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THE COMMUNITY’S EDUCATION

THE SCHOOL

At its beginning the United States Government gave support to education by the allotment of public lands to the states as an endowment for public schools, and although the federal government has done but little since then for primary education, the support of education has become one of the chief concerns of state and local governments. In colonial times public schools were largely confined to New England. With the settlement of the Middle West district schools were established with the aid of the government land grants. But in the South conditions were not favorable for public schools until long after the Civil War, and only in the last generation or two has public education become firmly established.

The district school, the famous “little red school-house” of the nineteenth century, was frequently the neighborhood center and the school district commonly formed a neighborhood area, particularly in hilly sections where its lines were adjusted by topography. A recent study of neighborhood areas in Otsego County, New York, shows that about half of them are identical with the school districts, chiefly on account of topography, while in Dane County, Wisconsin, more neighborhood areas are determined primarily by the school district than by any one factor. Formerly the district school-house was quite frequently used for Sunday school or preaching services; spelling-bees and other entertainments were held from time to time; and political meetings and elections were commonly held there.

Although the district school is still a neighborhood social center in many sections, its decadence commenced at the close of the nineteenth century, the change depending upon the general progress or isolation of the community, particularly as affected by transportation. Several factors have combined to make the district school unsatisfactory to the rural community of to-day. In the older parts of the country the population has so decreased that in many districts the maintenance of a school has become exceedingly expensive, it is difficult to secure competent teachers, and there are too few pupils to make the school attractive. The better educational advantages of town and city schools have caused much dissatisfaction upon the part of the better class of farmers who wish their children to have the best possible start in life, and many of those who can afford to do so have “moved to town” to educate their children, thus making a bad matter worse for the district school. As long as roads were poor the district school was the only one possible, but with better roads, automobiles and trolleys, the consolidation of schools has proceeded rapidly in the past decade, particularly in the prairie states.

A modern school cannot be maintained at every other crossroads. Improved roads naturally radiate from the village center and hence it is the logical point for a consolidated school or high school. There are localities in isolated regions where it might be desirable to establish consolidated schools in the open country, but in most cases where there is a natural village center, the school should be located there and the school laws should make possible the organization of the consolidated school district regardless of township or county lines. Indeed legislation has already been enacted to this end in several states and forms one of the most important movements for strengthening the rural community. Here and there are to be found consolidated schools which have been placed in the open country at the center of a township because it was the point most easily agreed upon by all the patrons, particularly where the township is an administrative unit of the school system. In some cases somewhat successful efforts are being made to have such consolidated schools serve as social centers, but it is believed that in the long run community life will flow to its natural centers and that the seeming success of such social centers in the open country, unless the neighborhood be an isolated one, will tend to weaken the communities concerned. Usually a consolidated district of this sort will contain parts of two or three community areas and the location of the school at a point between them weakens the support of the community centers to that extent. Here we encounter one of the many ways in which our artificial unit of rural government the township interferes with community progress.

Formerly only the children of the upper classes who were preparing for college received a secondary education, but during the past generation there has been a rapid growth of public high schools which serve as the “people’s colleges.” At first these were found only in the cities and larger towns, but rural communities have demanded equal advantages and state and national legislation has aided them in the cost of maintenance. Federal aid for secondary education in vocational subjects, now available through the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, has encouraged the establishment of rural high schools and has greatly increased the number giving instruction in agriculture and home economics. Hundreds of rural high schools are now giving agricultural courses better than the agricultural colleges gave twenty-five years ago.

Rural high schools with full four-year courses have been found mostly in the larger villages and towns, but the movement is now well under way to divide the period of secondary education into a junior and senior high school (the so-called “six-six” plan), and junior high schools, including the seventh to ninth grades, are being established in many smaller communities by simply adding a grade to the consolidated schools. The educational forces of the country, as expressed by statements of the U. S. Bureau of Education and the National Education Association, are now committed to the policy of consolidated rural schools wherever they are practicable and to the establishment of a sufficient number of high schools so that every rural child may attend high school and still be able to live at home. Obviously it is important from the standpoint of community development that the high schools should be placed at community centers and that where some of the communities are too small to support senior high schools that they should be located at a village which serves as a center of what, for want of a better term, we may call “the larger community” (see pages 232-3).

