SPEAKING OF EDUCATION
Talks given on Education Day of the National Convention of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin October 15, 1946
TABLE OF CONTENTS
• What Parents Think
• Rural Life And Art
• The Rural Elementary Teacher
• From Urban Teacher To Rural Teacher
• The Rural High School Teacher
WHAT PARENTS THINK
By Dr. Willis D. Nutting
Notre Dame, Indiana
Teachers are traditionally thought to have a sneaking desire to form an association for the doing away with parents, and I am sure that the teachers of my own children would like to become charter members. A parent is certainly an embarrassment. If he is interested in his children's education, he interferes in matters of which he knows little; if he is not interested he is unwilling to co-operate with the teacher in the little that is asked of him. In the one case he, or perhaps more likely she, writes notes criticizing what is going on; and in the other case he does not even remember to sign report cards.
Speaking as a parent who in his sober moments takes his job of being a parent seriously, I want to discuss with you some of the possibilities and some of the dangers that I think I see in our schools. This is of particular importance in our modern society, for the school has to a great extent taken away from the parent the supervision of the child's training. If that supervision is good, then the parent can have much confidence in the future of his children. If it is not good, he has cause for great anxiety. And let me insist that the anxiety can be just as great in a religious school as in any other: for in the religious school as in the secular, the institution which looms so large in my child's life is pretty well insulated from any influence that I may try to exert on him. It is not easy in either case for me to exercise my parental responsibility to supervise my child's education.
Is School Dangerous
When I speak of the possibility of the school's being a danger to my children I do not refer at all to its efficiency in imparting the subjects found in the curriculum. Most parents may be quite assured on that point. Our teachers know how to teach their subjects. Children do learn well how to read and write and figure. They learn their catechism, and they learn the practice of religion. This is all to the good. As far as the explicit teaching is concerned we have nothing to worry about.
But it is otherwise if we consider not only what is explicitly taught, but the sum total of what is learned. There is in most children's mind a tendency to resist what is taught, and a positive genius for absorbing what we do not intend to teach them. Thus the total result, in terms of learning, of a year of schooling may be quite a different thing from what is described in the curriculum.
It is this extra-curricular learning which goes so far to make or break children, to build them up into genuinely fine Christian men and women or to give them a set of false values which can ruin them. It is here that parents have a genuine reason for anxiety, for some of this learning is quite beyond the power of the school to control and some of it the school authorities refuse to consider as dangerous. This statement does not apply to secular schools only.
What of Environment
The learning which the school cannot control comes of course from the children themselves, and ultimately from the general environment of the locality. If the ideals of the locality are good, then this gang lore that the young pick up will on the whole help them. Many a boy has learned ideals of honor, loyalty, and manliness from the gang he associated with. But if the scale of values of the homes and the streets of the community is low, there is no end to the harm that can be done, harm that no amount of teaching in the school can effectively counter. In such a case the only thing a parent can do is to withdraw his children from the school, no matter how good and how well-intentioned its teachers may be.
It is this irremediable influence of the locality on the school which would make me, confirmed countryman that I am, hesitate to send my children to a city school no matter what its apparent advantage might be. There is in the urban environment such a mass of false values, such an epidemic of harmful fashions and fads, that there is little chance of a child's remaining long immune to the contagion.
Attitude of Teacher
But the extra-curricular learning that the child picks up does not all come from other children. Much of it, and by no means always the best, comes from those impossible-to-hide attitudes which the teacher takes on matters that have nothing to do with the subject being taught. There is no such thing as a pure teaching of mathematics or history or English. The teacher is a human being teaching human beings. Along with the subject to be taught, he or she cannot help imparting a whole complex of values, points of view, prejudices, general philosophy, etc. This is especially true when the pupils are young children whose critical faculty has not yet been developed very far.
This being the case it is obvious that my child may learn, from two teachers, whose competence in their subjects and whose religious orthodoxy are equally irreproachable, on the one hand a set of ideals which fulfills the aim of Christian education, or on the other hand an attitude toward life which will make him a failure. He may become a much better man than I could ever lead him to be. Or he may develop an overweening respect for financial success and a social snobbishness. He may absorb an athleticism which leads him to believe that no physical exertion is fun except that put forth in games; he may find the idea of winning money at bingo more attractive than working; he may come to prefer the city sidewalks to the fields; he may come to believe that loyalty to the Church means a carping criticism of everything not Catholic.
You see then what I mean when I say that there is the possibility of both great good and great danger in the school. You see that a parent can very properly be anxious as to what the school, even a parish school, may do to the children for whom he has the final responsibility before God. You see why the school's being Catholic does not simply settle the matter for him.
I would like now to discuss with you some ways in which I hope my own children's teachers will impart sound extracurricular learning to them, and some learning I hope they will never impart.
First, with regard to the personal ideals of the children themselves. Your attention has so often been called to the danger of a teacher's luring a child from the country to the city, that there is no need of our mentioning that at great length. The necessity of a sympathetic attitude toward rural living on the part of the teacher you already understand. The desirability of keeping young people on the land you already know. If, knowing these things, you are able to impart to children a love for the soil, a sense of the great dignity and beauty of rural living, and a genuine respect for work and responsibility, you will have done a great and enduring work.
