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Educational Extension Through The Rural Social Center

If it has been decided to form a social center, the first thing to agree upon will naturally be the program of things to be undertaken. Whenever it is possible, the initiation of the work should follow a social survey that would discover the actual needs of the neighborhood and the material that is available for leadership, teaching, and lectures, also the facilities that are present for the various undertakings under consideration. t obviously would not be wise to start a class in cooking if there were no ranges, or a class in gymnastics without a gymnasium. People are apt to take it for granted that they know what these facilities are, but a little investigation usually reveals many resources that had not been thought of.


There are at least six distinctively educational uses of the social center, all of which are important both to the rural school and to the rural community. The first of these is that the social center serves or may serve to bring the school and the community together, to make the teachers and parents acquainted, and to show the parents just what progress their children are making in school. To this end some of the regular meetings of the social center should be school exhibitions or fairs in which the entire program for the evening is in the hands of the school, and it should exhibit all that it is doing, with some of the work of each pupil in each subject so far as possible. The exhibition in manual training, agriculture, domestic science, and the work of the corn and canning clubs would be likely to be of especial interest to the parents, and the praise and criticism of the adults would be very stimulating to the children and would go a long way toward furnishing a natural and effective incentive to the children in their work. There should be some recitations and dialogues, and the evening might well close with light refreshments served by the class in domestic economy. The possibility of such an exhibition will, of course, be more or less dependent on the place of meeting and the school curriculum.


A second educational feature that is worth while is extension courses in agriculture for the young men and extension courses in domestic economy for the young women. Our old idea of education was that a portion of life, from six to twenty perhaps, should be set aside for it, and that during this period we must crowd into the mind all that the person would ever need to know. We have discovered, however, that the child is not interested in many of the things that we have sought to teach him and that he soon forgets them. There is coming in to-day a new conception. Education is a process that begins with birth and ends with death. t is impossible in a large way to prepare in one period of life for what is to happen in another, because the child is not at that time interested in these things, and by concentrating his attention on preparation for the future we may cause him to miss the legitimate experiences of the period to which he at that time belongs. We are not very good prophets, and it is hard to predict what the future of the child may be or just what preparation he needs. The world is moving on so fast that it is impossible to prepare to-day for conditions ten or twenty years hence, and the man who ceases to study for five years becomes obsolete. As the result, nearly every university and normal school has its summer session. Summer Chautauquas are held in nearly every village of the Middle West. The Y.M.C.A. workers have their annual encampment, the ministers have their conferences, and there are state and other associations that are constantly reviewing the latest things for the teachers.

Probably this extension training is more needed by the farmers and their wives than by any other class. Professor Carver of Harvard says :

To be a thoroughly equipped, scientific farmer probably requires a higher education, certainly a more complete scientific education, than any of the learned professions, with the possible exception of medicine. Such a farmer must obviously know something of botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, and surveying; and some special and difficult branches of these sciences he must know extremely well. Principles of plant and animal breeding ought to be thoroughly understood, if it were possible.

Despite the difficulty of his profession, most farmers have received no training in the principles involved, but have merely learned from their fathers or others to do things in a certain way. The farmer often does not believe in the training of the agricultural college, and speaks of the graduates as " kid-glove farmers." In medicine it is recognized that the only way to proficiency is the medical school. The aspiring minister believes that he should attend the school of theology, and the would-be teacher that he should go to the normal school, but the farmer does not believe that farming can be taught. On the face of it this seems unreasonable, and it must be either that our agricultural colleges have been very inefficient or that the farmer has a mistaken idea of their value. It is the opinion of the writer that the agricultural colleges have made good, and that the farmers have made a mistake, largely from confusing the gentlemen farmers from the city, who farm extravagantly for amusement, with the trained agriculturalists turned out by the schools. Certainly many of the principles involved in farming are simple enough, and to take it for granted that they cannot be taught is to assume a good deal of stupidity on the part either of the teacher or of the pupil.

