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Article Index

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.[40] 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.

Kanchristcollege

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.[41]

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 Coöperative 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 coöperation 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 coördinating 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 coöperation 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[42] to visualize the outcome.


 

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."

Downs, Kansas Carnegie library from NE 1

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[43] 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.


 

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."[44]

In a bulletin on "The Country Weekly in New York State,"[45] 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,"[46] 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."


 

The era of modern agriculture in the United States began with the passage of the Morrill Act by the Federal Congress in 1861. This made a grant of public land to each state to establish a college for instruction in agriculture and the mechanic arts, and it has been the influence of the "land-grant colleges," more than any other agency, which has been responsible for our agricultural advancement. In 1888 the Hatch Act made an annual federal appropriation to each of these colleges for the establishment of an agricultural experiment station, whose investigations, with those of the United States Department of Agriculture, have been largely responsible for the scientific basis of modern agriculture.

From the beginning the agricultural colleges realized their obligation to bring the results of scientific investigations to the attention of farmers as well as to their own students, and their faculties spoke before meetings of state and county agricultural societies, granges, and farmers' institutes. In 1875 Michigan was the first state to make an appropriation to its State Board of Agriculture for conducting farmers' institutes, and in the next twenty-five years most of the states established systems of farmers' institutes either under their state boards or departments of agriculture or under the agricultural colleges, through which itinerant speakers addressed one or more meetings of farmers in each county every year. These institutes grew in popularity and led to separate meetings for farm women, and sometimes for children, and in some cases permanent county organizations were created for holding institutes with local speakers as well as for managing those furnished by the state. Farmers' institutes have performed an important service in the education of the rural community. Not only have they given instruction in methods of agriculture and in the problems of country life, but they have been an important means of bringing rural people together in a common cause; they are a community activity and strengthen the community bond. In many cases in isolated localities the annual farmers' institute has been one of the few occasions at which the people of the community get together, and has been looked forward to as a social event. Furthermore, it was through experience with farmers' institutes that the need of better means for bringing instruction to rural communities was appreciated and other methods were developed.

It was but a few years after the establishment of the agricultural experiment stations under the Hatch Act of 1888, that the colleges commenced to realize that the results of their investigations would not be extensively utilized by farmers unless other means were employed than mere publication of reports and bulletins and addresses at farmers' institutes and agricultural meetings. These were good, but they were felt to be inadequate and it was evident that to secure the general adoption of new methods some means of more systematic instruction and of local demonstrations were necessary. The agricultural colleges came to feel that they should have definite departments with men who could devote their time to giving instruction to the people on the land. The first appropriation for agricultural extension work was made to Cornell University by the State of New York in 1894, but it was a decade later before the leading agricultural colleges had established departments of extension work. In general the early period of the extension movement was chiefly concerned with methods of agricultural production and had no definite program for the local organization of its work. This finally came about through the county agent movement.

The county agent movement[47] had its origin in an effort to combat the ravages of the Mexican Cotton Boll Weevil as it swept through Texas and advanced eastward from 1900 to 1910. It was in 1903 that Dr. S. A. Knapp was commissioned by the Federal Secretary of Agriculture, James Wilson, to devise methods whereby the Texas farmers might be shown how they could grow cotton in spite of the weevil. He soon found that progressive farmers who were using the cultural methods which the entomologists had found to be successful for raising an early crop, were able to raise fairly good crops before injury became serious. He therefore employed practical farmers to go among their neighbors and get them to agree to give a fair trial to the methods advocated by the government, i.e., to demonstrate their practicability. Those making the trials were called "demonstrators" and their neighbors who came to follow their example in testing the new methods were called "coöperators" and were called together at the "demonstrator's" farm to see the results of his work and to receive instruction from the "demonstration agent" who supervised the work for the government. As this work was in charge of practical farmers more or less known locally, it appealed to the farmers as a common-sense method, the results spoke for themselves, and the demand for the work spread rapidly. Dr. Knapp found that the county was the best unit for the work of the supervising demonstration agent, and he soon came to be known as the county demonstration agent, which was later contracted to county agent or county agricultural agent. The whole movement came to be called "the farmers' coöperative demonstration work." Three new features in agricultural instruction of farmers were involved in this system; it was more or less coöperative on the part of a local group of farmers; it used the demonstration method of teaching, i.e., the farmer demonstrated to himself by his own trial; and a local county agent was employed for the supervision of the work. It soon became apparent that merely trying to circumvent the depredations of the boll weevil would not solve the problem and that instead of raising only cotton as a cash crop the farmer must diversify his crops so as to raise more of the foodstuffs consumed on the farm and to have other products for sale. This involved the application of the demonstration method to the growing of corn, legumes, hogs, etc., in short, it involved the whole field of farm management and agricultural practice. The work of the county agricultural agents was liberally supported by local business men, commercial clubs and railroads, and the General Education Board, as well as by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. In 1909 the Mississippi legislature passed the first act permitting counties to appropriate funds for this work, and this was followed by most of the southern states within a few years.