One of the reasons for consolidated schools is that the objectives of rural education are changing and that country people are demanding that their children be educated for country as well as for town life. Formerly the content and method of rural education was an imitation of that of the city and inevitably made industrial, commercial, and professional occupations the ideal of the pupil. The schools of New England have done an immense service to the rest of the country but they were an important factor in depopulating many a New England town. The introduction of nature study, agriculture, and home economics is becoming general in rural schools. Educators do not desire to train rural children solely for farm life, and thus to segregate a farm class, even were that possible, but they are attempting to give equal emphasis to the values of country life so that it may prove equally attractive to the best as well as to the less efficient rural youth.

Furthermore the whole attitude of rural as well as urban education is changing from that of teaching individuals so as to equip them with intellectual tools for their personal advancement, to one of training future citizens who will attain their own best interests by useful service to the community. The curriculum and objectives of the school are rapidly becoming socialized, and as this process goes on the school will more and more become the most important single institution for creating community loyalty.

The community school, particularly the high school, no longer confines itself to the instruction of its regular pupils; it is the educational center and headquarters of the community. With the assistance of the Extension Service of the agricultural colleges, rural high schools are holding one-week extension schools for farm men and women, and under the Smith-Hughes Act they are offering continuation short courses for the younger farmers. The progressive rural high school is taking a live interest in the one-room district schools which may be too far from the center for consolidation, and is seeking to interest their pupils in attending high schools through athletic meets, play festivals, and similar assemblages of all the schools of the community, which thus create a natural bond of interest and common enthusiasm. The principal of the high school at Oxford, N. Y., recently organized a public-speaking contest of representatives of all the country schools in his supervisory district, in connection with the annual play festival which he had established several years before. This proved to be a huge success and gave the boys and girls from the district schools new confidence in their ability of self-expression. One of the greatest needs which farmers’ organizations are to-day feeling is their lack of leaders who can speak for them effectively at public gatherings and before legislative hearings in competition with men who make their living by talking. Such contests, particularly when the topics discussed deal with affairs of country life with which the children are acquainted and in which they are vitally interested, as was the case with the one at Oxford and to which much of its success was attributed, are therefore of great value and may well be substituted for the academic debates so often heard on subjects quite foreign to the child’s life and beyond his real comprehension.

In many places new school buildings are being constructed with an auditorium, which may be used as a gymnasium, library room, dining room, etc., so that they may serve as social centers for the community. Where the community is not large enough to afford a separate community house this is frequently the best and most economical means of meeting this need. This will be discussed further in considering community buildings.

Numerous rural high schools are conducting lyceum and entertainment courses, and some are operating motion-picture shows on Saturday nights. Where no other organization is better adapted for taking the responsibility of furnishing high-class entertainment to the community, this is a useful service. School orchestras and bands, choruses, and dramatic clubs are also valuable additions to the community life.

The successful community school will not center all of its activities in its own building, but it will take some of its talent to the country schools for local athletic and play contests, dramatic or musical entertainments, etc., and thus magnify the importance of the local school in the neighborhood, for only by acquiring a desire for these advantages will the people in the more isolated parts of the community come to interest themselves in the activities of the whole community at its village center.

It is becoming more and more apparent that if the school is really to function as it should, that it must have the active interest and support of its patrons. It is not enough that they should assemble at the annual school meeting, elect school officials, vote taxes for its maintenance, and then leave its management to the school board and teachers. It is highly desirable that every encouragement should be given toward making teaching a life profession, but as teaching becomes professionalized it tends, like every other calling, to become more or less of a bureaucracy. It is essential that educational methods should be determined by and be in charge of educators who are trained for such service, but if they get the idea, as sometimes seems unfortunately the case, that it is the business of the people to supply funds for the support of the schools and then to leave their entire operation to the teachers and superintendents, they assume an attitude which is fatal to the life of the school, for no educational system, however ideal in theory, can be effective without the sympathetic understanding and cordial support of the majority of its patrons. It is for this reason that large emphasis is being placed by progressive educators on the organization of parent-teachers associations or school improvement leagues for the discussion of school problems by parents and teachers. In many cases the parent-teachers association forms one of the chief bonds of the country community and the State of Virginia has built up a remarkable system of community organization through its Cooperative Educational League with hundreds of local leagues which interest themselves in all phases of community life.

The school is also coming to realize that although it is the institution specially created for the systematic education of the child, that much of his education is received outside the school and that certain phases of his education may be accomplished more effectively through the cooperation of the school with other institutions and agencies. Thus instead of seeking to absorb all of the time of the child and to give it all kinds of training within the school or as part of its curriculum, the school is commencing to develop methods for strengthening and coordinating the educational work of the home, the church, and of various organizations.