About one person in every two hundred in the community is a teacher. About one in every five hundred is a doctor, about one in every six hundred is a lawyer, about one in every ten is a farmer ; yet there are probably more prospective teachers in normal schools, more embryo doctors in the medical schools, more law students in law schools, than there are farmers in the agricultural colleges. Perhaps one adult woman in fifty is a teacher and needs to understand pedagogy. Every woman is likely to become a housewife and mother and needs to understand domestic economy and the rearing of children. Yet there are probably two or three times as many women in normal schools as there are in schools of domestic economy. There is obviously something out of joint here, unless it be true that men know by instinct how to select seed and cultivate the soil, and women know by the same means how to cook and to care for babies. If we compare the methods of the average farmers with the methods of the best farmers, it becomes reasonably evident that there are some at least who have not inherited the secret of profit-able agriculture. If we compare the rate of infant mortality in the city slums or in negro homes with that in the more intelligent families, it becomes evident that there are some at least who have not inherited a knowledge of the rearing of children, for fully a quarter of these children are carried off under one year of age by preventable disease, and mostly for ignoring sanitary laws which are well known.

In all past ages and periods the tillers of the soil have been tied to the land. The race settled down when it evolved from the nomadic to the agricultural stage. The American farmers are more mobile than any other farmers have ever been, but they are still our most fixed and least traveled class. Perhaps this is one reason why so few farmers' boys go away to agricultural colleges. The fertility of the soil and the annual yield in a number of different staple crops is declining. We have had a great start, but a number of European countries are now making progress more rapidly than we in everything except the application of labor-saving machinery to agriculture. The need of agricultural education cannot be met by the state agricultural colleges as they now exist, be-cause too small a proportion of the farmers' boys are going to them and because the great majority of the farmers are beyond the school age as they understand it. President Pritchett of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching finds that the effective range of the college or university is not more than a hundred miles. Colleges and universities draw from the more mobile classes, and the range of the college and university is surely much greater than that of the agricultural college. In order to reach the people, agriculture must be brought to them in the form of many agricultural high schools or separate agricultural colleges or both, or through extension teaching. t is perfectly feasible that each consolidated school should have a room for agriculture and another for domestic science, that should be reserved largely for the young men and women during the slack season on the farm. Twenty years ago the country youth often continued to attend the district school in the winter time until they were twenty or twenty-one. To-day they have generally finished the course by the time they are fourteen or fifteen, and consider their education complete. During six months of the year these country boys and girls do not have very much to do and might well continue their education in a rural high school or extension school. In a number of states they are beginning to give training in domestic economy and agriculture for these older boys and girls. This seems to me one of the most hopeful movements that has been begun for years. Ideally it would put an agricultural school in every township of the state. If this work is carried on from fourteen to twenty, it ought to give these young people a really good training in the work they are to follow.

In Denmark, which is less than one third as large as the state of New York, there are eighty extension high schools and, I understand, twenty-eight agricultural colleges. t has a sterile soil, yet Denmark is the most prosperous agricultural country in Europe to-day. One can but wonder what the United States, with a congenial climate, a fertile soil, and an enterprising people, might do with such a system of agricultural education.

The practice of farming is probably farther behind our knowledge than is the practice of any other trade or profession. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that the application of our well-established knowledge of agriculture to the actual farming would at least double the profits of the farms for the whole country and might do a great deal more than this. This would mean an increased return of a hundred or more millions of dollars a year to most states - an amount that most of us would think worth considering. The prosperity of the farmer means the prosperity of the whole country, so this becomes a matter of really national importance. Any expense that may be necessary in order to bring this knowledge to the farmers will be justified by the results, but we should naturally seek the method which is most effective and least expensive.

Again, the agricultural secretaries and the corn and canning clubs are making possible the extension of this work as it has not been possible before. I recently attended a meeting of a class of boys that had come from all parts of a rural county in North Dakota. A lesson in feeding milch cows was being given by the secretary. The problem was the necessary food to maintain the cow and produce twenty-five pounds of milk per day. The analysis of the milk was shown from a table, also the amount of each constituent necessary to maintain the cow.

A fodder of timothy hay was tried. It was found to be low in protein. In order to produce the twenty-five pounds of milk, much expensive oil meal and bran or similar fodders would have to be added. It was shown also that timothy had a low yield to the acre and was a hard crop on the land. Hence it was concluded that it would be very expensive to maintain a milch cow on timothy and the grain she would need to be fed. A ration of alfalfa was tried and found, with ensilage, to contain nearly the constituents required ; with a small ration of corn and oats the necessary protein, carbohydrates, and fats were available. This was shown to be a cheap food because it was all raised on the farm, and both the alfalfa and the corn gave a large tonnage to the acre and tended to increase rather than diminish the fertility of the land. I am not an authority on the scientific accuracy of the facts brought out, but I assume that they were correct, and I have no doubt but that one lesson would be more than worth the secretary's salary to the county.


