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ON THE TRAINING OF PERSONS TO TEACH AGRICULTURE

IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS,

PART I.-THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM.

It is first necessary to understand that the training of teachers for the teaching of agriculture in the public schools is not a simple or a single question. The training of teachers for the group of subjects embraced under the term agriculture” can not be isolated from other training. It is not alone a question of giving the teachers the necessary technical knowledge and skill in agricultural subjects, but also of providing training and experience in methods of teaching, and in developing a point of view and a right estimate of education in general. There is great danger in the technical teaching of agriculture, even though it be well taught, if the teacher is not also well grounded in the social and pedagogical principles and problems involved in all education; and any such irrelevant or unrelated teaching will in the end react disastrously on the very movement that it is intended to promote.

The subject before us is not single in respect to the kinds or grades of schools that are involved in the discussion, the constitution or body of the subject-matter itself, or the nature of the sentiment that lies behind the movement for agriculture in the schools.

In the training of teachers it is necessary at once to know the kind of teaching that the prospective teachers are expected to undertake. With the widespread and unorganized interest in agricultural education it is impossible to make any definite classification, but we may roughly throw the schools in which the teaching of the subject is in question into three groups—the elementary schools, the high schools, and various kinds of special schools.

(1).-ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS.

We first consider elementary teaching of all kinds, meaning, in general, such range of work as is comprised in the first eight grades of a graded school system, or work in 'ungraded schools that is not more advanced than this. In this group the difficulties are the greatest. The group includes most of the so-called rural schools, the greater part of which are not graded to any extent, in some regions not at all. These rural schools are most closely in contact with real agricultural needs, and it is in them that many persons seem to expect the quickest and best results from the teaching of agriculture; yet they are beset with very special difficulties, and we shall need to discuss them at some length. We may take this opportunity, also, to discuss some of the principles involved in rural school education.

The first thing that needs to be done with the rural elementary schools—the so-called district schools is to redirect them and vitalize them, rather than merely to introduce agriculture as such. It is not unlikely, however, that this very agitation for the teaching of agriculture is to be the means of starting the reorganization. The demand for the introduction of agriculture is in reality the concrete expression of a desire to make the schools mean something real and tangible to the pupil, to relate them to his life and environment. The effort to accomplish this has recurred strongly at different epochs for at least one hundred years. Recorded discussions of fifty and seventyfive years ago read much like those of to-day. It is probable, however, that we have now arrived at a time when the agitation will produce concrete organizational results. Education by means of agriculture is but a phase of industrial education.

The special difficulties or handicaps of the rural elementary schools are such as these: Teaching in them is not recognized as a profession, but is undertaken as a preparation for other teaching or as a means of temporary employment, and the qualifications are low; teachers' pay is small; tenure of teaching is short, so that there is lack of continuity of effort; one teacher must handle all subjects in most cases; the school year is usually short; attendance is small and irregular; equipment, even in land, is practically nothing; the constituency is conservative and often even uninterested; supervision is slight, and usually not of a constructive or progressive nature. The whole scale of maintenance and organization is low.

In spite of all these disadvantages, however, the rural elementary school has useful characteristics that must not be overlooked, and that should not be lost. Some persons look for the practical abolition of this type of school, usually planning for it an evolution into a system of consolidated centers after the manner of city-school consolidation. It is a question, however, whether we are not likely to place relatively too much emphasis on the establishing of new institutions, whereas the greatest effectiveness and even the quickest results may probably be attained by utilizing agencies already in existence. It is easy, for example, to ridicule the country school, and then to plead for new isolated schools in which to teach agriculture; but in so doing we may forget that isolated special schools can not serve all the people, and that they also tend to isolate the subject. The present rural schools, with all their shortcomings, are good schools because (1) they are already in existence; (2) they are the schools of all the people; (3) they are small, and thereby likely to be native and simple; (4) they are many, and therefore close to the actual conditions of the people. We should utilize them to the fullest by improving and redirecting them; and in the end these schools, when redirected, will present the fundamental solution of the problem of rural education. In the discussion of this question, we must not make the mistake of thinking of the welfare of the school alone. The open country needs more local centers of life and influence rather than fewer. It is a debatable question whether the best social life is to be secured by any general consolidation of schools that will make large and far-apart units.

The arguments in favor of consolidation are many and important. By consolidation, stronger teaching units are secured; more money is available for the employing of teachers and the providing of equipment; special subjects can be given adequate attention. The objections are many, but most of those commonly urged are trivial and temporary. The greatest difficulty in bringing about the consolidation of schools is a deep-seated prejudice against giving up the old schools. This prejudice is usually not expressed in words. Often it is really unconscious to the person himself. Yet right here may lie a fundamental and valid reason against the uniform consolidation of rural schools--a feeling that when the school leaves the locality something vital has gone out of the neighborhood. Local pride has been offended. Initiative has been removed one step further away. The locality has lost something. It is a question, even, whether the annual school meeting is to be lightly surrendered, whether it is not worth keeping as an arena for the clearing of local differences, and as a possible nucleus of a useful institution. By every legitimate means we should develop and fix local attachments. We have almost come to be a nation of wanderers and shifters. We are in danger of losing some of our affection for particular pieces of land. Farming is a local business. It develops into great effectiveness only when local feeling is strong. The State also needs the conservatism and steadiness born of this local interest.