The teaching of agriculture has been made vital and effective by the home project in which the boy comes to appreciate the value of the principles studied at school in connection with an agricultural enterprise in raising crops or livestock of his own on the home farm. This tends to enlist the interest of the parents, who contribute largely to the educational process. The same principle is being applied to a less extent in work in home economics, and the giving of school credit for various kinds of home work has established a community of interest between home and school. In the teaching of hygiene, and particularly with regard to sex hygiene, the school finds it difficult to establish those habits and attitudes which are as important as mere knowledge without the help and cooperation of the home. So, too, the medical inspection of school children, with the work of school nurses and clinics held at the school for children of pre-school age, stimulate the home to better health.

Because of the separation of church and state in this country we have very largely neglected all effort toward religious education in our public schools, and even ethical training has been more or less of a secondary objective until very recently. A growing appreciation of the inadequacy of the ordinary Sunday school has led to a movement for giving systematic instruction and training in religious education under church auspices at a time set apart by the school and for which school credit is given when it meets reasonable educational standards. The week-day school of religion is still in an experimental stage. It has been established longest in cities, but is now being attempted in rural communities, and if sectarian dogmatism and jealousies can be submerged, there seems every reason to hope that this may be a most important feature of our educational system.

So, too, the boys’ and girls’ clubs in agriculture and home economics, the boy and girl scouts, the campfires, the little mothers’ leagues, the health crusades, the Y.M.C.A and Y.W.C.A., and other organizations for children and youth, have created new interest in certain aspects of school work and are a source of educational dynamic which progressive educators are utilizing as valuable allies.

Thus in very many ways the school is adapting its methods to meet its responsibility for developing good citizens who are loyal to the welfare of the community, and the school principal is rightly expected to be a leader in community affairs in so far as they concern the participation and interests of the school.

It is a far cry from the isolated one-room, box-type district school, with a young girl with no professional training teaching a dozen youngsters of all ages as best she can with little or no equipment, to the modern consolidated school or rural high school with all the intimate connections with the life of the whole community above described, but this difference measures one phase of the progress which has been made in recent years toward the integration of the rural community and depicts one of the most important forces involved in this process, whose influence is only commencing to be felt. How different will the life of rural communities be a generation or two hence when in most of them practically all of the parents and children will have had a high-school education, with all the broader contacts and outlook on life which that involves! We need only to study the influence of the Danish Folk High Schools to visualize the outcome.

THE PUBLIC LIBRARY

The public library has possibilities as an educational institution exceeded only by those of the school. In many cases it is the intellectual center of the community, while in others the caricature of the library of Gopher Prairie in Sinclair Lewis’ “Main Street,” where one of the chief objects was to keep the books from being soiled or worn out, is not much overdrawn. Increasingly, however, the librarian is studying methods of salesmanship for increasing the local consumption of the products of the world’s best minds in books and magazines, and is of inestimable service to all organizations whose members have occasion to study what human thought has contributed to the solution of their problems. The public library gives the means of further education to many a person deprived of academic privileges, who may realize the truth of Carlyle’s saying: “The true University of these days is a Collection of Books.”

In many states public libraries are aided by state and local appropriations, particularly in New England and the states settled by New England stock, for it is to New England that we are indebted for the public library as well as the public school. It is not, however, economically possible for every small community to support a permanent local library, and many of those established have a precarious existence and are maintained only through the devotion of public-spirited individuals. To meet the need of isolated neighborhoods a few county libraries, notably in Washington County, Maryland, and a few counties in Delaware and Minnesota, have made use of book-wagons which are accompanied by a librarian who makes a “rural free delivery” of books to each home and assists the families in their selection. It seems, however, that the chief value of the book-wagon is as a means of creating a desire for books, and that when this is created it will be much more economical to furnish them through branch stations at neighborhood or community centers. Systems of traveling libraries are also supported by many states and make it possible for the most isolated neighborhoods to secure the best of books. Unfortunately, however, the places which need them most do not always know of them nor will they take the initiative to secure them. They are of particular value for securing collections of books on special topics for the use of granges, churches, and study clubs of all sorts. But as the demand for traveling libraries grows, the administration of the system from the state library becomes a large undertaking and the need of better local libraries is realized.

A system of “county libraries” has been developed in California, has spread to several other states, and is now being advocated by the American Library Association and by library leaders generally. Under the county system a central library is established at the county seat, with branches or loan stations at the different community centers, and with traveling collections for the more isolated neighborhoods. The larger centers which have local libraries continue to maintain them and simply serve as part of the system. Thus the library resources of the county are pooled and the farm people are given the same sort of service that a city library gives its people through its branches. The feature of interest from a community standpoint is that, although this is a county system, it recognizes the usefulness of local branches and makes possible a library service adapted to its needs for every small community, whereas separate libraries have heretofore been possible only in the larger centers.