But Not This
But there are impediments in the way of attaining this, impediments which some teachers perhaps do not realize. An appreciation of work is pretty well bound up with a conviction that you should work for what you get, that success requires forethought and thrift and toil. It is quite the opposite of the "something for nothing" idea. Now suppose a boy finds at school an environment in which "something for nothing" is the accepted formula for meeting expenses. The school is built by bingo. The most obvious of its supports is the selling of chances. Every bazaar is simply a series of gambling devices, so that a good time becomes associated with the atmosphere of chance. The whole thing is an admirable course of extra-curricular instruction in the superiority of luck to work, and it is natural for the boy to draw a conclusion from the course. You cannot teach a respect for work if you yourselves use the methods of the gambler. Monte Carlo is not a good school of rural living. If you make the school a Monte Carlo you lead people away from the land, the place where honest toil is what is rewarded.
Neither is the Pond's Beauty School a good place to train people in rural living. Father Vincent McNabb has said that the problem of the land is the problem of the woman. In my own experience in dealing with young men I have constantly been told that it is all very well to encourage young men in an interest in the land, but where will they find wives who are willing to settle there? And they do well to wonder. The propaganda of advertisers has been directed largely at women, and educators have helped along the work, until the ideals of the pagan "Great Lady" have been pretty thoroughly implanted in womankind generally. These ideals are insulting to the female sex because they would make of woman a mere attractive ornament. They are anti-Christian in that they make a certain fragile physical beauty the thing of most importance. They are clean contrary to the ideals and practices of the Home at Nazareth.
And yet the Great Lady concept is quite popular among us, especially, let me say, among Sisters. A fastidious shrinking from dirt and sweat and some of the less pleasant processes of nature, an unbending formalism in manners suited only to marble halls, an arty appreciation of art that makes one depend on the picture gallery and the opera house — a girl exposed to all this cannot go to the land except as the squire's lady; and squires are mercifully rather few in this country. Yet many girls come from the farm to Catholic schools to receive this type of education, and they do not go back to the farm. More then anything else, for the health of our society, we need a completely re-oriented teaching of women. The most important thing that we could do in our schools would be to create an extra-curricular learning there which would give girls a right attitude, an unartificial attitude toward those functions in life which it is theirs by nature to perform. And I pray that my daughter, along with the arithmetic and the geography which she studies, will get from her teachers an extra-curricular reinforcement of those, ideals of womanhood which we are trying to teach her at home. If they try to make her a Great Lady I'll pull her out of school. I do not want her separated from the soil or from toil, or from the common people that our Lord loved.
What of the Family
It is not only in a child's personal scale of values that the extra-curricular learning absorbed at school is important for better or for worse. His respect for institutions, and consequently the strength of those institutions in the next generation, depends greatly upon the attitude that he forms toward them at school.
We are told on all sides that the family as an institution is being undermined. We are taught by Catholic authority that a strong family life is essential to a sound society. Therefore every child should in some way come by a real respect for the family, so that his own family will be strong now and that the one that he will help to found in the future will be healthy. There are a thousand ways in which a teacher can increase a child's respect for his family, a thousand in which she can help the family to be worthy of his respect. There is no greater field for the exercise of her out-of-class influence.
What is wanted is to make the family a real society, a group which its members are glad to belong to; a group whose members like to be together, to work together, to play together, to worship together; a group to which its members give their first loyalty; a group which gives its members their primary sense of "belonging" and through which they are integrated into larger societies. It is only that kind of family which can constitute a healthy "cell" of the larger society, only that kind of family upon which a healthy and permanent rural Christian culture can be founded.
The primary efforts of the teacher in applied sociology must be directed toward creating this family life among the people connected with the school. She can encourage both parents and children in embarking on experiments of family enterprise in the economic, intellectual, and spiritual fields. She can suggest to them communal undertakings in home production. She can advocate family discussion of their problems, family reading of stories, family games, dances, and picnics. She can urge family prayer and family attendance at Mass. By all these helps, and many more, the family will be aided in becoming more conscious of itself as "a vital entity in the world."
But just as the teacher can do great good by using her influence to build up family life among her people, so she can do untold harm if by her actions she tends to show disrespect for family life. The religious teacher can do much more harm than the secular teacher can, for she is more highly respected. Speaking as a parent, I think most of the harm done to family life by teachers (and take my word for it, there is harm done!) comes from this circumstance: a strong family, conscious of its own entity, has a self-contained little world of its own. It has its own time table, its own play, its own things of importance, its own way of doing things. These idiosyncrasies are a necessary accompaniment of a family's consciousness of itself. They are to be encouraged.
But a smooth-running school must have uniformity, not only in the class room but in all its undertakings. It has a time table, a way of acting, a way of dressing, an estimate of the relative importance of things which is all its own. A child going to school is a member of two worlds whose manners are more or less in conflict, and the stronger the family life and the stronger the school the sharper the conflict is bound to be. The teacher has the job of solving this conflict. She is a specialist, naturally interested in the success of the school. Therefore, unless she is very wise she is likely to solve all the conflicts in the interest of the school, making little attempt to understand or allow for the family's plans or wishes in the matter. Because she has authority to command she tells the children to be at a certain place at a certain time, to wear certain clothes, to bring a certain amount of money, etc. No attempt is made to consult with families, to iron out conflicts by compromise; and to sacrifice the plans of the school to the plans of a family is unthinkable. The teacher rides rough shod over the wishes of the family in order to secure a regimented uniformity, and in some cases her success in teaching is measured by her ability to do this.
Now consider the effect of all this on the mind of the child. For twelve of the most impressionable years of his life he sees that teachers who have the apparent sanction of religion behind them consistently pass over his family's wishes as negligible. How can he help coming to the conclusion that the family is not very important in the scheme of things? How can he be taught to respect an institution when his teachers show by their actions that they do not rate it very highly?
