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The Organizers Of Rural Recreation

From our study of recreation problems thus far, it appears that while the country has no great supply of the passive diversions such as the theater, music, and art, or those nervous and mental dissipations, the roller coaster and the merry-go-round, yet for all forms of active recreation it has the best facilities there are. The country does not lack opportunity, but it lacks appreciation of the value of recreation and it lacks leadership in getting the movement under way. The undirected playground proved a failure in the city, and it is this same lack of direction that is the weakness of the situation in the country. In the pages that have gone before there has been an effort to show some of the means and agencies through which this organization might come. t is apparent that to make the country appeal to the young and be a really ideal place for the rearing of children, the adults must come to hold a juster estimate of life's values and see that prosperity is not all of living. There must be restored to rural life, in yet larger measure than it once had, the romance and ad-venture and cooperation of pioneer days. To change the spirit of a people is no light task, but it is not an impossible one surely, when the change that is proposed is a return to an earlier spirit and to conditions that are demanded by human nature itself for the gratification of the most fundamental of social wants that, unsatisfied, are now breeding discontent. To bring in this better day all the rural agencies that make for progress must cooperate. The rural school, the agricultural college, the church, and the grange must each do its part. So also there is a series of persons each of whom must take some share in the work.


Under ideal conditions the rural clergyman may do all and be the best possible agency in organizing rural life and sociability, because the church offers with its social opportunity the message of idealism, love, and social service which the country needs. At present, however, the rural church is decadent, and there are almost no resident pastors. Its many creeds have forced the community apart rather than drawn it together. The organization of recreation and society for the whole community seems to be the salvation of the rural church. If it sees this in time, then the rural clergyman will become one of the most important factors in the whole situation. Wherever there is a rural church with a resident pastor and a social viewpoint, it can do much. The church is beginning to see this, and there are many pastors, especially in the villages, who are already serving as scout masters or as baseball managers. The ordinary donations and entertainments of the church are valuable social occasions in rural communities.


The students in the normal schools are now, in most cases, getting a certain amount of training that will fit them to organize social-center work, play festivals, pageants, picnics, camps, etc. In many normal schools they are also having preached to them the gospel of play and the rural-life movement and its requirements. Many of them are coming to see the need of making rural life less dull and hard. The rural teacher is being better paid ; her position in the community is becoming more secure. With the general teaching of agriculture, we must have more men. It is reasonable to suppose that the rural teacher is to take a much larger part in organizing rural recreation than she has in the past. There can be no question of the wisdom of her doing so, if she does not go too fast and if she selects forms that appeal to the community. t will make her known, and the community will be grateful. She can often get up riding or walking parties, camping expeditions for week-ends, community tournaments in tennis, volley ball, and baseball, or organize Boy Scout patrols and the Camp Fire Girls, or she can start a parents' association and have pleasant social occasions at the schoolhouse. Her limitations are her youth and inexperience and her insecurity of position and early marriage, which remove her from the work just as she begins to be efficient.


This official is not found in all counties, though he probably soon will be, as he lies in the line of educational progress. He can determine the' sort of play and athletics the schools are to have. He can get up pageants and play festivals, and he can promote social activities and lectures in the evening. The county superintendent is, however, himself much too busy to do all the work that needs to be done. He can assist in but not conduct rural recreation. He might be given several assistants who would each have charge of the recreation in different townships, and who would rank as supervisors of the special branches, such as agriculture and drawing. This experiment was made in Tennessee last year with a recreation director for Hamilton County. Some such organization of rural recreation is entirely feasible. Very many county superintendents are alive to the need, and not a few are beginning to organize their counties.


These are both new positions that have great promise in improving rural conditions for young people. Both of these secretaries have had some training along the lines of public recreation. They have the social spirit, and their work demands the social organization of rural groups. Nearly every-where both associations are already starting recreational activities of various kinds. In many cases a play festival is held, and there are nearly always some athletics and some camping. However, the County Y.W.C.A. is only just making a beginning, and the Y.M.C.A. is reaching only sixty counties. The county is too large a territory for any person to oversee unless he has many assistants, and each of the secretaries has his or her own special work to do.


The newest recruit in the field of rural recreation is the agricultural secretary. These are men from the agricultural colleges for the most part. They have the spirit of the new movement for rural progress. They are as a rule well paid and capable. I have no statistics as to how many counties have thus far been organized, but I found forty-two of these men this summer in North Dakota alone. Their number certainly runs up into the hundreds and perhaps to nearly a thousand at the present time. If the work continues to be as promising as it has seemed to be thus far, every progressive county will soon have such an official. All business has tended toward larger and larger units of organization during the past century, but this has been true to a much more limited extent on the farm than elsewhere. The large business admits of skilled supervision of unskilled workmen. Such supervision the country industries have sadly lacked.

The agricultural secretaries can only suggest, but their suggestions are proving tremendously valuable in many quarters. The county has never had a real executive officer, and it would seem that more and more the agricultural secretary should become that officer. Under the socialistic state he would be the business manager of the county. He naturally has a political opportunity also that no other man in the county has, if he wishes to go into politics.

