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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Education, Rural

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EDUCATION, Rural. When school systems were first organized in America, the people of this country were almost wholly engaged in agricultural pursuits. The social and civic life of the people was extremely simple. The increase in population, our great development in industrial and commercial activities, the rise of great cities in all parts of the country, and the advancement in science and invention have been the means of establishing advanced standards of civilization which require complicated services from the social and civic institutions of the country.

Administration of Rural Schools. — The great agency in America which is to prepare our citizens for the highest possible kind of service and which is to enable them to meet successfully the great problems of a democracy, is the public school system. This enlarged scope of the function of the school has brought prominently to the attention of the public many problems which affect the economic and efficient administration of our school systems. One of the most difficult of these problems and one of paramount importance to the country at large is the proper organization and administration of rural schools. This question is, of course, one of primary importance to the agricultural sections of the country and, yet it is not exclusively related to the interests of rural communities. The number of people residing in the cities of the country has constantly increased until nearly one-half of the entire population now reside in cities. The number of the cities in the country and the population of these cities will constantly increase. There has been a decrease in the population of the agricultural sections of nearly every State in the union. The prosperous and growing cities and villages with their increasing millions of people and their great industrial plants turning out billions of dollars' worth of manufactured products to be distributed throughout the civilized world are placing additional burdens and affording greater opportunities and advantages to those who are living upon the farms.

The agricultural lands of America must supply not only the food products for the people living in the cities as well as the country and certain raw materials which are needed in the great manufacturing establishments, but they should also be able to reap the financial reward which will come from supplying the demands of foreign trade. To accomplish this result, there must be more intelligent, scientific management in our agricultural pursuits. The administration, therefore, of rural schools must have a direct and vital bearing upon the economic, industrial and commercial activities as well as upon the social and civic progress of the nation. The interdependence of the people living in the cities and of those living in the rural sections must be recognized, and the schools maintained in the rural or agricultural sections must be administered from the broad standpoint of the general needs of the nation.

There has not been the same measure of improvement in the rural schools of the country that there has been in the advancement of the schools of the cities and populous sections of the nation. The general trend of educational movements in the cities for a long period of years has been to enable the schools maintained therein to meet the living conditions and necessities of the people whom such schools serve. Unfortunately, this general object has not been in view in the administration of rural schools. There has, however, been a great change in school administration and in public sentiment in this respect within the last 15 years. Many of the leaders in national movements have come to see that the rural school problem is one of the great constructive problems in the public affairs of the country. Great energy is now being devoted to an effort to make the country schools the equal of the city schools. There has been much legislation in all parts of the country to accomplish this result. The school term has very generally been extended; compulsory education laws have been made more effective; there has been an enlarged use of school buildings and grounds with the idea of organizing the school itself as a social center; provision has been made for organizing instruction in agricultural courses in all schools; consolidation of small schools has been encouraged by the payment of larger quotas of state funds; medical inspection of school children has been authorized as a means of conserving life in agricultural communities and provision has been made in various ways to afford boys and girls living in the remote farm sections the advantages of academic or high school training. This is a long list of important legislative measures which have been considered in many of the States. The effect of the enactment of these laws upon the efficiency of rural schools is now yielding results. However, to make the work of the rural school as efficient and as well adapted to the needs of the people as the city schools are, several important things must be done. Among these are:

1. The courses of study maintained in the rural schools must be adapted to the social and economic conditions of rural life.

2. The schools maintained in the rural sections must be in operation for a period of time equal to that which schools are maintained in the city or more populous sections.

3. The same care must be taken to conserve the life of the child in the rural community which is now generally exercised in the city.

4. The school buildings, grounds and equipment of the rural school must be as adequate and as attractive as those of the city schools.

5. The teachers employed in the rural schools must be the equal in culture, scholarship, professional training and experience of the teachers employed in the city schools.