It may be argued against what I have said that the school must have uniformity in order to be successful. This may be true, but if it is true it only means that the school can succeed only at the expense of the family; and if it is a question of whether the school or the family should succeed, there is no doubt that the answer must be the family. For the family is a natural society. It must function if social chaos is to be avoided. It is of permanent value and of permanent necessity. The school on the other hand is a temporary expedient, growing out of the peculiar conditions of the time. There have been successful societies in which education has been carried on by other institutions. The school cannot rank with the family in importance, and any pedagogical method which tries to make it outrank the family is a violation of the natural order. The wise teacher must take this to heart.
The Neighborhood Community
And there is another institution which outranks the school, and that is the neighborhood community. The neighborhood community is the other natural society, for it is natural for man to unite with his neighbors to form a society bigger than the family. This is the sphere in which his larger social relationships are carried on, and in which those social, economic, and intellectual needs that cannot be supplied by the family are met. This is the sphere, for instance, in which he normally finds his wife, and in which he finds that small measure of competition which is healthy for him. Larger societies almost always exist, but they are temporary, more or less arbitrary, and rise from the circumstances of the time and place. The neighborhood is natural and must be permanent if society is to be healthy, for if a man has a strong local community in which he feels himself an active member, he will not be integrated into any larger and more impersonal society. A strong community life in a neighborhood is especially necessary for the development of a rural Christian culture. If we can build healthy families and communities, we do not need to worry much over the larger societies. They will take care of themselves.
Therefore the attitude of each person toward his community is of the utmost importance; it makes all the difference between a good and a bad citizen. The school, and particularly the rural school, has a serious obligation to see that the children formed by it are prepared to take their places in community life, that they have a social sense, a willingness to accept responsibility, and a knowledge of when to compromise and when to take a stand on principle.
Here again the teacher in a rural community has a great opportunity to get in some good extra-curricular teaching in applied sociology. She can show herself willing to co-operate in neighborhood action. She can let it be known by her actions that although it is usually a good thing to go along when the community plans something, there are times when one must refuse. She can help direct community action in desirable things, and can discourage wrong starts. She can implant in her students a sense of belonging to a living society.
We must admit that this question of participation in community life raises for us Catholics some problems on which reasonable men can differ. Most of us, on the land and elsewhere, live in communities which are not Catholic in tone. There are some things that our neighbors do that we cannot do, and some things that we must do that they disapprove of. Since we cannot share one hundred per cent in the life of these communities, the question arises as to how far we should go in participation.
There is in this situation a great opportunity and a great danger, for the ordinary Catholic and especially for the teacher. There is the opportunity of showing that Catholic truth and Catholic character are things of power; that Catholic social principles supply answers to real problems, and that Catholic people are good leaders and good citizens. In the religious and social anarchy of the time we can take the lead in this country, if only we can rise above partisanship, special pleading, and petty resentments. If we can show the fellow members of our communities that we have a genuine love for justice even when it works against one of our own, that we are not out for power but for truth, that we can recognize good for good wherever we find it, then much of the prejudice that the community has for us will wither away and we can take the place in it that our principles deserve.
But the danger is that instead of this we will cultivate the ghetto mentality; that we will find fault with everyone not our own who tries to do anything, and with everything that the community wants to do; that we will see and mention the bad and ignore the good; that we will be very fierce in our criticism and equally fierce in our resentment when we are criticized. There is danger, in short, that we will show ourselves to be the kind of people whom our neighbors regard, with considerable justice, as impossible.
The teacher has a terrifying power for good or evil here. By her general attitude toward what goes on outside the parish she can form the position that the child will take with regard to secular society. She can prepare him to become an influence for good, or even a leader in his community, or she can turn him into a chronic dissenter, a person who never does fit into the society in which he lives. It is pretty important to me what she does with my children.
You can see from all that we have said how important the extra-curricular influence of the teacher is. From the point of view of man and society it is probably of more significance than her ability in any special subject. You can see how important it is for parents to know something of what this influence will be before they send their children to school, and why parents have cause to worry greatly when they suspect that the influence is not too good.
RURAL LIFE AND ART
By Sister Helene, O.P.
The farmer is an artist
Agriculture is his art.
Art, according to St. Thomas and his many modern commentators, is the right making of what needs to be made. Rightness implies intelligent and skillful making. Making is work. Work is the changing of material according to its nature so that it will serve man better.
Art is not vapid theory but solid, practical work done as well as it can be done. It is a virtue of the intellect. It is a sociable, charitable thing. An artist is the maker of things necessary to himself and his neighbor. Since he is created in the image of the Divine Maker, he loves his neighbor and serves him willingly and joyously. If he works true to his nature as man and maker there is goodness and beauty in what he makes. His nature as man is both spirit and matter. His nature as artist expresses that spirit through matter. The artist must express the truth he knows. When he realizes the dignity of man he expresses it in serving man. When he realizes the value of land he must express rural truths. He may sing, he may dance, he may build and plow, he may paint or reap to express it but the artist in him will do it well.
It is neither sentimental nor romantic to ask farmers to consider agriculture as one of the basic arts of any Catholic culture. The points made here are historical though their impact may be new. If, even in urban situations, we aim to propagate rural thought, certain truths must be accepted which are ignored by secular standards. "Where beliefs are bad, unbelievers are the faithful." (Lethaby)
Art, by the Catholic definition given earlier, is rectitude in making. Making is work. Good work is surely a form of the "good works" to be linked with Charity. Agriculture is work. (Who can deny it?) When it is so well done that it has beauty, truth, and goodness in it we can speak of it as an art. The farmer is an artist. He is an intelligent craftsman designing and making soil. He is a responsible organizer working with seasons, temperature, timing. He is disciplined and sure. A farmer's mistakes are spread over acreage. He cannot afford shoddy craftsmanship. He is compelled to be an artist.