The Report of President Roosevelt's Country Life Commission in 1909 called attention to the need of a national system of agricultural extension work in charge of the agricultural colleges, and congressmen and agricultural leaders in the North who had observed the success of the county agent movement in the South commenced to feel that county agricultural agents might be equally valuable in the North as a means of local agricultural education. As a result, the first county agricultural agents in the North were appointed by the Office of Farm Management of the U. S. Department of Agriculture in 1910 and 1911. In 1912, 113 were employed in coöperation with the state agricultural colleges and local county organizations in the North and West. The success of the work of these agents and of the extension work of the agricultural colleges led to a general demand from the agricultural interests of the country for a federal appropriation to the agricultural colleges for establishing a system of extension work the chief feature of which would be the employment of county agricultural agents who would supervise field demonstrations by the farmers on their own farms. This resulted in the federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which made an annual appropriation to each land-grant college "to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on agriculture and home economics and to encourage the application of the same ... through field demonstrations, publications, and otherwise, ... to persons not attending or resident at said college." This act is notable in that it established the most comprehensive national system of non-resident instruction in agriculture and home economics of any country, and recognized the necessity of de-centralizing this instruction by having it carried on by agents in the counties who could have immediate and continuous contact with individual farmers and groups of farmers.

As the work of the county agents in the South grew more permanent they found that it was more efficient if they worked with and through local groups of farmers, and community agricultural clubs were quite widely organized, but no strong county federation was developed, except in West Virginia, where the local clubs formed a county organization which was called a Farm Bureau. The term Farm Bureau originated in Broome County, New York, in 1911, when the first county agent in that state was employed by the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, the Lackawanna Railroad, and the U. S. Department of Agriculture. As the number of county agents rapidly increased in the northern states it soon became apparent that if their work was to be of the greatest service to the farmers for whose benefit they worked, that it should be supported and managed by the farmers themselves rather than by business interests. The Farm Bureau Association, composed of farmers throughout a county, soon came to be a prerequisite to the placing of an agricultural agent in a county, and with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act and of state legislation accepting its provisions and appropriating state funds contingent upon similar appropriations by the counties, this became the usual procedure. The county farm bureau association coöperates with the state college of agriculture and the U. S. Department of Agriculture in the employment of the county agent, and the annual membership fees together with county appropriations pay the expenses of the work other than salary. The affairs of the farm bureau association are in the hands of the usual officers and executive committee, who report to an annual meeting of the membership. Further than this the method of organization varies in different states. In most of the northern and western states there is a local committee in each community which arranges for the demonstrations and meetings to be held by the county agent, and there is no further organization of the local membership, but in a few states definite local organizations or community clubs with officers and regular meetings have developed. In either case, however, the unit of local organization and interest in the work of the farm bureau is usually the community, although its executive administration is on a county basis.

