Lesson Three: A Comparison With Children in Modern Times

This lesson serves as a follow-up to a discussion of the letters to Mrs. Roosevelt, and a study of the New Deal agencies that brought aid to young people during the Depression. It focuses on two questions posed by the Dear Mrs. Roosevelt feature material:

  1. Since the Depression, have government agencies taken on a greatly expanded role as, in Professor Cohen's words, a "protector of youth and guarantor of opportunity for the sons and daughters of lower-income Americans"? [citation]
  2. Are the problems faced by young people today similar to those mentioned so often in the letters to Mrs. Roosevelt?

Classroom Procedures (Part 1):

  1. Ask the class to make a list of problems that they believe are typical of children and teenagers whom they know. (Students might mention poverty, drug use, child abuse and neglect, teen-age pregnancy, fears relating to increased community violence, concerns about sexually-transmitted diseases such as AIDS, or worries about education and jobs.)
    Note: Have students draw a line down the middle of their paper and list the problems of modern youth on the left-hand side of the page. (In "Classroom Procedures (Part 2)," they will be asked to list the problems of 1930s youth on the right-hand side and draw lines across the page to visually link the similarities.)
    • Have the students brainstorm and develop a list of groups they think might help with such problems: school counselors, ministers, parents, social-service agents, government-funded groups.
    • As time permits, ask one of the school's counselors, a local minister, and/or a community social worker to speak to the students about the service agencies they typically work with to resolve youth-related problems. After meeting with the guest speaker, students may be able to add to or refine their list of "help agents."

  2. Provide copies of the government and public information pages of the phone book. Using the titles on these pages, ask the students to identify organizations that appear to have the role of meeting the needs of children or youths. Add these new titles to the list of groups the class mentioned in the earlier brainstorming session. Students might also use a Web search engine such as Yahoo or AltaVista to identify national groups that offer assistance for youth-related problems.

  3. Ask each student to call or write one of the groups or individuals from the original brainstorming list for further research. Ask each to call or write one of the groups, agencies, or individuals from the master list. Have them request a brochure or other material which will help answer the following questions:
    • What youth-oriented problem does the group address?
    • What methods does the group use to accomplish its goals?
    • Does the agency keep records of the effectiveness of their programs? (For example, a drug-treatment center might maintain records of the number of released patients who have remained drug-free for one year.)
    • Is the organization private or public? If public, is it federal, state, or local?
    • When was it formed? If formed in the 1930s, has the structure and/or purpose changed?
    • How does the organization finance its activities?
    • Does the group rely on professional staff, unskilled workers, volunteers, or a mixture of each?

  4. After students have had time to gather the needed information, ask them to form groups according to the problem they researched.
    • Using the information gathered from the various organizations and agencies, ask each group to prepare a chart or report that reveals their findings.
    • Have them share their products with the class.
    • Ask the students whether the government played a prominent role in the resolution of youth-related problems.

  5. As an extended assignment, ask students to write a letter to a friend (real or imaginary) who has a problem similar to the one discussed in the lesson. The letter should describe the community resources that the friend can use in overcoming the problem.

Classroom Procedures (Part 2):

  1. Ask each group to read a set of four or five letters to Mrs. Roosevelt and list the problems each young writer mentioned.
    • Have the groups combine their lists from reading the letters.
    • Add these items to the right-hand column of the original brain-storming list. Now, look at the master list of 90s problems vs. 30s problems, and have students draw lines from left to right where items correspond.
    • Ask students to compare the entries and note the similarities and differences between the problems faced by 1930s and 1990s youth.
    • Ask students what they discovered in comparing the lists. For example, which list is longer? Do students think that young people of the 1990s face greater challenges than young people of the 1930s?
    • Based on their research, do students think today's young people have a better chance of receiving help for their problems that their 30s counterparts? Does it seem likely that the government's expanded role in our lives today is a legacy of President Roosevelt's New Deal Programs? (Professor Cohen's article provides more information on this topic.)

  2. Ask students to choose one of the letters written to Mrs. Roosevelt, perhaps one that seemed particularly convincing to them. Invite them to write a response from a modern point of view, making suggestions on how they might get assistance from today's social programs.

    Give students an opportunity to read their letters aloud. Invite them to draw conclusions about modern expanded services available to the poor and disadvantaged.