Now the farmer as man and maker must express his spirit through matter. Love of God gives spiritual insight into the work of serving others. This combining of prayer and work, the fullness of Catholic life, comes with liturgical rural living. Then the farmer, the whole man, sees himself joined to the wholeness of the Mystical Body. He furnishes the raw materials for the corporal works of mercy when he starts the cycles of food, shelter, and clothing. Yet even in charity we are self-sufficient.
What the farmer produces as food often needs to be informed by the culinary arts. The symbolism of wheat must be made into the reality of bread. Flax and wool must be processed by the weaver to better serve the needs of others. Secular standards ignore this corporate quality in art. We cannot separate it from the corporate necessities in prayer. This is what binds land and craft together. It is what binds families together on the land. For the love and comfort of the family each member of the family becomes a specialist at his allotted craft. The arts of composting, canning, baking, butchering, sewing must be developed for the common need. The family develops then according to the nature of families. Development according to nature is culture.
Where there is agriculture there is a specific culture, the development through common work of land and people according to their rural nature. A culture is a spiritual unity among persons who share a common work. Because there has been rural culture, we have known centuries of rural civilization. Now we say a foot cultivated according to its nature can dance and a cultivated tongue can sing. Yet we do not ask the foot to sing and the tongue to dance. Too often we forget this autonomy of culture. Those who would spread "culture" too often base their standards on the so-called culture of the non-working classes. Here we have deduced a Catholic definition of culture based on the value of corporate work. Work is holy and sacred, advised as we are to work out our salvation. If work is the common denominator of civilization, is it not a kind of cannibalism to expect to live on the labor of others? Yet we find those who measure the culture of the farmer who works by the standards of the idle-rich. They talk of art museums far from farms and of concert halls equally far. Museums and concert halls are not the habitat of farmers. By the nature of their work, homes, fields, and churches are their proper setting. Beautify and glorify and magnify these if rural culture is to be maintained. And when we say beautify we do not mean PRETTIFY. Beauty is a strong word — so strong that only a virile, God-loving farmer can understand it. We will not give him beauty by suggesting that he read novels instead of seed catalogs. Let us make his seed catalogs better to read. We will not give him beauty by lining his road with theatrical billboards. Let us remove the billboards so that he can enjoy the beauty of his roads. We cannot ask him to dance and sing and dress according to urban fashions. That would demand insincerity. Let us encourage expressions of culture in dance, song, and dress that are rural and beautiful and sincere. The whole business of education is cultivating man according to his nature and that was made for heaven. Our standards are set according to how the Janes and Johnnies will "get along in the world", salaries, position, power. This attitude is in our unconscious expressions and remains inconsistent with our doctrines. Look at the nature of man and congratulate the farmer. The success of any farm is not measured in its produce, but in the splendor (there is not a better word) of its order and integrity. Modern ads and Sears Roebuck catalogs may be making even the farmer rich in spirit but he still has the best margin for a Christian use of worldly goods.
THE RURAL ELEMENTARY TEACHER
By Sister Mary Samuel, O.S.F.
Not long ago I came across an article in the Teachers' Digest entitled "Apprentice to a Badger — a Curriculum Fable." This is the story:
One time the animals had a school. The curriculum consisted of running, climbing, flying, and swimming, and all the animals took all the subjects.
The Duck was good in swimming, better in fact than his instructor, and he made passing grades in flying, but he was practically hopeless in running. Because he was low in this subject he was made to stay after school and drop his swimming class in order to practice running. He kept this up until he was only average in swimming. But average is acceptable, so nobody worried about that except the Duck.
The Eagle was considered a problem pupil, and was disciplined severely. He beat all the others to the top of the tree in the climbing class, but he used his own way of getting there.
The Rabbit started out at the top of the class in running, but he had a nervous breakdown and had to drop out of school on account of so much make-up work in swimming.
The Squirrel led the climbing class, but his flying teacher made him start his flying lessons from the ground up instead of from the top of the tree down, and he developed charley horses from over-exertion at the take-off, and began getting C's in climbing and D's in running.
The practical Prairie Dogs apprenticed their offspring to a Badger when the school authorities refused to add digging to the curriculum.
At the end of the year, an abnormal Eel, who could swim well, run, climb, and fly a little, was made valedictorian.
It may be that some of the things we are doing in our small rural schools are a not too faint parallel to this curriculum fable. We country teachers can be surprisingly inconsistent and illogical sometimes. In our feverish effort to be sure that our schools are up to par, we not infrequently expend a great deal of time and energy rather unwisely. Perhaps our most incongruous endeavor along this line is the way we handle our problem of several grades to a teacher. Often we refuse to recognize the fact that methods under such circumstances must of necessity differ from that of schools having only one or two grades to a room. We country teachers have the custom of rushing our pupils through a myriad of classes every day. We try our level best to do just as much with each of our four individual grades as our city cousin does with her one or two. Obviously it cannot well be done. But then, why should we be so eager to follow urban methods anyway? Why not adopt a technique and procedure that fits our own particular set up. We don't need to apologize for our little country schools. The rural school is truly an American institution and we should all be proud of it. It was in rural schools that most of our great leaders of the past had their beginnings in education. We have advantages that city schools may well envy. Why not capitalize on our assets then and adjust our teaching methods accordingly?