As the extension work came under the local control of these organizations of farmers, the objectives of the work were more largely determined by the farmers' point of view. Whereas the original purpose had been to "extend" to the farmer the better methods of agriculture discovered by the experiment stations and the federal department of agriculture, the program of work came to be largely determined by the particular needs and problems of the local communities in a given county. The farmers conferred with the agent--their agent--and pointed out their greatest difficulties. The program of work was then a matter of determining what demonstrations and instruction could be arranged to meet these problems, under the direction of the county agent and with any assistance possible from the state agricultural college. With the rapid growth of Farm Bureaus,--for on June 30, 1918, there were 791 farm bureaus with approximately 290,000 members,--the movement became truly a farmers' movement rather than a mere "extension" of the work of the agricultural colleges, though the close affiliation with them constituted its strength and furnished its leadership.

It so happened that almost as soon as the Smith-Lever Act became effective the world was plunged into war and marketing problems became more and more important. Whereas in the first decade of the county agent movement interest had been chiefly in better methods of production, it now rapidly shifted to include better methods of marketing and the development of coöperative selling associations, whose organization was assisted by the farm bureaus wherever they were needed and practicable.

The entry of the United States into the World War greatly accelerated the farm bureau movement. "Food will win the war" was the slogan which challenged American agriculture. The number of county agents in the North and West increased from 542 to 1,133 within the year ending June 30, 1918. It was the county agent system which formed the mechanism through which the federal government secured the whole-souled coöperation of the farmers of the United States under peculiarly trying conditions. The winter of 1917-18 was severe and seed corn was unusually poor. As a result, the available supply of sound seed corn in the spring of 1918 was the lowest on record in the face of the greatest need for a bumper crop. Had it not been for the remarkable organization developed through the county agents and the farm bureau system of the entire country, the corn crop of the great Corn Belt would have been far below normal. As it was, nearly a normal acreage was planted and an abundant harvest secured. The rôle which the agriculture of the United States played in the World War has never been adequately written or appreciated, but it was full of as much romance and heroism as were the industries which commanded the headlines of the press. Dr. Bradford Knapp, for many years in charge of the county agent work in the Southern States after the death of his father, its founder, has called attention to the fact that during the war "of the four great activities or industries in America, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and transportation,--one alone--agriculture, stood the test, and that mainly because there was already in existence an organization extending from the United States Department of Agriculture through every state agricultural college ... to the counties and the farmers, by which information was rapidly disseminated and farmers were made aware of conditions of what must be done to win the war."

It was inevitable that such an organization growing rapidly during a war should develop an unusual solidarity, and this was but strengthened by the difficulties which agriculture encountered with the cessation of hostilities. During the war several states had formed state federations of the county farm bureau associations and in November, 1919, a convention was called at Chicago for the formation of a national organization, which resulted in the formal organization of the American Farm Bureau Federation[48] in March, 1920, with 28 states represented, and a membership in county farm bureaus of 400,000. In the next two years the southern states, which previously had developed no strong county organizations, rapidly adopted the farm bureau idea, and when the American Farm Bureau Federation held its second annual meeting at Atlanta, Ga., in November, 1921, it included 35 states with a local membership of 967,279.

I have dwelt at length upon the growth of the county agent and farm bureau movement, because there is probably no one agency which has done more in the last decade toward the integration of rural communities throughout the United States or which has had a larger educational influence on all aspects of country life. The farm bureau usually organizes its local work by communities and in large numbers of counties the community areas have been defined for the first time by the county agents. The value of this organization by communities was repeatedly shown during the war. For example, in New York State it was possible for the county agents to organize meetings on the Agricultural Mobilization Day called by the Governor on April 21, 1917, in 1,089 communities, with an attendance of 85,075 persons, upon only a weeks notice. In several of the states which have encouraged community organizations, a very definite effort has been made to develop an all-round program of community improvement. Thus the West Virginia extension service has invented a community score card[49] with which several communities have scored themselves for three successive years in order to make an analysis of their social situation and to enable them to outline a program of work for the solution of their local problems. Several of the states are now employing specialists to assist the farm bureaus in their problems of community organization.