The extension teaching spoken of in the previous paragraphs is not strictly social-center work, though it is apt to result from the organization of the social center ; but so far as it is done in the evening and with certain social features that grow naturally out of the work in domestic economy, it comes very near to the regular activities of the social center. Such extension teaching will do much for the younger generation, but it does not seem likely that the adult farmer will go to school, even if the school is brought to his door. He can only be reached through extension lectures and farmers' institutes. There is far greater need of extension lectures from the agricultural college than from the university. For social and educational reasons there ought to be an extension lecture in every farming community at least once a week through six or eight months of the year. I used to be a local superintendent of lectures in New York City. My center was on the East Side, where the people were largely foreigners, with a very imperfect understanding of the English language. There were open saloons, theaters, and recreation centers on every hand, yet these lectures were nearly always well at-tended. There are one hundred seventy-five centers in New York City where such lectures are being given, and there are more than four thousand lecturers. Some fifty other cities have now taken up these free extension lectures. The country needs them more than the city. It has few rival at-tractions, and it needs the stimulus and information that they might give. It seems likely that the attendance would be as good or better than it is in the city. In my experience as a lecturer the smaller the town the larger the attendance is likely to be. The state can afford to furnish lectures to its rural population quite as well as the city can afford to furnish them to the immigrant, who constitutes the majority of the audiences. So far as prosperity and the public welfare are concerned, the state is no less interested in the industrial and political education of adults than it is in the scholastic education of children. I believe that it is quite possible to add millions to the annual output and to remake the policies of a state by a well-planned course of extension lectures that would really reach the people.

The great difficulty with the extension work that has thus far been done by the state universities is that there has been no apparent plan or policy behind it except the giving of information and the inereasing of the influence of the university. It has been a mere scattering of information. Such work may be worth while, but it can never be highly effective. Behind any kind of extension lecture work should be some plan of results to be secured. It should be built on the real needs of the state and the country and should attempt to supply the in-formation and inspiration that is needed in order that the country may be more largely prosperous and happy. t is somewhat perilous to undertake to make up such a program of lectures, but in most country sections the following topics should be dealt with among others :

Rural Cooperative Associations Here and Abroad

Business Methods of the Farm

Making Farm Life Attractive

The Selection of Seed <> The Testing of Milk and of Cattle

Spraying and the Raising of Fruit

The Raising of Corn, etc.

The Hygiene of the Home

The Care of Infants

Saving Steps and Motions in the House

The Garden for the Table

A Musical Program

Several Popular Lectures

Such a program would have something in it for everybody, and it would be a definite contribution to the problems of country life. To carry it through would require a considerable expenditure of money, but not a prohibitive amount. For the most part it would be merely a more effective organization of existing agencies. From the first this would demand state aid and some state direction. There are five different agencies that should combine in producing the program : the state university, the state agricultural college, the state board of health, the normal schools and private colleges, and the different national and state organizations that are promoting various phases of the public welfare. If only a few centers were organized, such a program could be produced practically without cost, as all of these people are already on salary for this purpose. The writer recently promoted such a course of lectures for a small Michigan town. t has been organized with little effort, the lectures and recitals have been well attended, and there has been almost no expense except a few small bills for traveling. If this should become general, it would mean that the university, the agricultural college, and the state board of health would have to enlarge their staffs of extension lecturers, and that the men in the normal schools and colleges would probably receive a small extra salary or fee from the state, according to the number of such extension engagements that they filled.

Probably the best organization of this work would be to turn over the extension lectures of all of these departments to a consolidated extension department for the state, which might be under the direction of a special state official chosen for the purpose. Or a special extension department might be built up by the state, with lecturers of its own. In most states no one of the existing agencies in the field has at its command all the talent that is needed for lecture courses in a rural community, though the agricultural college probably comes the nearest to it.

As such a department does not exist at present, the most feasible thing to do is for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to make up lists of speakers and subjects that are available for educational use in the state and send them around to the school authorities with a model program for the season. Such a list might well include the lecturers who may be had free from the state departments and also available lecturers, with their subjects, whose fees would come within the reach of rural communities. The public lecture is a feature of social-center work nearly everywhere, so this will be no innovation.


The social-center organization might well arrange to hold at the center, at some time during the winter, a farmers' institute, or perhaps better a joint meeting of the teachers and farmers in a special institute which has come to be known as the Hesperia Movement, from the little Michigan town of Hesperia, where these meetings were first held.


