« ForrigeFortsett »
Solving Country Life Problems in
BY J. MACE ANDRESS, State Normal School,
JUNTAMI OBLIDABONES HE early history of Massachusetts is a record of the
struggles and achievements of rural communities. The livelihood of the early colonists was won largely
from the tilling of the soil. But it was not long HUNNUNIOMNIUMIDE
before their energies were turned in other directions, for the rocky hillsides did not always prove
attractive to the would-be agriculturalist, while SOM AVON nummarife there were many natural opportunities offered for fishing, ship-building, and manufacturing. This tendency was furthered by immigration from Europe. At an early day skilled artisans driven from foreign shores by political and religious persecution, settled on Massachusetts soil and laid the foundation for her industrial and commercial prosperity.
Within the last decade Massachusetts awoke in grave alarm to find decay had gone along with industrial progress. Massachusetts cities had progressed while the country was gradually retrograding. Farms were being abandoned, rural churches were falling into decay and the native food supply was becoming more and more scarce and expensive. From 1790 to 1905 the population living in communities having 8000 inhabitants or less had decreased from 95.16% of the population to 22.26%. From 19001910 the increase in the population in the larger cities was enormous in comparison with the growth in the country. The population in the whole state increased 20%. In cities having a population between 25,000 and 100,000 there was a gain of 30.5%. In the rural districts, embracing all communities under 2,500 inhabitants, the gain was only 2.2%. The country increase in population was about 1-9 of the rate of the state as a whole. As the U. S. census report does not specify how many of these people were living on farms it is difficult to say whether the farming class is decreasing or not. The large number of abandoned farms until recently found in different parts of the Commonwealth would suggest, however, that there has been an actual decline in the agricultural class. Such figures along with the soaring of the cost of living make clear a grave economic problem. The fundamental prosperity and welfare of any people depend upon the well-being of the country. Many suggestions have been made with reference to restoring the country to its one time vigor and influence. Scientific agriculture, good roads, trolley lines, telephones, social centers, rural credits, etc. have all been recommended to make farm life more attractive and wholesome. In spite of the many pioneer efforts in education in Massachusetts, for most great educational movements have had their origin on her soil, the state is just beginning to recognize that the rural school has not at all kept pace with the progress of the city schools and this lack of educational opportunity has had much to do with the exodus of some of the best people from the country to the city.
Among the educational institutions in Massachusetts which are doing most to improve the rural schools is the State Normal School at Worcester. The principal of this school, Dr. William B. Aspinwall, is moved by the conviction that every country child has just as good a right to the kind of education which he needs for life as the city child. He believes that the rural schools with their usual course of study planned by city bred educators, their books written by city teachers, and taught by city trained teachers are not likely to be in sympathy with rural communities and will thus fail to give the children the kind of education which they really need. With this in mind he has introduced into the normal school a number of courses designed to help prospective teachers to solve the problems that they are likely to meet Graduates from village high schools who are likely to be more in sympathy with rural problems, are especially encouraged to take a special rural school course. Most of the students who expect to go into the rural schools to teach are given a chance to do their practice work in the real rural school.
To bring the rural school problems more prominently before the people of the state and to help in their solution, there is a conference held each year at the Worcester State Normal School. This is an annual event of unusual importance to the rural schools of the state. It is attended by rural school teachers, superintendents, school committee men, representatives of the grange and other people interested in the movement for country betterment.
On the programs of these conferences men of local, state and national importance have appeared from local superintendents of country schools to the U. S. Commissioner of Education, the president of the N. E. A., the State Commissioner of Education, college professors, and others. The state normal school has not been content merely to further the discussion of the problems in the abstract, but has undertaken investigations to find out the actual conditions in the rural schools, so that the problems known to exist are discussed and remedies are proposed. A recent investigation was undertaken by the school to find out the hygenic conditions in the rural schools of Worcester County and adjoining counties. This investigation showed that 14.5% of the school houses investigated were one hundred years old and over. While many of them are unusually interesting historically because they were once attended by famous men or women or were associated with some historical event, yet few of them are really fit for school purposes. Buildings which answered the felt needs of the people of the Commonwealth in the picturesque days of the "deestrict” school when pupils usually brought their own firewood and the teachers boarded around, are now inadequate. A new age demands new conditions. This investigation shows that only 6.6% of the school houses have been built in the last twentyfive years. Even if they were built on hygienic principles, which is scarcely probable, since the scientific building of rural school houses is very modern, only a small percentage of them would be acceptable according to the principles of modern school hygiene. This investigation shows further that little effort has been made to readapt school houses to modern hygienic needs. 65% of the schools were found to have no adjustable school furniture, floors were seldom scrubbed or oiled, few opportunities were offered pupils to heat anything for the mid-day luncheon, and in few cases was there any special apparatus for ventilation. Most of the rooms were not heated by jacketed stoves and were inadequately lighted. Wells were sometimes found to be not far distant from out-houses. Medical inspection was mostly perfunctory, and health instruction was still confined largely to facts in anatomy and physiology
At the last conference in March, 1914, charts telling the story of this investigation were hung on the walls of the assembly hall where they might plainly be seen by everybody and thus suggest practical discussions. The program of this conference was participated in by representatives of the U. S. Bureau of Education and of various state and university departments of education. These experts overturned one of the most common traditions, that people in the country are more healthy than in the city. This was brought out very clearly by Dr. Thomas D. Wood, Professor of Physical Education, Columbia University, and Chairman of the Committee on Health Problems in Education, National Education Association. Dr. Wood reported extensive investigation which showed that there are more physical defects among country children than among city children. The great need of medical inspection among rural schools was clearly shown. Much attention was paid to the teaching of hygiene to children. Special emphasis was laid on the importance of inculcating hygenic habits rather than imparting knowledge. It was said, for example, that it is more important to get a child to clean his teeth than to give him any amount of information about the structure and function of the teeth. Some of the greatest experts in the country on rural school hygiene discussed the way an ideal rural school might be built, and what might be done in teaching hygiene and looking after the health of children even under the most adverse conditions. Health was emphasized as the greatest asset of any individual or any community.
The state normal school at Worcester has planned a number of rather extensive investigations to find out the actual conditions in the rural schools of Massachusetts. Subsequent annual conferences will consider these investigations with an idea of helping to bring about the necessary reform in the rural schools of Massachusetts.
The third annual conference in the early spring of 1915 will devote itself to “The Improvement of School Interiors and Grounds in Rural Communities.” Many of the schools of Worcester County and adjoining counties are competing for prizes which are to be presented at this conference to the country schools which show the greatest improvements in house and grounds. The coming conference promises to be one of the most helpful and important of its kind that has taken place in this country.