In recent years there has been a great expansion in the courses of study intended to meet the conditions of industrial centers. The theory is that the school is not only to teach children the fundamentals of an education but it is intended to train them so that the instruction which they receive shall be of service to them when they leave school to assume their obligations of citizenship. To meet the necessities of boys and girls who go into industrial life, manual training, industrial and vocational schools have been authorized. If courses of study are to he maintained in populous centres for the purpose of meeting the needs of the industrial workers, the obligation rests upon the State to make provision for equal opportunity in the education of boys and girls who are to assume the responsibility of the future operation and management of the agricultural interests of the country. Instruction in industrial and vocational courses may be given as satisfactorily in the rural schools as in the city schools. Agriculture is the greatest industry of the nation. The schools maintained in the agricultural regions contain the great bulk of recruits for farm life in the nation. Practical courses should be given in these schools along the lines of scientific agriculture. Potato clubs, corn clubs, canning clubs and other similar clubs related to agricultural work should be organized in every rural school. Home project work will be an important feature of a modern, efficient rural school. To illustrate: the pupils in a corn club could be shown what soil is adapted to the growing of corn and what fertilizer is essential. They could be shown how to prepare the soil for planting corn; the selection of seed could be carefully determined; the planting could be done at the proper time, and the crop could be properly cultivated; the value and necessity of frequent cultivation and of rotation in crops could be illustrated. The harvesting could be done at the proper time and under the best approved methods and the method of placing the crop in the market with the least expense and the greatest advantage to the producer could be learned. The farms located in every school district in the country should be made the great laboratories on which experimental work in farming could be carried out. The parents of children in the schools will generally be willing to co-operate with a successful teacher in the experiments which such teacher desires to make in the real live, active management of a farm. The same process could be pursued in sections where potatoes are the principal crop. Similar experiments could be made in relation to all farm products, fruit growing, etc. Matters pertaining to the management and care of the home will interest the girls; the canning of fruit, preserving vegetables, making bread, etc., are activities in which they may be interested and given instruction. In most of the great agricultural States, a State college of agriculture is maintained at public expense. These institutions are all doing great research work and are making scientific experiments and are producing information for the benefit of the farmer. This information, however, will not be of great service to the State unless there is some medium able to bring it to the general knowledge of the farmers of the State and to make of such information a practical application. Fruit exhibits and contests, vegetable exhibits and contests, similar exhibits and contests in grain and other products, the common rules to be observed in caring for poultry, and a dairy are matters which may be included in courses of study in rural schools and increase the interest in school work and make the work of the school more effective, practical and efficient. In the year 1917 800 boys pursued in the schools of New York State what is known as home project work. After paying all expenses incurred in their experiment and being assigned for their own labor $20,000, these 800 boys had a net profit of $40,000. Each of these boys earned on the average $75. Of course, some of them earned more than $75; some received less; and some sustained a loss. Is not this, however, the rule in the actual affairs of life including farming? Does not this experiment present the opportunity to show the boy who failed the causes for such failure, to point out to him how such failure may be turned to success, and to offer to him the necessary encouragement to achieve this result? These illustrations are sufficient to indicate the type of work which is to form a prominent feature of the courses of study in the future work of the rural schools of America.

It is not the custom in any of the States to maintain rural schools for the same period of time which schools are maintained in the cities. In most of the States there is a provision of law which requires the school to be maintained in every district and city of the Slate for a certain number of months. This period of time varies from four months to nine months. It is the custom, however, in cities to maintain school for ten months. Four weeks is usually considered a month. It is not possible to give the boy or girl in the country districts the same opportunity to obtain an education which is afforded to the boy or girl in the city unless the period of time which school is maintained in the country district is equal to the period of time that the school is maintained in the city.

Supervising and directing the health interests of children is now regarded as essential as the supervision and direction of matters pertaining to their intellectual development. This work has been organized as a part of the regular school work in nearly all the cities of the country. It should be extended to all rural schools. The conditions of children in the country districts is generally at a lower standard than the health of children in cities. The child who is compelled to attend a country school is just as much entitled to the benefits of health instructions as the child residing in the city. A child in the country district is subjected to the danger of contracting a contagious disease and is, therefore, entitled to every precaution which the State can afford to protect him from this danger. There is not the same careful supervision of the physical condition of children living in the country that there is of those living in the cities. The rural school should, therefore, be made the great agency not only in the development of health regulations, but of a knowledge of sanitary principles in all rural communities. Physical training should form a part of the curriculum of every rural school. The children in the country undoubtedly have more open air exercise than children living in the cities. This does not mean, however, that they do not need physical training which is provided for the children in the cities. The children in the country districts are generally in greater need of systematic training in physical education than the children living in the cities.

The children of the cities are afforded greater facilities for play purposes than the children of the country. It is argued that children of the country have the entire farming area in which to play and to obtain recreation. They may not obtain these privileges, however, without becoming trespassers. The children living in the country are entitled as a matter of right to playground facilities. The sites on which country schools are erected should contain a sufficient amount of land so that a playground, croquet ground and other necessary recreation and play may be organized and maintained for the benefit of the children attending such school. These facilities may be provided without large expenditure. It is entirely within the financial ability of school districts to provide these facilities for the children. The most progressive communities are giving this subject attention. The tendency throughout the country is to erect attractive school buildings in the country districts. It costs but little more to make a country school building attractive, sanitary and to conform to the modern principles of lighting, heating and ventilating. The State school authorities of each State in the Union should possess the authority to approve the plans and specifications of every rural school building which is constructed. The grounds should also be made attractive.

There is no factor in a rural school so important as the teacher. Proper courses of study, suitable and attractive buildings with adequate equipment, the maintenance of schools for a longer period of time will not lead to the progress required in the administration of the rural schools unless teachers of better qualifications are employed in such schools. Lower standards of qualifications are now maintained for the teachers employed in rural schools than in the city and village schools. The children in attendance upon these schools will not receive the efficient instruction to which they are entitled until teachers are employed in these schools who have qualifications substantially equivalent to the qualifications provided for teachers in the populous centres. The teachers in these schools should, therefore, be required to show the completion of a four years academic course of training and thereafter the completion of a professional course of two years which relates especially to the conditions and needs of rural life.

