Read CHAPTER VI - HIGHER EDUCATION AT LOWVILLE of The New Education A Review of Progressive Educational Movements of the Day (1915), free online book, by Scott Nearing, on

I Lowville and the Neighborhood

Away off in northwestern New York State, where the sun shines fiercely in the summer mid-day, where the ice forms thick on the lakes, and the snow lies on the north side of the hills from Thanksgiving well on to Easter, there is a town of some three thousand inhabitants, called Lowville.  The comfortable homes, brick stores, wide tree-bordered streets, smiling hills and giddy children look very much the same at Lowville as they do in any one of a thousand similar towns east of the Mississippi.  Situated far back from the line of ordinary travel, the town is typical of a great class.

Stretching in all directions about Lowville is a fertile, prosperous, agricultural region, farmed by good farmers, who are intelligently awake to the problem of scientific agriculture in its multiple phases.

These farmers grow fruits, raise general farm produce, breed a little stock, cut some timber, besides all of the time-honored occupations of the professional farmer.  The boys and girls growing up in the town or the neighboring countryside, blessed with good air, and a cheap supply of wholesome food, look pleasantly forward toward life as something worth living.

So much for the good side of Lowville.  Sad indeed is it to recall that there is another side.  Anyone who has been in close contact with country life can readily imagine the ignorance, bigotry, prejudice, unfairness and unsociableness of the population; the tendency to cling to the past no matter what its shortcomings; the unwillingness to venture into even the rosiest future which involves change.  Lowville is blessed a great deal and cursed a very little.  The blessings are being augmented and the curses minimized by means of the local high school.

II Lowville Academy

Lowville Academy is an ancient private school whose usefulness was immensely enhanced when it was converted into a public high school.  When Mr. W. F. H. Breeze took over the principalship he made no particular objection to the old class rooms and wooden stairs, but he was very insistent upon discovering, first, what the community needed, and second, whether or not the school was meeting the need.

More than half (at the present time sixty-five per cent.) of the pupils at the school came from outside of the village.  That is, they come from the farms.  As farmers’ boys, many of them have been brought up to all of the unscientific crudities which have been handed down in American agriculture since the early settlers took the land from the Indians in grateful recognition of their instructions in fertilization.  While many agricultural anachronisms may be laid to the door of the redskins, planting by the moon and several equally absurd customs are traceable to the higher civilization of Western Europe.

Saturated with traditional agricultural lore some better and some worse the boys and girls from outside of Lowville, sixty-five in each hundred high school students, were growing up to become the owners of promising New York farms.  They needed, first of all, an education which should equip them with all of the culture of our schools, beside giving them a knowledge of the sciences of agriculture and of mechanics.  Those boys and girls who were planning to go to college required an advance course in those purgatorial topics which, for some inexplicable reason, are still regarded as necessary preliminaries to a college education.  Most of the girls in Lowville and the immediate vicinity hope to marry sooner or later, and to preside over wholesome, clean homes.  For home-making, also, there were certain possible educational provisions.

As prospective farmers, mechanics, college students, business men and women, as prospective fathers and mothers, the boys and girls of Lowville were looking to the schools high as well as elementary for an education which should enable them to do successfully and efficiently those things which life was holding before them.

Furthermore, Lowville had no spot around which community interests and civic ideas could center.  There was intelligent interest in Lowville, its streets, schools, trees, houses, and business interests; there was, too, an interest, expressed among the neighboring farmers, in the wonderful strides of agriculture; furthermore, men and women were anxious to discuss political and social happenings in other parts of the world.

What more natural than that the school be converted into a center of interest and education for Lowville and the surrounding territory.  Adults, as well as young folks, needed school help.  Adults as well as young folks should then be accommodated in the Lowville schools.

III The School’s Opportunity

“There was a peculiar opportunity,” said Mr. Breeze, in his crisp direct way.  “The place needed organizing in educational lines.  People were anxious to have it done.  They wanted the advantage of a modern educational institution, but no one had provided it, so I made up my mind that my business was to do it.”

Mr. Breeze made his first innovation in the course of study, supplementing the old course by domestic science, several phases of agriculture and mechanics.  Then he correlated the various branches in such a way that the subjects all harmonized with the work which any particular student was doing.

“We made up our minds,” Mr. Breeze explained, “that if we were to hold the children and to educate them usefully, we must make our course fit the things which they had to do in life.  The work must come down to earth.  It had to be practical that is, applicable to everyday affairs.  Some people confuse practical with pecuniary.  There is no relation between the two words.  Practical means usable.  We set out to make a usable education.”

“No education is usable which has frills,” Mr. Breeze insists.  “Frills are nice for looks, but you can’t put on frills until you have a garment to which they may be attached.  Our school is providing the garment we will leave the frills to some one else.”

With this idea in mind, the applied courses in the school were organized.  Wood-alcohol cook stoves, such as those used in the village, ordinary sewing machines, typewriters for the commercial course, and the simplest tools for the machine shop, made up the equipment.

“These boys have but a few tools at home,” Mr. Breeze says.  “When they go on the farm they will be compelled to use these tools.  Why, then, should they be taught mechanics with tools which they cannot duplicate on their farms without an unjustifiable extravagance?”

IV Field Work as Education

Pursuant to such philosophy, the boys began their shop-work by equipping the shop, building benches, tool-chests, cabinets, and saw horses; putting lath and plaster on the ceiling; setting up the simple tools and putting the shop in running order.  Meanwhile, the agricultural students set up two cream separators and a milk-tester, and arranged their laboratory.  Then the school was ready for applied work, or rather, the students having graduated from a course in shop equipment, were ready for shop practice.

