies
soldiers slaughtered in World War I. She flew in uninsulated military
aircraft through combat airspace to Guam, the Phillippines, and
13 other islands to visit American troops. She walked hundreds
of miles in hospital corridors, worked in emergency rooms, and
ate with the troops. And she began to carry a prayer that would
stay with her for the rest of her life:
lest I continue in my complacent ways, help me to remember that
someone died for me today. And if there be war, help me to remember
to ask and to answer "am I worth dying for?"
So what would
Eleanor Roosevelt say if she were with us today? She would say
what she said throughout her life: that "we are all on trial
to show what democracy means." And to do that:
. . . It
depends on what each of us does, what we consider democracy means
and what we consider freedom in a democracy means and whether
we really care about it enough to face ourselves and our prejudices
and to make up our minds what we really want our nation to be,
and what its relationship is to be to the rest of the world.
we know that then we'll be moral and spiritual leaders, and I
imagine it's you people gathered here in this room who are going
to do a great deal of the thinking and the actual doing because
a good many of us are not going to see the end of this period.
You are going to live in a dangerous world for a quite a while
I guess, but it's going to be an interesting and adventurous one.
I wish you the courage to face it. I wish you the courage to face
yourselves and when you know what you really want to be and when
you know what you really want to fight for, not in a war but to
fight for in order to gain a peace, then I wish for you imagination
and understanding. God bless you. May you win.