When we sit back calmly and stop to analyze our average school day, we first begin to realize what a really hectic program it is that we try to follow. The daily plan for most of our schools runs just about the same. We start our operations in the morning after Mass by having religion. We then take fifth grade arithmetic class. Of necessity the period must be short, but undaunted we rush our pupils through their paces, trying feverishly to crowd as much of the year's outline of work as possible into their little portion of time. We then repeat the same performance for the sixth grade, and for the seventh grade, and finally for the eighth grade. At the end of that time we find ourselves a bit weary from the long arithmetic session, and probably none too gratified with the results of the morning thus far. These short, hurried classes are always vaguely unsatisfying. We sometimes feel rather discouraged about it considering all the effort we have put into it. But we don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves because we must hurry right on. We dare not waste a minute — every one counts too much. If we don't keep one eye on the clock so we can follow our daily program right to the minute, or if any unforeseen thing intrudes itself upon us, we find that we shall probably be forced to drop one or the other of our classes. And that really is a predicament; for making up a class requires genuine dexterity. It takes plenty of mental and physical agility to get the regular ones in. These little short periods of class are indeed the nightmare of the rural teacher.
But it is time for English now, and there is another session of highly concentrated teaching for the fifth grade. and the sixth grade, and the seventh grade, and the eighth grade. We then direct our efforts to reading. Possibly there are even more than four classes here if remedial work is necessary. Next there are four separate classes in spelling. In between somewhere we stop to give our penny milk, then go racing on again with geography and civics and history classes; with health or first aid or accident prevention; with art and agriculture; with music which includes choir work, Gregorian Chant, and regular school music; with CATHOLIC MESSENGER period and current events; and with the extra odds and ends that are forever coming up to harass the teacher.
Long before we are ready for it, the end of the school day swoops down upon us. We are probably tired to death, tense and a bit on edge. But we go right on and supervise the sweeping of the classrooms and the halls, and see to it that the blackboards are cleaned properly and the erasers dusted for use the next day. At the same time we try to give a little extra help to some of the pupils or practice with the servers.
As soon as the last noisy youngster has gone down the stairs and slammed the door, we attack our mountain of preparation for tomorrow's classes. We so seldom feel that we do an adequate job; yet we wonder what can be done about it. And then, since we are not only school teachers but religious as well, our rules set aside about three hours or so of the day to be spent with Christ in prayer. By rising at five in the morning we are able to perform some of our religious exercises before the stress and turmoil of the day begins. But there are prayers we want to say at the end of the day, too. After a day like this, besides being exhausted, one's mind is apt to continue going in the little circles of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Then there is church work to be done and all the little time-consuming jobs of administration to be taken care of. When it comes time to retire at night, we feel that the clocks in our locality definitely run about twenty minutes to the hour — and they go even faster during the night.
Is it any wonder then that many teachers dread being sent to work in the small rural school? They are afraid of the high tension program that they will be forced to follow. It is a pity that so much of the pleasure that our work could bring us — the satisfaction which would make for better teaching and learning — should be so swallowed up and lost in the clutches of a too crowded program.
Some adjustment definitely should be made in favor of the schools with a number of grades to a room, and such an adaptation is probably not so far afield as it might be. One simple remedy would be to have fewer presentations. I am not in a position to suggest what might be done in the lower grades of our rural schools, but I do know from my own experience and that of others who have tried it, that much fewer presentations are possible in the upper grades than most of us take advantage of. It is possible to cut down the number of classes that we teach during the day to nearly half, and that is a tremendous saving of both time and teacher preparation.
When I say that fewer presentations are possible, I mean that grades five to eight could be united and taught as one class instead of four in subjects such as geography, history, health, music, religion, and art. In order to simplify the curriculum in regard to arithmetic, English, and spelling, the seventh and eighth grades could be taught as one class, alternating the subject matter from year to year. Although fifth and sixth grade spelling could be easily combined, it would probably be advisable to keep their English and arithmetic as separate classes. I have been told by those who have tried it, that arithmetic can be combined in these grades since the decimals required of sixth grade are not so difficult as the fifth grade fraction work. Nevertheless, judging from my own experience, I am inclined to think that it would be easier for both the pupils and the teacher to treat these two classes individually.
A Definite Plan
Perhaps some of you are wondering how it would be possible to unite the four upper grades successfully into one group, and no doubt all kinds of objections to such an idea come up for solving. The fact of the matter is that not only is it possible for the upper grades to be handled in this way, but as many of you know, a definite step in that direction has already been put into operation in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. After some of the schools had given this one-presentation plan a two year trial in geography, it was finally introduced into all the rural schools of the archdiocese last year. Toward spring meetings were held in various localities for the purpose of obtaining comments, suggestions, and other teacher reactions. The general consensus of opinion among the rural teachers is that this procedure is very satisfactory and one altogether in harmony with our needs.
The teachers' comments are interesting. Here is what some of them have said about it:
"The joys of a one-presentation and not the burdensome feeling of 'I haven't taken history with this group yet and the afternoon is far spent' is a grand and glorious feeling."
"I have enjoyed teaching geography in this way. It aroused the interest of the entire group regardless of grade level."
"I feel that it is of great advantage in every respect, both to the teacher and to the pupils to combine grades five to eight into one class for geography in the rural schools. The labor, time, energy, and strain thus saved the teacher is by no means a small item."
