Franklin Roosevelt believed that the health and survival of American democracy was inextricably linked to the quality of education available to its citizenry.
During “American Education Week” in 1938, President Roosevelt declared, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education…To prepare each citizen to choose wisely and to enable him to choose freely are paramount functions of the schools in a democracy.” Roosevelt also voiced his approval that one of the themes of that year’s American Education Week was Holding Fast to our Ideals of Freedom, concluding his statement by asserting that “upon the maintenance of those ideals depends all of our happiness.”
We here at Four Freedoms State Park share FDR’s beliefs regarding education. Not only in the link between a successful democracy and a well-educated citizenry, but also in his understanding that our national ideals of freedom require persistent maintenance.
That thinking is what guided our efforts as we created three distinct field trips for students in grades 2-12 Freedom From Fear (focused on international relations), Freedom From Want (focused on wants vs needs) and Freedom of Speech & Worship: First Freedoms (focused on the intersection of FDR’s four freedoms and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution). Each of the three tours aligns with city and state learning standards and supplements units already being taught in classrooms. We invite students and teachers to discover the legacy of the four freedoms through an analysis of primary resources and the architecture of our beautiful outdoor space, but we also seek to engage young people in dialogue where they can consider and articulate their own thoughts and opinions about these freedoms as well.
This season we have introduced a new tour focused exclusively on the Park itself. Students taking A Memorial to Freedom will explore the unique architecture of Louis Kahn's monumental creation, as well as Jo Davidson's enlarged bust of FDR, and James Renwick's former Smallpox Hospital. The program will also encourage young people to consider the purpose of memorials, and what they believe a memorial to freedom should look like.
If you are an educator who is interested in bringing your class out to FDR Four Freedoms State Park for any of our guided field trips, or you know someone who might be, please feel free to check out our school group’s webpage www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org/learn for more information or to book a tour. You can also send an email to Ryan Lockwood, the Manager of Education for the Park, at Rlockwood@fdrffp.org.
The four freedoms are not static nor free from threats, and it is our sincere hope that students leave the Park feeling empowered to/responsible for promoting their own twenty-first century vision of Roosevelt’s legacy within their individual communities. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home…the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in, the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works…unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”