The entire class in agriculture makes inspection of nearby farms here to see a well-managed orchard, there a new type of cow-barn or silo.  Again they inspect the soil of a district, going carefully over it, picking samples and testing them on return to the school.  In fruit-packing season, the students visit the packing houses, or else, in the case of some of the boys, they take a week of employment with a good fruit packer.  In season they practice tree pruning, grafting, budding, transplanting and spraying.  Whenever possible, the applied work of the school is done in connection with the real applied work of life.

The physics and chemistry are both related to the agriculture and the mechanics courses in the most intimate manner.  From the earliest lessons in physics through analyses of heat, light and the principles of mechanics, the theories are constantly interpreted in practical problems which arise in the daily work of the Lowville farmer.  The physics teacher, enthusiastic over his students and his work, builds machines and testing devices, which the boys and girls use in solving the problems which they bring from their homes.  No less close to the life of the place is the chemical laboratory, which offers opportunity for the analysis of soil, the chemistry of fertilizers, experiments in testing food and milk, and a number of other matters pertaining to agriculture and domestic life.

The mechanical courses are closely related to the work in agriculture, since most of the boys who take up the mechanical work are to go on the farms.  The course in mechanics passes quickly over the elements of the work most boys have learned to use saw, plane, chisel, auger, and hammer years before.  The smithing work of tempering, annealing, welding, soldering and removing rust, all leads up to the real work of the shops, the making of products.  The boys make pruning knives, squares and drawing boards, grafting hooks, nail boxes, apple-boxing devices (for this is an apple country), cement rollers, mallets, whiffle-trees, bob-sleds, holders for saw filing, bag-holders, chicken-coops, poultry exhibit boxes, hammer handles, greenhouse flats.  Besides, they have exercises in belt-lacing, in cement work, and reinforced concrete.  Then, too, they make models of barns and bridges, computing strains, lumber-costs, labor-costs, floor spacing and arrangement.

The agricultural course deals, in some detail, with fruit-growing, animal husbandry, grain-growing, and related topics.  Though the scope of such a course is necessarily limited in a high school, it forms an invaluable addition to the knowledge of the boy who cannot go to an agricultural college before he begins his life on the farm.  Taught by an agricultural expert, the work assumes real importance to the prospective farmer.

Nor are the girls of Lowville neglected.

V Real Domestic Science

The domestic science department, in charge of an expert, takes up household economics, sewing, dietetics and cooking.  The work throughout is practical, the girls learning the principles of sanitation, and their application to the household; domestic art and home decoration; lighting, heating and ventilation.  The sewing classes cover the usual exercises in simple hemming and darning, making towels, hemming napkins, and the like; then underclothes, and later dresses are made.

In the cooking laboratory the girls learn food values and food combinations, the cooking of simple dishes, the preparation of entire meals.  The girl who finishes the domestic science course in the Lowville Academy is competent to organize a home, cook, sew, keep house and make as efficient use of her opportunities as does her brother who has been trained in mechanics or agriculture.

It is not in the applied courses alone that an extraordinary amount of co-operation has been attained.  The academic branches, likewise, are so adjusted as to bear directly upon the work of the remaining courses.  The Academic co-ordination is particularly noticeable in the English work, which is required of everyone during the entire high school course.  English composition is made to serve as a connecting, co-ordinating study related to all of the other courses in the school.

The student in agriculture writes reports on various phases of agricultural work, collecting them in a folder and arranging them in order, according to subject.  Chemistry reports, history reports, all are made a legitimate part of the work in English.

The results of this system have been more than satisfactory to Mr. Breeze and his staff of co-workers.  Students who would have left at the end of the grammar school, are attracted by the high school program, and “saved” by a high school course.  The appeal of the school is a wide one.  There are no class of boys and girls in Lowville who cannot find something worth while in the high school.  Often a student otherwise not brilliant will succeed remarkably in a particular line.  Of one such boy in particular Mr. Breeze spoke.

VI One Instance of Success

“He had no taste for Greek, but his reports and analysis in agriculture and mechanics were brilliant.  The excellent drawing and sketching and the careful work showed how much appeal the applied course had made to his mind; yet but for the agricultural course he would never have come to high school.  A farmer’s son with little taste for the ordinary academic studies was inspired by the idea of improved, scientific farming and was getting a thorough insight into the principles of agriculture, chemistry, physics, and mechanics, which will be of the greatest service to him when he takes up farming.  Such topics as judging the age of cows, breed of cattle, cost of milk production, the cost of cow-barn construction, grain, hay, cattle rations, silage, and nutrition will all bear directly on the work of the farm in which he is so deeply interested.[”]

So much for the contribution of the Lowville High School to the students who have gone out of its class-rooms and class excursions, stronger in body and more alert of mind.  No less remarkable has been its service to the community.  At the suggestion of the school authorities acting in co-operation with the Grange, the State, and several other agencies, Lowville has secured an agricultural specialist, whose business it is to travel through the countryside, advising farmers, discussing their problems and suggesting better methods of operating the farms, or of experimenting in new directions.  Each winter for one week, a school for adults is held, with courses in agriculture for the men and courses in domestic science for the women.  The teachers, experts from the Cornell School of Agriculture, are exceptionally well prepared to deal with the problems of New York State farmers.

Higher education at Lowville is education for everyone in Lowville and vicinity who wants it.  With one eye on community needs and the other on the best means of supplying them, the Lowville Academy is giving to the citizens of Lowville a twentieth century higher education.