I especially like that last sentence of this comment: "The labor, time, energy, and strain thus saved the teacher is by no means a small item." It seems to me that since we are so short on religious teachers for our parochial schools, it might be wise to economize on those we do have.
This last comment sums up the high points of the one-presentation plan very neatly:
"It is most enjoyable to teach geography according to centers of interest. In spite of the differences of age, there are many favorable points for this method of procedure:
1. It gives the pupils more time for self-expression.
2. It allows the teacher more time to assist the pupils in their study.
3. More time for preparation on the part of the teacher brings about greater
enrichment for herself as well as for the pupils.
4. More drill for the younger pupils gives greater assurance to the older ones.
5. It allows further research for the more advanced students."
Testimonies like these make one feel that this is indeed the right road to follow, and serve as an encouragement to extend our efforts along this line.
Perhaps a brief explanation of just how the one-presentation plan is carried out in the field of geography in the Milwaukee Archdiocese would be in place here, since many of the details would be applicable to other courses.
In the first place, geography was chosen for this experiment because there had been much dissatisfaction in the teaching of this subject particularly. This situation resulted because of the great amount of material to be covered in the rural schools, and because, in following the regular outline, many identical units were taught separately to the seventh and eighth grades and to the fifth and sixth grades which might easily have been taught in one operation. For instance, according to the former outline, Europe was taught to the fifth and sixth grades during the first semester and to the seventh and eighth grades during the second. It was decided, therefore, to unite grades five to eight so that all would be studying the same matter at the same time. The entire work to be taught in geography was then divided into four major units, one of which would be covered each year of four successive years. In this way each grade would go through the cycle once during its stay in the upper-grade room.
Since the texts, OUR WORLD and THE HEMISPHERES— Branom and Ganey, are used, each grade is reading on its own level of comprehension. The children are given study guide sheets consisting of about twenty questions — sufficient for one class period — which they work out together under the supervision of the teacher. The answers for some of the questions are found in one text, others in the other text. But since the pages are indicated, no great difficulty is experienced in finding the material sought This procedure has the advantage of allowing each grade to contribute from its own particular level. It also makes allowances for individual differences. Sometimes the grades pool their books, and by working together have a fine chance to compare the material in both texts on the topic under discussion. This gives them the feeling of covering the subject pretty thoroughly. Twenty such lessons are worked out during a six weeks' period. After every six or seven lessons, a test is given covering the material discussed thus far. These tests form a fine condensed review of the basic essentials in each unit and are a great help in preparing for semester examinations. Since the study guides and tests come all prepared for each pupil, the teacher's preparation is tremendously facilitated, and the geography period becomes one of the happiest periods of the day.
Advantages of Plan
One of the most prized advantages of the one-presentation plan is the luxury of longer class time. The tension of short periods of crowded content is relieved, and relaxing the tension makes for greater pleasure and more ease in assimilating the material taught. Since more time can be given to the class, more thoroughness both in presentation by the teacher and mastery by the pupils is assured. Then the rural children have the advantage of working all in one group. This is of special value to single grades with few pupils. It makes possible contests, races, and other forms of activity in which the whole room can participate to advantage. Then, too, while the principle of repetition as an aid for learning still holds, nevertheless, sometimes a completely new unit has its advantages. Staying in the same room for four years and hearing a thing over and over tends to kill motivation in some subjects. Something new and fresh can elicit greater attention and interest.
The lower grades are given a fair chance regarding tests. Although all of the pupils in the room take the same test, the fifth and sixth grades are not expected to master and retain as much of the material covered as the upper grades. They are marked on the basis of the number right over the number attempted which evens things up for them.
In order that this plan might not lower the standard of the whole room to fifth grade level, definite enrichment requirements for the upper grades are expected. At least twenty-five per cent of their marks are based on the enrichment program specified for them. This consists in activities selected on the basis of the concepts studied by the entire class. For this reason, the rural geography has been arranged with a list of activities running parallel to the content material.
This, briefly, is how the individual grades are cared for in the present rural geography outline in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Although it is only a beginning in an effort to solve some of the rural problems, it is at least a beginning and gives promise of better things to come. When the urge and drive and tension are taken out of teaching subject matter, the time will present itself for those chance but pregnant remarks and activities that will help our rural children to think aright about their high privilege of living on the land. The teacher will not then feel that a few minutes of spontaneous reaction of the right sort is taken from the rigid program of ten minutes for this and ten minutes for that.
There is no doubt about it; if adjustments are made to allow fewer presentations in the schools with several grades to the room, rural teachers will be able to give better and longer service to the community, and the little country school will be a happier and more livable place than it has been.
FROM URBAN TEACHER TO RURAL TEACHER
By Sister Mary Canice, S.S.N.D.
Five years ago the National Catholic Rural Life Conference meant as little to me as most organizations that did not actively imprint their character on the convent life I had grown accustomed to accept as normal living for a Sister. At that time I was one of the sisters who was working out her salvation in a rather typical urban school. Through the providence of God immediately revealed through our Reverend Mother, I was told to report to Butler to reopen a school that had been closed for a period of eight years. A new school was being built, and a new challenge was given to our order. It is not necessary that I take your time recounting my first reactions. They were probably identical with the reactions that every sister has when she learns that she is moving to another mission. I knew as little about the village that was to be my new home as I knew about a crossroad in Connecticut. Gradually the stories began coming in, and I found much to my dismay, that the only thing that was going to seem familiar to me in my new assignment was the habit of our order worn by the two Sisters associated with me. Of course, I realized that Our Blessed Lord was there to guide and comfort me . . . and too, I knew that there would be some children.