Much of the impulse for the consolidation of schools, as already intimated, is a reflection of the centralized city graded school; but it is by no means certain that such institutions are to be the most important or dominating schools of the future. The small rural school, with its weaknesses, has the tremendous advantage of directness and simplicity. It is doubtful whether it would be improved by a rigid system of grading. It is a question, in fact, whether the graded schools do not still carry the onus of proving themselves. Unquestionably consolidation of rural schools is often advantageous, and is to be advised whenever it seems to be necessary for pedagogical

reasons.

In some regions it may be a necessity. It is often urged for financial reasons; but this in the long run is not reason enough. We maintain our canals and Government work at public expense. The State must cooperate in the maintenance of its detached schools, by direct appropriations, if necessary, to their localities, always on the condition, however, that all effective control does not pass out of the community. Consolidation of schools is much more than a school question. It touches the very quick of local pride and progress.

There is every reason to expect that consolidation of rural schools will proceed, and with benefit. The point is that it should come naturally and that it should not necessarily be expected to operate advantageously everywhere. It should come as a result of conditions, and should not be forced independently of conditions. It will undoubtedly be found that some districts will be better off without consolidated schools. There is no reason in the nature of education why both separate and consolidated schools may not each render service that the other can not render. It will be unfortunate if the question of consolidation of schools falls into the hands of advocates or partisans. The social welfare of the community, as well as the school work, must be considered in every case.

The rural elementary school will be redirected by making it a natural expression of the community of which it is or ought to be a part. Education should develop out of daily experience. It is not necessary to have an entirely new curriculum in order to redirect the rural school. If geography is taught, let it be taught in terms of the environment. Geography deals with the surface of the earth. It may well concern itself at first with the school grounds, the highways, the fields and what grows in them, the forests, hills, and streams, the hamlet, the people and their affairs. As the pupil grows, he is introduced to the world activities. Similar remarks may be made for arithmetic, reading, and all the other customary work of the school. This is much more than what is now meant by “correlation.” The problem of the rural school is not so much one of subjects as of methods of teaching. The best part of any school is its spirit; a school can be conceived in which no agriculture is taught separately, which may still present the subject vitally from day to day by means of the customary studies and exercises. The agricultural colleges, for example, have all along made the mistake of trying to make farmers of their students by compelling them to take certain“ practical ” courses, forgetting that the spirit and method of the institution are what make the work vital and what send the youth back to the land. The whole enterprise of elementary schooling needs to be developed natively and from a new point of view; for in an agricultural country agriculture should be as much a part of the school as oxygen is a part of the air. We should not isolate

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agriculture from the environment of life in order to teach it; we should teach the entire environment.

If the foregoing points are well taken, we then see that the problem of training teachers to teach agriculture in elementary schools is much more than providing them with an equipment of agricultural subject-matter. Here and there the special teacher of agriculture will be needed in elementary work, as in certain consolidated rural schools, and in well-graded city or village schools. Now and then teachers will be needed to supervise the work in agriculture in several related schools; but experience will probably demonstrate that in most cases this will be only a temporary means of handling the subject, in order to organize it and to start it.

It is not alone a new kind of teacher that the rural elementary school needs, and no rural school constituency should be allowed to feel that emphasis should be put on teachers alone. In fact, the kind of teacher is usually an expression and result of the type of effort that exists in the district. The school is worth no more than the district pays for it. The same is true of a horse or a plow or a farm. The rural school premises are often unattractive or even repulsive. No work with spirit in it is likely to be accomplished under such conditions. Moreover, there is no equipment in most of these schools; and teaching can not, any more than farming, be well accomplished without facilities and appliances.

The school building is first to be considered. From Maine to Minnesota one will see in the open country practically one kind of schoolhouse, and this the kind in which our fathers went to school. There is nothing about it to suggest the activities of the community or to attract children. Standing in an agricultural country, it is scant of land and bare of trees. If a room or wing were added to every rural schoolhouse to which children could take their collections or in which they could do work with their hands, it would start a revolution in the ideals of country-school teaching, even with our present schoolteachers. Such a room would challenge every person in the community. They would want to know what relation hand training and nature study and similar activities bear to teaching. Such a room would ask a hundred questions every day. The teacher could not refuse to try to answer them. A room of this kind, containing perhaps a plow and a few agricultural implements, would itself constitute one of the means of training teachers.

Eventually, the entire school will partake of the informal character that is suggested by the single workroom. The pupil will be allowed to express himself; and it will be the part of the teacher to direct and shape this expression to the best educational ends. Unless the elementary-school teacher has some such outlook as this, his teaching of agriculture is likely to impose another task on the child.

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