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Corn Festival

( Originally Published 1915 )

Corn Festival.—For introducing a rural school to a community, I know of nothing that can be used to better advantage than the Seed Corn Festival. This is not because we wish to make a fad of teaching corn but it is because the corn plant means more to farmers than does any other single plant. It is large and beautiful, it is planted before school is out in the spring and it is not harvested until some time after school begins again in the fall. The corn plant is a comparatively new plant and hence tends to vary more than do most other plants. Corn is easily used for decorations. Corn husks may be used instead of raffia to make hats, baskets and other things in the industrial training class. A large number of corn products may be made in the domestic science class. Seed corn should be gathered about the first week in October. This date is just about long enough after school begins to enable the pupils to feel that they are to have a part in the affairs of the community.

A little of the psychology of farming and of teaching agriculture needs to be comprehended in order to enable a teacher to understand fully the meaning of the Seed Corn Festival. The farmer is an individualist. He works in isolation. He has many things pulling him to be done each day. He is not always wise in his selection of what he is to do. Other things are pressing and he frequently neglects to gather his seed corn until there has been a heavy rain followed by a hard freeze. That means weakened seed, stunted germs, and in return lower yields the following year. Added to that is the fact that if a teacher is to make vocational work popular she must strike from the first on something that is practical, important, and teachable. Gathering seed corn is a farm operation so simple that a child can under-stand it. All of the members of the family may cooperate in some way to gather and preserve the seed corn. Many of our ablest farmers believe that they add from 20 to 25 bushels to their yields by carefully selecting and preserving their seed the fall before planting. If there is anything a farmer resents it is being taught by a strip of a girl fresh from college. But here is her opportunity. She may make " gathering seed corn " the neighborhood talk for a time. She may get the farmer or his wife, or frequently both of them, together with their neighbors for an afternoon's or evening's entertainment where gathering seed corn is the principal theme. Questions are sure to be asked and the farmer knows it. Hence he gets his seed corn where he may say that it is gathered and safe from cold and storm.

Of this agricultural purpose the teacher needs to be clearly conscious, but she does not need to tell the people that this is her purpose. Nor should it be her only purpose. To get the people together, to enable them to have a good time, to enable her pupils to furnish entertainment, to enable her to meet the people and to enable the people to visit the school for something worth hearing and seeing—these are enough of themselves. But a thoroughly socialized school does more than furnish entertainment for the people—it helps in vital community affairs.

Preparation for the Seed Corn Festival should begin by the announcement that, if the children desire it, such a festival is to be observed. Then there begins a hunt for appropriate pieces of literature for such an occasion. Books and papers are read. The literature of corn becomes the topic of conversation in the homes. Along with the gathering of literature about corn are gathered songs for the occasion and illustrations of decorations and plays and exercises and uses for corn. In order to get the greatest educational possibilities from a corn festival as from a corn show, it is necessary to illustrate or demonstrate to the visitors the newer and improved methods of handling, planting, grading, estimating, preserving and using corn. The aim is, as near as possible, to have each visitor go from the entertainment saying, " I learned at least one thing that was worth going to see or hear." This means that pupils who do not care to read or who are afraid to recite or sing may be able to do or demonstrate some-thing in connection with corn. For the improved devices and methods they too are to search books, papers and bulletins. Some one should be delegated to call on the implement dealer and ask him to give or lend the school whatever he has that is new and usable such as seed corn graders, seed corn racks and hangers, catalogues, pictures, etc. Though there may not be time to finish them, yet booklets should be started and essays should be in evidence. To have written on it is to understand much more clearly what one is to do in demonstration, recitation or decoration. The teacher must ever keep in mind that art consists in hiding art. Leadership is partly the art of hiding leader-ship. The festival is the children's, not the teacher's. It is the children's opportunity to serve the community.

Before the festive date arrives each child who is able to write should write an invitation to his parent or the friend whom he wishes to invite. The invitation may read somewhat like this :

Sunnyside School, East Goshen, Pa.

The pupils and teachers of Sunnyside School request the pleasure of your company at their Maize Festival, October 3, 1914, from 3 to 9 P.m.

To Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.

While the invitation is to be somewhat formal, yet it must contain enough so that no one can misunderstand it and so that the people receiving it feel that it has something of a personal touch to it. It will be noticed that part of the exercises come in the afternoon and part in the evening. Some people object to their children being out in the evenings. Some mothers cannot come in the evenings. Some fathers cannot come in the afternoons. The festival is for all.

The programme should consist of short, crisp, well-rendered selections, recitations, songs, class songs and demonstrations, or what we frequently call " stunts." For this the play on the school grounds needs to have been supervised for some time in preparation for the festival. Exercises in seed corn stringing, in placing kernels of corn in a seed-testing box, in labelling neatly and accurately, in arranging ears to look the best and in other interesting things such as rope tying, setting a table, patching, or sewing, so that when the time comes there will be something of interest to all and so that at odd times, recess and intermission, the teacher may have a three- or four-ring circus going without her having to direct it. And yet with it all and without saying so, the teacher must see to it that the things done are things that the neighborhood needs to know how to do or to do better than they are now being done. (See Frontispiece.)

Christmas Exercises.—Following the Seed Corn Festival, after a reasonable time preparations may begin for the Christmas time. Let the room or the school form a Costless Christmas Association or club, the aim being to see how the members may make appropriate, pretty presents that do not cost money which the members have not earned. Cards, mottoes, blotters, bulletin holders, aprons, handbags and manual training articles of all kinds make interesting work. The important thing for the teacher to do is to find things that are worth while and to see that they are educational. If the festival work leads to a neglect of the common branches there is something wrong with the way the teacher is handling the work. It may be necessary to make the ruling which many of our city schools have, that no one is to take part who is below passing grade or that no one is to take part who is absent except in cases where it is absolutely necessary.

Following Christmas are Lincoln's and Washington's Birth-days, one or two arbor days, May day, class days, graduating exercises, etc. Where the school is a graded school it is sometimes well to let one grade celebrate one day and another grade another day. Then, too, the school should not neglect to help other organizations. I see no reason why a recitation or an essay for a church entertainment should not be prepared at school. The school should do its part in the observance of corn night at the Grange and corn shows. The school should be in evidence at the County Fair and Farmers' Institute. A socialized school is a many-sided school. It is a school in which children live and learn to do by doing, to become a vital part of a neighborhood by being of vital service to that neighborhood. A socialized school is a school in which pupils do things for the sake of the thing done and not necessarily for preparation for something that may never come.

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