During the month of February 1949 WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND? was devoted to "a consideration of THE CHALLENGE TO DEMOCRACY". Each Wednesday evening from 9.30 to 10.15, "leaders of national thought" discussed with Delbert Clark of the NYT staff over the coffee cups after dinner. Feb 16th, the guests were Eleanor Roosevelt (introduced as Chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights - not just as 'former First Lady' - hurrah!!), Leonard Carmichael (President of Tufts College) and James L. Hanley (Superintendent of schools in Providence, Rhode Island).
The definition of democracy agreed upon by the guests is : " a system based upon equality of political, economic and social opportunity, in which the government is chosen by the governed, and is removable by them by legal, non-violent means; with the further condition that the system recognizes the essential worth of the individual."
In the discussion in which from time to time the guests do seem to be talking at cross-purposes, the issues of freedom, patriotism, responsibilities, teacher skills and the value of the humanities are all raised. ER makes the point that there is education for democracy that happens outside of school too:
"Democracy is something that comes to our young people and our children not just in school, but in the home and in the community and in the church, and in all the things that go to make up their lives. They have to actually see democracy at work and live it, before it has very much meaning to them"
Referring to "something which has happened in our country" - where she doesn't specify the 'something', but very likely means the lack of civil rights in the US at the time - she points out the hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another: "That is what I think is really sometimes what happens in our democracy. We say we believe certain things, but when it comes to actually living those things, we do not do it."
ER gets the others to agree that educating for 'tolerance' might not be desirable if 'tolerance' connotes a lack of understanding. Too often 'tolerance' is used to means to put up with other people's beliefs without caring to think about those different beliefs. Instead, the guests agree that tolerance is only good if it means 'curiosity' for the other and that developing curiosity should be one of the great things that education should develop. Or as ER says: " If you can have curiosity about what people are thinking and what they feel, you can perhaps develop enough imagination so that people do not need to be 'tolerant' because they will be able to put themselves in the other person's place and understand things."
Our current challenges to democracy and democratic thinking are not much different than in 1949 and neither is the need for us to endeavour that education (at schools and elsewhere) is aimed at developing curiosity about others and their opinions, foster imagination and urge and enable everyone to take responsibility for finding common solutions to common problems.