This I Believe

Kohn, Lucile


  • Lucile Kohn describes the spirit of cooperation she finds in her work and in young people and the inspiration she draws from working with and teaching youth and why this gives her faith that there can be a better world in the future.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Some people never learn, but others never stop learning. Definitely in the second category is Lucile Kohn, who, after over 50 years of teaching, is still alert to the lessons her pupils can teach her. Here, her creed.
What I believe arise from no superimposed credo but rather from the experience I have had in almost half a century of teaching and years more of living. My beliefs stem from my intimate contact with adolescents and young adults. Having no children of my own I have, since I was ten years old, been deeply involved in the interests and problems of nieces then grands and now today great-grandnieces and nephews. Practically every problem in life seems to me to be represented, perhaps in miniature scale, in the growth of a child into maturity. Perhaps this will explain why, in framing a statement of my philosophy, I find it natural to talk about my beliefs in terms of the lessons I have learned from young people.
As I compare the present-day youth with my own generation I am deeply impressed by the progress made in the activities of high school and college students. This progress is a fundamental reason for my faith that we can solve the problem of human relations. I have learned, through watching the holding forward and up of youth toward the solution of this most difficult problem, that one of the secrets of right living is infinite patience and a realization that we are not going to have utopia tomorrow.
As I see the youth of today participating in innumerable programs of public welfare and showing deep concern in interracial and international affairs, interests unknown to my school and college contemporaries, my faith is strengthened that the confusions and uncertainties of today will give way to a better world tomorrow.
This will not come through verbal exchanges and bull sessions alone, though as a teacher I would be the last to deny the value of discussion. I have long ago learned that talk without work will do little. Therefore it is most heartening for me to see that so many young people are translating their words into action.
Perhaps you will understand why my contacts with young people have done so much for my confidence in our ability to make a better world if I tell you about the Encampment for Citizenship where I have been a member of the staff for the past several years, a sort of busman’s holiday from teaching in a New York private high school.
The Encampment is a project in training young people from 17 to 23 for democracy. The student population includes people of all religious and ethnic groups who live together in true harmony and understanding. The uplift that I derive from my six weeks of such real democratic living serves me in good stead to meet the inevitable disappointments occurring throughout the year. This is just one of my experiences in watching people working, living and learning together.
Perhaps the most heartening of all has been my work in labor education, especially among coal miners. As I have observed young workers learning to assert their rights, to claim their fair share of the world’s good which they have helped to produce and, above all, to make a reality of the dignity of labor, I have felt that I have seen proof that the march of time is a forward march.
And so as I look back on the changes that have occurred during my lifetime, I feel wholeheartedly that my faith has been built on a firm foundation. That foundation is the fineness in the majority of mankind, especially the young people who want peace, prosperity and happiness for all and are ready to work and fight for that goal.
That was Lucile Kohn, head of Walden High School in New York City and a pioneer in labor education, a woman whose youthful spirit and confident belief continue to inspire all who meet her.