THE COUNTRY WEEKLY

One of the most important educational agencies of the rural community is the oft-derided weekly newspaper. After a period of difficult competition with city dailies the surviving weeklies are becoming recognized as community institutions. Those which are succeeding are doing so by becoming the voice of the community and the means of its self-acquaintance. No agency may be more powerful in unifying or disrupting the life of the local community. This new concept of the country weekly has been well expressed by W. P. Kirkwood, of the University of Minnesota:

“Community building was a concept unknown to the editor of thirty or forty years ago. To-day it is an accepted concept of dynamic force, full of significance in most of the country towns of America.

“Community service, as such a concept, is fast finding its way into the country press in the Middle West, at least. As this ideal gains acceptance, giving definite direction to newspaper effort for the upbuilding of communities, the press gains an enlarged constituency with a truer conception of the power and usefulness of the newspaper....

“Community service, community building, then, as a master motive, establishes the country weekly newspaper publisher securely in his position of leadership. It assures added community prosperity and the local development of the finer satisfactions of life in which he must share, and no other agency can take this from him, neither the city daily, coming in from a distance and concerned with the larger affairs of the larger community, nor the school, nor the church, nor any other."

In a bulletin on “The Country Weekly in New York State," Professor M. V. Atwood, of the New York State College of Agriculture and for several years a successful publisher, discusses the purposes and future of the country weekly. He holds that the country weekly is not, as often stated, and should not be a molder of public opinion, but should rather express and interpret the sentiment of its constituency.

“The country newspaper,” he says, “is a service agency; it is a community institution like the church, the school, the library, and the farm and home bureau. It helps all these institutions to do their work....

“If the country newspaper does not do much thought-molding it does offer a medium for the dissemination of thought, for the propagation of ideas of the people of the community. The value of the newspaper to the community becomes especially apparent when some local project is to be considered, like the erection of a school, the building of good roads, or the installation of a water system. For weeks the paper will offer in the form of letters, the views of different people of the community. The subject is thoroughly aired. Even if the editor takes no sides in the matter, his paper has been of inestimable service to the community.”

Indeed, as we shall see later, such a free discussion is a most essential step in all community activities, and the service of the newspaper is probably greater if it acts as a free and open forum for discussion rather than a partisan of either side. Of the news of the future, Professor Atwood says:

“Most of these papers will also be printing much more farm news than they do to-day because as the publishers have surveyed their fields they will have found the primary interest of their readers is agricultural. There will be some exceptions for some communities will have ceased to be dominated by agriculture because of the coming of factories. The real country weeklies will not become agricultural text hooks; but the news of the farms, the improvements to farm buildings, and the experiences of successful local farmers will find much space in their columns.

“The community editor of the future is not going to worry much about ‘hot’ news. He will realize that most of the striking facts of any story have already been printed in the neighboring city papers, but he will realize also that the genuine community interest in the event has not been glimpsed by the city editor, who is out of touch with the local situation; around these community aspects the local editor will weave his story.”

Possibly the best appreciation of the country weekly is a prose poem written by Professor Bristow Adams, editor of the New York State College of Agriculture, and presented at the first country newspaper conference held at that institution during Farmers Week 1920, entitled “I am the Country Weekly," and which vividly depicts its service as an agency for developing community consciousness:

“I am the Country Weekly.

“I am the friend of the family, the bringer of tidings from
other friends; I speak to the home in the evening light of
summers vine-clad porch or the glow of winters lamp.

“I help to make this evening hour; I record the great and
the small, the varied acts of the days and weeks that go to
make up life.

“I am for and of the home; I follow those who leave humble beginnings; whether they go to greatness or to the gutter, I take to them the thrill of old days, with wholesome messages.

“I speak the language of the common man; my words are fitted to his understanding. My congregation is larger than that of any church in my town; my readers are more than those in the school. Young and old alike find in me stimulation, instruction, entertainment, inspiration, solace, comfort. I am the chronicler of birth, and love and death the three great facts of man’s existence.

“I bring together buyer and seller, to the benefit of both; I am part of the market-place of the world. Into the home I carry word of the goods which feed and clothe, and shelter, and which minister to comfort, ease, health, and happiness.

“I am the word of the week, the history of the year, the
record of my community in the archives of state and nation.

“I am the exponent of the lives of my readers.

“I am the Country Weekly.”