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The Rural School

( Originally Published 1915 )

The Rural School and Country Life.—Of all of the institutions able to help to make country life attractive, the rural school is the most important. Of course it is the function of the schools everywhere to educate, and the country life problem is largely a problem of education. Then, too, the country school is already on the ground, it is loved by the people, it is the one institution where Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile, Irish and Norwegian, Italian and Quaker may meet and mingle on an equality. The country school has the social machinery with which to make an institution to serve all of the people. There is a County Superintendent whose business it is to superintend the schools in the interests of the country people. Town schools have principals and superintendents of their own. But in order to make the country school an efficient institution for serving the rural people there are at least five things necessary :

1. More money.
2. Better organization, i.e., consolidation.
3. Better supervision.
4. An enriched course of study.
5. Leadership.

This subject of the rural school has, as in the case of the rural life problem, recently called forth a number of very good books. Among these are Cubberley's " Improving Rural Schools," Betts's " New Ideals for Rural Schools," Betts and Hall's " Better Rural Schools," Seeley's " The Country School," Eggleston and Bruere's" The Work of the Rural School," Cubberley's " Rural Life and Education," Carney's " Country Life and the Country School," and Kern's " Among Country Schools." And running through all of these is the demand for more money, better organization, better supervision, an enriched course of study, and leadership to make the rural school an institution for serving the people who support it.

More Money.—Our system of taxation has failed to keep pace with our growing complex industrial system. The result is that we have new institutions such as railroads and boards of trade which pay proportionately too much of their taxes to the towns and cities. We need a system of support for the rural schools by which the whole state will pay proportionately more but pay according to the use which the rural people make of their school. That is, we need more state money given according to the kind of a teacher that the district hires, according to the attendance, length of term and course of study. For example, a district hiring a teacher certificated to teach agriculture or domestic science, to teach for nine or ten months and to teach twenty to twenty-five pupils, in a school of not more than four grades, should be given more state money than is given to a school hiring an untrained girl to teach for five months in a school of eight grades in one room.

Better Organization — Consolidation. Country people should have fewer school officers but they should be abler men and women. This will require a school board with power to act for a whole county. This county board should hire teachers, fix salaries and tax rate, adopt the school books, keep the accounts for the rural schools of the county and supervise the instruction which includes the adopting of the course of study. Subordinate to the county board there may be local boards or directors with power to supervise the building, to act in case of contagious diseases and temporary vacations, and to see to getting such supplies as coal and building equipment.

While there will remain some single-roomed schools in out-of-the-way places, yet the consolidated school is the more efficient institution for serving the people (Figs. 127-134). But this does not mean that there are not places where the consolidated school is failing to serve the people as well as are little " chalk-box," single-roomed schools,. Burnham in " Two Types of Rural Schools" (Columbia University Studies), tells us that he found consolidated schools costing farmers double as much per pupil and with twice as many pupils behind grade for their age, as he found in typical single-roomed schools in other places. But there are advantages for the consolidated school, and because the people in certain places fail to make it the more efficient school, does not prove that it cannot be made to serve rural people more efficiently. Perhaps the best argument that can be given for the unconsolidated school has been given by Dr. Bailey in the " Farmer and the State." Bailey says : " The present rural schools, with all of their shortcomings, are good schools because (1) they are already in existence, (2) they are schools of all of the people, (3) they are small and thereby likely to be native and simple, (4) they are many and therefore close to actual conditions of the people. I would utilize them to the fullest and in the end these schools, when redirected, will present the solution for the problem of rural education."

The advantages claimed for the consolidated schools are:

1. They are the only schools to provide for the education of the older boys and girls, many of whom are sure to be misfits in town schools.

2. They are the only schools to insure an enrolment large enough to justify the hiring of well-trained, capable teachers and to furnish children the social and cultural contact with companionable associates in sufficient numbers.

3. They are the only schools for holding trained teachers and the older and more capable pupils.

4. They are not as expensive for what pupils get from them as are the town schools where farmers must send their older children to school away from home.

5. They are the only schools that provide for transporting the children in wagons driven by men under bond to deliver the children on time, to see that they are dry and comfortable and to see that no improper conversation or conduct takes place on the road to or from school.

6. They may be made the most democratic of rural institutions, that is, the social centre for the community; which means that they may be made to furnish something of interest to every man, woman and child in the community.

Better Supervision.—Better organization gives us the consolidated school with the county as a unit and this helps wonder-fully in solving the problem of better supervision. The consolidated schools have principals who supervise the consolidated school and help supervise the few remaining single-roomed schools as do the best city principals. But we need better county superintendents. We need men and women who understand the rural life problem and who believe that the country schools are Institutions for helping to solve that problem. We need county superintendents who are alert to make the rural schools serve rural people. This may require a new mental attitude toward both the school as an institution and toward what education really is. The county superintendent who can help must be one who believes with Dr. Dewey that education requires " the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race." Those interested may well read Dr. Dewey's " My Pedagogical Creed " in order to understand what I am trying to condense into this part of one chapter.

But we have had quite enough of the county superintendents from the town and city schools who are town-minded and who would make of the country schools poor imitations of the poorest town schools. Farmers must be taught to demand county superintendents who are rural-minded, who love the country and who love to serve country people because they are one with them.

An Enriched Course of Study.—This book is the best argument that I can give for an enriched course of study and for teachers to become conscious of what farm life means in education. After all it is largely a matter of mental attitude on the part of the teachers. If teachers do not see the educational possibilities in experiences such as children get in situations like those given in figures 2 and 4 of Chapter I, they are not the teachers to help solve the rural life problem. But if they do see the possibilities for real education, if the teachers are right-minded and willing to help, then they must enrich their course of study by using the materials of interest at home. For starting the work, I know of nothing better than the fall festival.

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