Eleanor Roosevelt provided career-long lessons about importance of learning how to learn and of honoring others

Photo/Dennis Sparks

Last week the New York Times published a 50-year-old photo of Eleanor Roosevelt carrying her own bag at LaGuardia Airport.

I sent the post to my former teaching colleague and friend Mike Abbott, who in turn forwarded it to his teaching colleague and friend, Pete Pascaris [all of us who had been teachers in the Livonia (Michigan) Public Schools] because he remembered that Pete had met Roosevelt around that same time.

Pete sent the following comment on the story to the Times, which now appears with the article accompanying the photo:

“As part of a delegation from Wayne State University, I had the opportunity to greet Eleanor Roosevelt at Detroit’s Metro Airport in 1962. Her daughter greeted her with us and took her suitcase, but Mrs. Roosevelt continued to carry her small overnight case.  Later that day, I sat next to her at a dinner honoring her as first recipient of our Education Day Award, introduced her to an overflow crowd in the auditorium, and asked her questions passed on from the audience. At dinner, she showed genuine interest in me, asking about my studies, my interests, my ambitions, and my family. More importantly, she listened attentively, asked follow-up questions to my answers, and never displayed any condescension whatsoever.

“In her speech, she said, ‘The most important thing to learn is to learn how to learn.’ I was so moved by her words and my experience that day, I used her phrase on the first day of every class I taught over my thirty-three-year teaching career. Although I taught math and science (and later, chemistry), I repeatedly told my students that ‘learning how to learn’ was their primary objective. ‘Not all of you will be scientists or mathematicians,’ I would say, ‘but all of you will be learners the rest of your lives.’

“Mrs. Roosevelt’s lifetime example spoke even louder than her words. She taught me that not all of us will be president or a spouse of a president, but all of us . . . regardless of station . . . can act in a manner that honors the person we are with.”

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4 Responses to “Eleanor Roosevelt provided career-long lessons about importance of learning how to learn and of honoring others”


  1. 1 Barb Heinzman November 22, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Dennis,

    I am sure that Mike has told you how much I enjoy your Blog. You hit the nail on the head about whatever you are discussing or writing about.

    What a great story about Eleanor Roosevelt! It is exactly correct. We need to teach our children how to learn so they can be life long learners. No matter what subject we teach, the bigger picture is to teach them how to learn and to have a love of learning.

    As you well know, in many schools that is not happening today. Kids are being schooled in how to take tests so they can score at levels that are mandated by the state. That will certainly squelch any love of learning anyone (including the teacher) might have! It is such a shame that this is happening in education today. School should be fun and engaging for all students.

    I always look forward to your next blog. Thanks for sharing you insight, experiences, and knowledge.
    Barb

  2. 2 Jim Knight November 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I loved this post, which for me, amongst other things, points to the impact we can have just by personal example. Mrs. Roosevelt is an inspiration.

  3. 3 Dean November 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I knew Pete Pascaris from Stevenson days. He was a caring teacher who treated all with respect. He was also a teacher who believed all could learn and had high expectations that all could master the content. A good guy.

  4. 4 Pete Pascaris November 22, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    How refreshing to read such nice comments. Thanks Barb and Jim. I’m pleased that the episode, which affected me tremendously, is still able to touch you.
    Thanks also to Dean, especially for the “good guy” remark. I remember a terrific colleague at Stevenson named Dean, but the one I knew wasn’t prone to exaggeration. He truly was a good guy.


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