The county organization of extension work has been unique in its educational methods; methods which have large significance for all movements for rural progress.

First, its educational method is that of the demonstration carried out by farm people under the expert direction of paid county leaders in an effort to solve the immediate problems of the farm and the farm home. It builds on the experience, point of view, and interests of its pupils, who learn under the supervision of a teacher chosen by them, through a process which involves their making real experiments in finding the best solution of their problems. No class of people, here or elsewhere, has ever had opportunity for the training in the scientific attitude and point of view which American farmers may now receive, and on account of the nature and organization of their work they are steadily and surely, if not entirely consciously, adopting the method of science. The consequence of this movement in the social and political development of this country cannot be foretold, for the scientific attitude must finally be the basis of all true democracy.

Secondly, the program of work--the subject matter of the educational method--is largely chosen by the people themselves, but with the help of experts employed by them to supervise its execution. Here we have an institution arising from the land, wholly democratic in spirit and polity, yet recognizing the services of experts and employing them for its own purposes. In the county farm bureaus, and the organizations to which they have given rise, there is developing a new use of science both in the educational methods and in the employment of scientifically trained leaders, in the service of and directed by a democracy--a democracy no longer provincial but of national scope in that there is real coöperation between the local community, the county, the state, and the nation.

Lastly, the extension movement recognizes that only by the development and training of the largest amount of enthusiastic, voluntary, local leadership can its work have a foundation which will make it permanent. It thus recognizes an essential factor of all social organization, i.e., the power of personal leadership in shaping the public opinion of the group, and it consciously undertakes the development of intelligent initiative as a means of social progress.

When one has observed the feeble beginnings of this movement only a decade ago, and has witnessed its growth to the present nation-wide system, promoting plans for national organizations for coöperative marketing, he appreciates the power of science, education, and organization as new forces in the life of the rural community, whose future influence one would be rash to prophesy.

This account would be misleading if it failed to indicate that the extension movement has given attention to the problems of the farm home, of the mother and the children, as well as to those of the farm business. In 1910, girls' canning clubs were started in the Southern States and young women were employed to supervise their work. Very soon the mothers became interested and before long home demonstration agents were appointed to work with the agricultural demonstration agents. In 1916 home demonstration work was in progress in 420 counties in the South. A few home demonstration agents were employed by farm bureaus in the Northern States prior to 1917, but the additional funds appropriated by Congress for food conservation work during the war caused a rapid increase in their number and women's work in the North received its chief impetus during the war. The Smith-Lever Act specified that its funds should be used for extension work in home economics as well as in agriculture, but it was not until the farm bureaus commenced to employ home demonstration agents and to organize the women for their support that work with the farm home became established on a permanent basis. In most of the northern states the farm bureau is now organized on what is called the "family plan," that is, it includes in its program of work projects dealing with the farm for men, with the farm home for women, and with club work in agriculture and home economics for boys and girls. In many of the states a separate agent is employed for each of these lines of work and the women are organized in a separate department of the county farm bureau and have their own local farm women's clubs. In New York State the women's work has been further differentiated by organizing it as a County Home Bureau which with the Farm Bureau forms the County Farm and Home Bureau Association.

During the war the home demonstration agents gave their attention to food conservations and clothing, but as a permanent program has developed the local clubs of farm women have shown a lively interest in problems of health, home management, care of children, education, recreation, and civics. They have found that the problems of the home cannot be solved without an effort to create better community conditions and "community housekeeping" has attracted an increasing interest. The present aims of the women's work have been aptly phrased in the Home Bureau Creed written by Dr. Ruby Green Smith, associate state leader of home demonstration agents in New York:

      The Home Bureau Creed

      "To maintain the highest ideals of home life; to count children the most important of crops; to so mother them that their bodies may be sound, their minds clear, their spirits happy, and their characters generous:

      "To place service above comfort; to let loyalty to high purposes silence discordant note; to let neighborliness supplant hatreds; to be discouraged never:

      "To lose self in generous enthusiasms; to extend to the less fortunate a helping hand; to believe one's community may become the best of communities; and to coöperate with others for the common ends of a more abundant home and community life:

      "This is the offer of the Home Bureau to the homemaker of to-day."