A Rural Assignment
Teaching in a two room school was more than an adventure. It seemed to be rather lonesome at first, but before we realized it we liked the rural atmosphere of freedom from city noises and smoke; then lest we feel too complacent about our new found freedom, the furnace began to smoke. All in all we were beginning to find many little compensations in being where we were. There were serious drawbacks that constantly haunted us. The limitations of equipment and facilities, the lack of appreciation of the things we were accustomed to find in urban children, and the impossibility to get all the work that was outlined to be done completed in the required time were somewhat baffling.
Rural Life Institutes
Providentially as we were winding up our first year of experimentation, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference held a week of intensive indoctrination in Milwaukee. It proved to be the turning point in our lives. We were able to talk, study, and mingle with Sisters who were doing the very kind of work we were doing. Undoubtedly the greatest aid that we got was the realization that there was a distinct Catholic philosophy that enhances the dignity of farm life and rural living. The practical helps we of the archdiocese of Milwaukee got was the enthusiastic and scientific help of our Reverend Superintendent of Schools. He was foresighted enough to appoint a curriculum planning board for the relief of sisters teaching in two and three room schools, and this board has set the pace for Catholic rural America in the field of education.
There is a real need for even greater changes in our rural curriculum than those already enforced, in order that more time may be given to what has been thus far considered extracurricular activities; such as a training in home arts and crafts as well as other matters which pertain to wholesome successful farm life.
I am convinced that the growing generation will be prepared for that wholesome life in the rural areas if we teachers, through prayer, sacrifice, study, and direction inculcate a love for God's choicest spots on earth — the wide open spaces of the country.
Since our first experience with the Rural Life Conference in 1943, we realize that education towards the city is largely education away from real family life . . . the bulwark of Catholicism.
The rural teacher has one advantage over the urban teacher in as much as she has more confidence in planning and giving instructions which will be beneficial to the student fifteen years from now as well as at the present time. This is real apostolic work — it is teaching for life-rather than for a diploma.
In order to give children now, that which they can also use later, we are having craft classes which will not only be a means of profitable recreation but it will enable our rural youth to exercise their inventive abilities in the making of attractive things for themselves as well as providing some of the little useful things about the house.
Christmas Crib Project
During the past year we worked out a Christmas crib project. The cribs were to be made by the children in their own homes under the direction of their fathers. When the project was being planned by the class, little did any one of us think it would meet with the success it attained. The date set for the assembling of the cribs was very cold and even though the thermometer registered about six below zero, a number of men walked to the church, a distance of as much as two miles, proudly carrying "their crib" to the exhibit. The cribs were put on display in the church hall where they were judged after the High Mass in the presence of as many people of the congregation as could find standing room in the hall. The judges found it difficult to award the prize because each crib seemed to be outstanding in one or another point. This project not only provided cribs for thirty-five homes where there had been but two, but it also developed a desire to know more about the birth of Christ, His birthplace and its surroundings. Through the designing and the building of these cribs there was developed in the family a common interest and pride which brought its members close together at the feet of the Divine Babe in His birthplace on the countryside of Bethlehem. This type of training will in time create a desire for ownership in God's most favored spot, "the country". There are other ways and means of fostering and cultivating an appreciation for rural life; they are the study of art, singing, dramatics, and instructions in the standard Red Cross courses of first aid and accident prevention.
Instead of educating out students for life in the city we must try to make them leaders in their own locality. This encouragement will be a direct aid in helping them overcome that feeling of inferiority which for some unknown reason has crept into their lives.
The students of our Catholic rural schools should be well instructed in their Faith. Distance, the want of facilities, and accommodations are no excuses for neglecting the instructions of our rural youth. Some parishes have been doing a fine piece of work in Catholic rural schools and in the instructions for high school students. However, the work of the Priests and Sisters would be futile if it was not fortified by the grace of God. One of the greatest means next to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments, for the obtaining of God's blessing is the enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the home.
What has the enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the homes meant in our rural areas? Just everything — it has stimulated a love of prayer, a spirit of sacrifice, a greater devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, more frequent reception of the Sacraments and a better knowledge and appreciation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In a number of instances where the Sacred Heart had been enthroned in the homes of parishioners who had a careless member of the family, it was the means of bringing back the stray sheep to the Church.
Our parish has been active in spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart since the fall of 1942 and we are happy to report that at this time we have reached nearly the 100% mark. How were the families prepared for the enthronement of the Sacred Heart in their Homes?
1. Devout prayer on the part of those who hoped to introduce this beautiful
2. The school children were acquainted with the idea by witnessing the
enthronement in their class room.
3. The children brought the message into their homes and into the homes of
their relatives and neighbors.
4. The ritual of enthronement was brought into the homes to be enthroned by
the school children about a week previous to the date of Enthronement, so
their parents could study the formula.
5. Suitable pictures for the homes were provided by the Sisters in cases
where the parents found it difficult to obtain pictures.
6. The Sisters checked carefully with the children to promote devotion not
only in their own homes but in the homes of their neighbors.
7. With all this preliminary work done, it was a simple matter for the Priest to
keep the Enthronement appointment that the parents made through the
We have undoubtedly come a long way in these past four years, but there is still a long way to go; and those of us whom God so privileges as to permit us to work in the rural sections of His kingdom, let us "behold the fields for they are white for the harvest;" let us "pray that the Master send laborers into His harvest," laborers after His own heart, filled with zeal for gathering into the one sheepfold the sheep that gambol about in the green pastures of the country side to which even He repaired when He wanted to commune with His Father in prayer.