In North Dakota I find that these men are organizing farmers' clubs throughout their counties, which are devoted in part to business and in part to sociability. In the summer they often meet on Saturday afternoons ; a picnic supper is provided, and games for the children. All through the year the children attend with their parents. The meetings are held in the farmhouses in winter and usually last for an afternoon and an evening. The children have a room for themselves.


Each of the agencies that have been mentioned is feeling the need of more recreation in the country ; each is already doing something and will do more, but all together cannot meet the actual need. The city has given up trying to organize recreation through volunteer agencies. What is everybody's business is nobody's business. There will be great improvement over the present conditions from these agencies alone, but there will not be real efficiency in rural recreation until the country has its play director as the city has. At present the conduct of play is being generally accepted by the city as a municipal function. t belongs quite as much to the country as to the city, and the play director for the country should also be a public official. To many this will seem like a break with all rural traditions, but it is not really so. In Germany they have had for a long time, in some of the provinces at least, a rural supervisor of play who is known as a Spiel-Inspector. He has to see that there are places for swimming in summer and skating in winter. He organizes athletic contests and play festivals. He gives courses in play to the teachers. He institutes picnics and entertainments for adults. A bill was introduced into the legislature of the state of Illinois last year providing for somewhat similar organization of rural recreation in Illinois.


If there is to be a play director for the country, how large should his playground be ? There are three possible answers to this question if he is to be a public official : the district, the township, or the county. The district apparently is not large enough to support him. The district does not offer enough variety of social attainment or leadership to make society as stimulating as it should be. The county is too large to be known, that is, for the director to know the people or the play facilities. The township seems to be indicated as the proper territory for this organization. If the township has the consolidated school, with its township park and athletic fields in connection with it, the organizer of recreation will be mainly the director of this playground and of the social center. After school and on Saturdays and evenings he will need to be there. Perhaps through the social center he can organize nearly everything that needs to be done, though it would be well for him to get about the township as well. The logical person for the director of the township recreation is the principal of the consolidated school, if he should be capable of doing it. t should mean of course an increase of salary and release from much of the school work he is now carrying.


The work that the recreation director will need to do has been outlined with some completeness in the pages that have gone before. He needs first of all to organize the various agencies in each neighborhood — at the social center if there is one, in the community if there is not — into a League for Rural Progress or a Civic League. This organization should have general charge of the movement and take the responsibility of it. t would fall to this play director to introduce games that are suitable to the country ; to get up athletic tournaments, pageants, and play festivals ; to organize the Boy Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls ; to conduct institutes and lectures and Chautauquas ; to select suitable activities for the social center and appropriate facilities for the picnic grove. He might well be the most important official in the town-ship and probably would be so wherever there was a consolidated school and social center. This would require, in the beginning at least, a very high-grade person at a good salary.


Mrs. A. E. Kent has attempted in the Tamalpais center one solution of this problem of rural recreation that of providing the fine social center and rural playground as a thing by itself. However, the county work of the Y.M.C.A. and the Y.W.C.A. is being done without equipment. The country lacks not space but organization- of its play and social life. The probable solution of the rural-recreation problem is not through the special center but through the consolidated school and the picnic grove or township park. The country communities are too conservative to employ or support, in the beginning, an official to do the work of a play director, but I question if there is anywhere a more attractive opportunity for private beneficence. What better service could a philanthropist render to the country home of his childhood than to endow for it, for a term of years, such an official ? t would be an experiment in which the whole country would take keen interest, and if the right person were secured, it could not well fail to contribute powerfully to the solution of many vital problems of the rural community.


Democracy, the power, or rule, of the people, presupposes frequent meetings of the people to deliberate and decide what is to be done. This again presupposes a common meeting ground where these deliberations can take place. In national affairs we have delegated to Congress the making of our laws, but in local affairs the people themselves must be their own congress and must have their own meeting place if they are to be well governed.

In the ancient democracies of Greece the people met together in the market. place to determine the policy of the state and to elect from their friends and acquaintances the officers of the year. These democracies were cities that were scarcely more than villages from the modern standpoint. Only a small portion of the inhabitants were voters, so the mechanism was comparatively simple. In the case of the United States the country has become too vast and its interests too complicated to have the policies of state decided in that way. We have a representative democracy. However, if we will observe our form of organization, we shall see that this great country is supposed to be built up of a series of democracies, each a little larger than the one of lower order. In the cities we have the wards and in the country the town-ship, the county, and the state, each of which is a little democracy within a larger democracy. In the wards of the cities and in the rural townships we have units that correspond in many ways to the original democracies of Greece.

The Greeks, however, had their agora, or social center, where the people were accustomed to assemble and where it was possible to discuss all public affairs. The town hall served this purpose to a considerable extent in early New England, but there is no center at the present time for the city ward or the rural township. This is probably the reason that " ward politics" has been a synonym for all that is bad in politics, and that the township government has been so ineffective in securing results. We can never have sound politics until we organize and purify this basal unit of our democracy. It is this great aim that lies before the social-center movement to give to the people some agora, forum, market place, or center where they can assemble for social converse and consider, discuss, and organize the public welfare.

For the city the social center promises the restoration of the community and recreation for all. But it is far more necessary for the country, because to the country it must give political effectiveness, business cooperation, and social life. t is the natural cure for the political indifference, the individualism in business, and the social isolation of the farm.

( Originally Published 1914 )

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