Consolidation of Rural Schools. — To effect the general change in the administration of rural schools to enable these institutions to accomplish the purposes which are now demanded of them, there must be a reorganization of rural school systems. Two elements are essential for the maintenance of successful rural schools. There must be a sufficient number of children to create the interest essential to the school and a sufficient amount of property to support such school without the taxation becoming burdensome. The modern idea in all parts of the country is to consolidate small rural schools into central schools so that these schools may be properly graded and advanced instruction be provided. The daily rural free delivery, the telephone, electric lights, good roads, the automobile, the auto bus and the trolley line are the advance agents of the consolidated rural school.

The first State in the Union to enact a law providing for the consolidation of school districts was New York. That State took such action as early as 1853. The action taken, however, applied to cities and villages. It did not extend to country districts. Massachusetts provided for the consolidation of schools as early as 1869 and made provision at the same time for the transportation of pupils. The consolidation act of Massachusetts related to rural schools. About 1890 Massachusetts paid less than $23,000 for the transportation of children who lived so remote from schools that they could not walk to and from school daily. Twenty-five years later Massachusetts was paying for the same purpose $500,000. The movement for the consolidation of schools and the transportation of children has gradually extended until it has reached every State in the Union. Indiana, North Dakota, Ohio and many of the central western States have been leaders in this movement. Indiana has undoubtedly done more in the matter of consolidation of rural schools than any other State. The success of the great effort which is now being made throughout the country to improve the rural schools depends very largely upon the the consolidation of schools and the transportation of pupils. It has been established in all parts of the country that it is feasible without injustice to the taxpayer or hardship to the children to organize consolidated rural schools which will afford the country children practical, cultural and advanced courses of instruction which are the equivalent in every particular of courses which are maintained in cities and villages. It is just as feasible to maintain courses in these schools which will prepare a boy for admission to college or for industrial or professional life, as it is to maintain such courses in the cities and villages. Agricultural and industrial arts and home economic courses should form an important part of the curriculum of a school of this type, and the boys and girls desiring to pursue vocations along these lines are entitled to the same aid and encouragement that is given to the boys and girls who desire to pursue the long established traditional courses.

Transportation. — There is now an extended system of transportation of school children in operation in all parts of the country. Many agencies are now utilized extensively in taking children to and from school when these children reside too far from the school to walk to and from it daily. Boys and girls go to school portions of the year on bicycles. Various types of individual conveyances are used. The automobile has been brought into extensive use for this purpose. Automobile busses are employed in several communities. Electric lines, steam lines, motor boats, etc., are also employed. Where transportation is provided systematically and with good business regulations and supervision, the objections that have been raised are generally overcome. A child may ride from two to four miles in a comfortable wagon or other conveyance in order to attend a good school without hardship. Under proper regulation it is just as safe for children to be conveyed to school as it is for them to walk to school. Where busses or conveyances are employed for the transportation of children, they must be operated under definite regulations which are strictly observed. There should be an established route with scheduled hours for arrival and departure and drivers should carry watches and be required to meet this schedule. It is possible to arrange schedules so that children will be on the road the minimum period of time and be required to travel a minimum distance. These matters are being arranged in all parts of the country without inconvenience to the home and without interfering with the established hours which regulate farm life. No person should be employed as a driver to carry children to and from school who has not the full confidence of the community. He should be made responsible for the conduct of the children during the time they are under his care to the same extent that a teacher is responsible for their conduct while they are in school. Transportation should be provided at public expense. In many States appropriations are made to communities which provide transportation.

Highways and the Schools. — There is another modern factor which enters into the ability to provide better educational facilities in country districts and this is the improved system of highways which is being established in many of the States. Not only are the States developing improved highways, but the national government is making appropriations for the construction of highways. These roads have made rural life more attractive, have made agricultural pursuits more profitable by bringing the farm in closer touch with the markets, and they afford those living in the rural regions the opportunities of social life which prevail in the village and city. These roads have also enhanced the value of farm property. We may, therefore, confidently expect that improved State roads will be extended and developed in the future.

The greatest obstacle in the way of better rural schools is the increased cost involved in their maintenance. The relation of the country district to the city and to the State at large is such that States may with propriety and with justice to all parts of the State appropriate more money in proportion for the maintenance of rural schools than it does for the maintenance of schools in cities. The relation of the maintenance of proper rural schools to the needs of the nation itself is such that the national government has instituted a plan which contemplates national aid for rural education. The results which could be accomplished for the national service through appropriations by the national government justify the government in making such appropriations. The rural school systems of the several States should be made as practical and as efficient as the schools maintained in any of the populous centres of the country.

Thomas E. Finegan,
Deputy Commissioner of Education and Assistant Commissioner for Elementary Education, State Department of Education, Albany, N. Y.