Nor should we fail to recognize the part which the boys' and girls' club work has had in the extension movement. Space will not permit any adequate account of its origin and growth, or of its methods and influence. No movement has done more to redirect and give dynamic to the rural school than has the club work; nor has any movement done more to train leadership among the coming generation on the farms. Commencing with corn clubs for the boys, canning clubs were soon organized for the girls, and later pig clubs, potato clubs, calf clubs, sewing clubs, cooking clubs, and clubs are now organized with various projects covering almost all phases of agriculture and home economics. These clubs may be called the Junior Farm Bureau, for in them farm children are receiving a training which will mean much for the future organization of country life. The public confidence in the work is shown by the fact that in 1920, 500 banks in the northern and western states loaned nearly $900,000 to club boys and girls for financing their projects.[50] As a result of the school exhibits of the products of the club work, many a community fair has been started, and as a result of club picnics and play days community picnics or festivals have become an annual event in many places and have brought better feeling and increased pride and loyalty to the community. In 1919, 464,979 boys and girls were enrolled in club work.

Thus the extension movement started by the agricultural colleges and the United States Department of Agriculture has become a national movement of rural people, men, women, and children, whose strength is largely due to the fact that it has been the means of organizing the local communities and of bringing them together in county organizations, which with the aid of state and national funds and supervision, employ trained executives to stimulate and supervise the work of the local groups. It is a unique agency for the education and organization of rural life which is giving the American farmer a new position in the life of the nation.

Footnotes:

[40] Out of 185 neighborhood areas, 39 were chiefly due to the school district, the next most important influence being the church parish which determined the neighborhood in 33 cases. J. H. Kolb, "Rural Primary Groups." Research Bull. 51, Agr. Exp. Sta. of the Univ. of Wisconsin, p. 48.

[41] The relation of the consolidated school to township and community lines is well shown in a study of the schools of Randolph County, Indiana, and Marshall County, Iowa, by Dr. A. W. Hayes, in his "Rural Community Organization" (Chap. VI, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1921). In Randolph County more of the schools are located in the open country while the more recent consolidations in Marshall County are located mostly at the village centers. Dr. Hayes recognizes the differences but he gives no facts which make possible a judgment as to the relative efficiency of the two methods from a community standpoint.

[42] F. C. Howe, "Denmark a Coöperative Commonwealth." H. W. Foght, "Rural Denmark and its Schools."

[43] "In Pease and Niles' 'Gazateer of Connecticut and Rhode Island' (1819) the social library is almost as regularly mentioned in the descriptions of the various towns as are the saw-mills, or the ministers and doctors."--Bidwell, "Rural Economy in New England," p. 347.

[44] In the _Inland Printer_, February, 1920, quoted by Atwood, l. c., p. 305.

[45] "The Cornell Reading Course for the Farm," Lesson 155, March, 1920. See also his "The Country Newspaper and the Community," Chicago, A. C. McClurg & Co., 1922.

[46] Quoted by Atwood, _l. c._, p. 314.

[47] This movement can only be sketched in barest outline. It is fully and authoritatively discussed in another volume of this series by Prof. M. C. Burritt, entitled "The County Agent and the Farm Bureau." See also O. B. Martin, "The Demonstration Work." Boston, The Stratford Co.

[48] For a full discussion of this movement, its objectives and accomplishments, see O. M. Kile, "The Farm Bureau Movement," Macmillan, New York, 1921.

[49] Nat. T. Frame, "Lifting the Country Community." Circular 255, Extension Division, W. Va. University, 1921.

[50] See "Status and Results of Boys' and Girls' Club Work, Northern and Western States," 1920. George E. Farell. U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, Department Circular 192.