The Chautauqua movement is one of the most hopeful educational movements that has come to this or any country. t is essentially a social center spread out over a considerable period of time. It is weak on the civic side, but it has the lectures and extension classes, the entertainments and social opportunities, much the same as those found in the regular social center. These Chautauquas have become general for nearly every town of two thousand inhabitants over the Middle West. They have a message that the country cannot afford to lose. Every rural person needs at least as much of intellectual stimulation, information, and social opportunity as the annual Chautauqua gives.

On the whole the best Chautauqua for a rural community that I have ever attended was the one in which I recently participated at Valley City, North Dakota. Perhaps I cannot do better than to describe this Chautauqua.

Valley City is the county seat of Barnes County. This county is fortunate in having as its county superintendent Miss Minnie Nielson, who is at the same time the president of the State Federation of Woman's Clubs and one of the most able county superintendents in the country. School fairs were held at various places during the year, and one girl was selected from each rural school to attend the school of dairying and domestic economy which was held at the summer Chautauqua. This gave a group of about one hundred fifty girls. They had class work in dairying, cooking, and bird and nature study until half past two each afternoon. After that they played games or attended the sessions of the Chautauqua as they felt disposed. The Chautauqua lasted for seventeen days ; the girls paid four dollars for tents, bedding, and food. I believe nearly every girl carried back with her something that would help to make her life more interesting.

There was also a similar encampment for the boys under the Better-Farming Association of North Dakota, of which Mr. Thomas Cooper is the able executive. Many of the lessons were conducted by the agricultural secretary for the county, Mr. Mylan. These lessons seemed to me singularly practical and valuable. After the lessons were over, there was a swimming lesson and then a ball game. The boys attended the Chautauqua in the evening. There was also an encampment of the Boy Scouts on the grounds.

The Chautauqua has of course the regular series of lectures and entertainments, such as are found at other Chautauquas, and for next year, the Northern Pacific and Soo railroads promise to combine in starting a demonstration farm adjoining the Chautauqua grounds. This will permit of various demonstrations to the farmers who are present and will increase the practical effectiveness of the farmers' institute which it is proposed to hold in connection with the Chautauqua.

This Chautauqua employs its secretary, Alex Karr, by the year, and has just started an extension department for the establishing of social centers and reading circles throughout the county. A Chautauqua such as this has tremendous possibilities in the improving of rural conditions.

As I attend Chautauquas it seems to me that on the whole they are somewhat too much given to the lecture that is merely entertaining ; that they are not well enough suited to the definite problems of the community in which they are placed ; that there is not as much conference and discussion among the people themselves as there should be ; and that there is great need of developing the active recreational side of the life. A Chautauqua that would do this might well intro-duce into the country also the games that are suited to it and create much of the spirit of play that the year is apt to lack ; but, as it is, it is bearing a message of cheer to thousands of homes and is giving to the farmer and his wife, his son and daughter, much to think of at the plow or the dishwashing. It is sowing thousands of seed thoughts which will ripen during the year into character and wisdom.


The old-time debates at rural schoolhouses were largely of abstract themes, or at least of distant ones, such as the tariff, capital punishment, and the like. The problems discussed were not the problems of the people who discussed them. Their elucidation had no direct effect on any one. The conclusions reached resulted in no action. These debates were carried on by a community not as well educated as are most farming communities at the present time. Still they were successful in eliciting much interest, in training some of our best public speakers, and in making a valuable social occasion for the neighborhood. We know better how to organize debates at present, and it would seem that it ought to be possible to revive the old-time debates and to make them real instruments for the public welfare.

t should be taken for granted in the beginning that the problems which should be discussed are the current problems in the life of the people, and that these discussions should not lead so much to a decision as to who won the debate as to a decision as to what is to be done. Such a debate is sure to elicit the interest of the community and to give the best possible training in public speaking. It would be impossible to make up a list of subjects that would fit every community, but the following will be problems in nearly all :

Resolved that we should combine and order our farm implements together.

Resolved that the schools of this township should be consolidated.

Resolved that we work for the consolidation of all the rural churches of this township.

Resolved that the center purchase a moving-picture machine. Resolved that we should vote on an appropriation for graveling or macadamizing the roads.

Resolved that the boys and girls and the hired men shall be given a half holiday on Saturday.

Resolved that this township shall employ a visiting nurse.

Resolved that apple growing should be as profitable in Michigan as in Washington.

So far as these debates involve public action, committees should be appointed to secure the action desired.

It is believed that such a series of debates would be an education of the public to current needs, that they would start many people to reading on rural problems who had not heretofore taken the trouble, and that they would soon produce a community well informed in the matters essential to its welfare.


If there is any place where people are accustomed to go, this is the place for the library, because it is mostly inertia that keeps us from reading. To go to a library building, look up a title on a card index, send in the card, and wait for the book to appear is too much trouble for most people ; but if they come where they see the books, a natural curiosity leads them to look at some of them, and looking often leads to liking. At the time I was a resident at the University Settlement in New York our little library at the Settlement had a larger circulation, for the number of books that we had, than any other library in the city. t was merely because the young people came there anyway, saw the books, and were tempted to read. The libraries in the field houses of the Chicago play-grounds are usually crowded. The township library should be at the consolidated school or the social center if there is one, on account of both the children and the adults. A library is nearly as necessary to an elementary school as it is to a college. It is impossible to study geography or history or literature, so as to get much out of them, without a good deal of reading outside the text, and the school that has failed to establish in the child the love for and the habit of reading has done only a small part of its work. The school only starts the child on the road to learning, and he must continue this by his private reading after his school days are over. If during his school days he has not formed the habit of reading books, the chances are that his later reading will be largely limited to the daily paper.

The library is more necessary to the country than it is to the city. The city man can see most of the things of the world and hear most of the distinguished men, if he chooses, at first hand. The country man does not have this opportunity. The city man has the theater and the club and the streets to divert his attention. The country man has few diversions. The city man is about equally busy all the year round, but the country man has a slack season in winter, when there is plenty of time to read. Most country sections in the North now have some sort of library, but I believe they are but little used. I know a township where there is a library of about twelve hundred books, which are purchased by township officials from money collected from fines. It is kept in a bakery in the lower part of the town, and about thirty or forty books are circulated a week. These books consist mostly of a cheap grade of novels. The circulation is almost entirely of books of this class. The explanation, I think, consists in two things : in the first place, the books are not conveniently placed ; and, in the second place, they are not well selected. t would appear that most of them were chosen for romantic girls of about sixteen, to judge from the titles. I have never seen books on the new agriculture or rural life. Surely such books as Butterfield's " Rural Progress," Bailey's " Country Life Movement," Carver's " Principles of Rural Economics," Haggard's " Rural Denmark," and Plunket's " Rural Life Movement in the United States " ought to be in every rural library, and of course the Report of the Commission on Country Life. Then there ought to be a good practical agricultural library dealing with the problems of the particular section. There ought to be a similar library for the women on the care of the home and the rearing of children. It is doubtless true that there would be no great demand for these books at first, but the work of the school, with its agriculture and domestic science, should stimulate the interest among the young people, and they would interest their seniors.

I would not have anything that I have said taken as a disparagement of good novels. Novel reading is one of the most universal forms of recreation. t transports one instantly from the dull and the monotonous to the strange, the romantic, the dangerous ; while in our own little sphere of action it enables us to live the lives of the great and the distinguished, to ride in our carriage or yacht or automobile, to converse with kings and princes, and to understand the hopes and fears, loves and hates, of those in every sphere of life. It is a way of gaining experience vicariously, of enlarging the sympathy, of coming to understand others by living their lives. It is one of the chief means of social education. t is needless to say that the farmer needs this enlargement of his social experience more than others. He needs the novel both for this and as a relief from long hours of monotonous labor, and to throw off old points of view and worries and get new points of view and new sympathies. In connection with the rural schools in many sections, they are beginning to make pretty adequate provision for the exchange of books from school to school, so that fifteen hundred volumes are made to furnish fairly satisfactory reading facilities to a township.

It is probably best to have the books furnished in some way by the state, as this will insure a better selection, a cheaper price, and a more efficient way of dealing with books that are in need of repair. If the township library can be at the consolidated school or the social center, the children can use it constantly in connection with their school work, and they can draw out books for their parents also at any time they may desire. When the parents come to the social center, they will see the books and be led to take some of them themselves. I believe that such a location for the library would secure the selection of better books in the first place, and that it would at least quadruple its use in most localities.

The educational activities thus far described should take at least one night a week for everybody, and much more than this for those who take any of the evening courses in agriculture or domestic science. These educational parts of the program will also be the expensive features. They should be supported from school funds. The advantages that would come to the country are a sufficient reason for them.

( Originally Published 1914 )

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