THE RURAL HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER
By Sister Mary Mark, O.S.F.
This world of our passes through ages — the cave man age, the iron age, the age of science, the age of atomic energy, and in the scholastic sense we are now in an "age" of higher education — everyone is doing it, everyone; parents, students, employer, and educator are demanding more. How the rural districts are to meet these demands and yet not destroy themselves must be of great concern to those involved.
There are many small high schools dotting our country sides. What contributions and what demands are they making to the districts which support them and in which they function? Is their value to their community or to their students equal to their cost? Should there be more? Must they be improved? What makes them what they are? One cannot answer these questions until a careful analysis of the problems, needs, and purposes of rural Catholic education is made. It is not for me to answer these questions alone, but I shall try to present the what and how of the teacher in a rural high school.
When a Catholic community wishes to provide secondary education for its adolescent boys and girls and still keep them contented within the family circle it must compete with its city neighbors. It must furnish a place and teachers at its own expense so that it will be equal to the city and at the same time meet the needs and ideals of the rural community.
The teacher's educational training will have to be broad, for the needs and experience of her pupils are broad. The teacher in a small rural high school will have to teach several of these seven subjects: religion, English, mathematics, science, history, Latin, and some practical arts. If the school is planning for affiliation with the state college, then she must have fifteen credits in the subject in which she is teaching. That requirement is no small item on the list of the must-be's for a teacher. Beyond that she should have some work in rural sociology, rural economics, rural vocational guidance, conservation of natural resources, cooperatives, marketing, handicrafts, agriculture, and home economics — conditions practically impossible to fulfill within a reasonable number of years. Because these requirements are seldom met, and because too often our interest is where there are numbers, we have something less than the best of rural teachers in rural schools. Whose fault is it? Well, the blame can be shared among several groups. Urban-minded colleges, endowed with urban culture, seldom offer rural courses for the prospective rural teacher, even when the courses fit into her program of requirements for graduation. Teachers and supervisors, not realizing that rural needs and culture are different from those of the city, do not demand the needed courses in regular or summer sessions. School authorities accept teachers without these rural fundamentals. Religious communities have not adequately prepared teachers specifically for rural schools.
Plan of Action
What can be done? First, we must realize that the needs and interests of rural children differ from their city friends. Secondly we must have hand in hand cooperation among church authorities, colleges, superiors of religious communities, pastors, superintendents, and teachers. Under the direction of the bishops, colleges could offer during summer sessions courses of rural topics, prepared and given by specialists in the respective field. Then if superiors of religious communities would have some of their members specialize in rural education and plan to have them stay in rural areas, the rural education would soon come into its own. The support of the pastors and superintendents is vital. If they demand that at least some of their faculty have this type of preparation, then there will be improvement in rural teacher-preparation and a better understanding of rural interests.
The teacher, whether originally from the rural areas or not, realizes all too well that her general education is lacking in rural background and would eagerly accept the opportunity to become better informed.
Attitude of Teacher
The subjects of agriculture, crops, soils, animal husbandry, landscaping, floriculture, carpentry, electricity, and metal work are beyond the sphere of most women teachers. In a Catholic rural high school the priest or brother is the one to assume the responsibility of these classes. In all classes, the teacher's attitude toward rural living must be one of appreciation, understanding, and willing participation. The attitude and understanding of the rural environment will determine the success or failure of one as a rural high school teacher. Bright lights, excitement, and noise must not be held up as the apex of pleasure.
To develop a proper attitude is not too difficult if the student-teacher grasps the fundamental idea of all teaching, namely, that the needs of the individual student in the setting of his environment must be the first and chief interest. The teacher's aim is not to remove him from his present environment, but to help him fit into and to better it, if need be, to help him see the best at hand rather than the better or the less good beyond reach.
So much for the preparation and attitude of the teacher. How does all this function in a practical situation and what results does it bring is the point of primary importance.
The rural high school plant is seldom up to par when compared with grade schools in the same locality or city high schools nearby. But remembering that a school is not truly judged by its building, but by the quality of its teachers and students, let the teacher make the best of what is at hand and as the opportunity presents, lend herself to improving whatever can be done. Often a sympathetic teacher's suggestion will arouse an enthusiasm for improvement far beyond expectation. Then with wise planning and very conservative expenditures, marvels will be brought about. A good school is the best answer to keeping children from going to public schools.
The curriculum which is of greater importance than the building is in the power of the faculty. What can they do? What will they do?
In the schools which have an enrollment of a hundred or more students the program can be so arranged with enough variety to care for the interests of all the students without serious conflicts, if the faculty is large enough. By the addition of one teacher, courses can be given to meet both the demands of those expecting to follow purely classical studies and those desiring practical sciences. But the small rural high school, having between fifteen and fifty students, will have to meet the needs of future Church and college students, the farmer, the home maker, the professional and office employee, and the townsman. All these groups could benefit from the subject matter of special interest to any one group. It is impossible to cover all the subject matter for all groups. So again a problem of selection and elimination confronts the rural teacher. Thus what is an essential requirement for one group becomes a cultural subject for another. By elimination of subjects beyond college requirements, by the combination of classes and alternation of subject matter, subjects of special interests to the group can be offered.
Specialized departmental work requires special equipment. For home economics — cooking and serving centers; sewing, fitting, and cutting equipment; an area and furniture for some house furnishing and home nursing instruction. Crafts call for an entirely different equipment — stitching frames, looms, leather tools, clay, plaster, stenciling and block printing materials with many media for creative expression. For shop work — area, tools, materials, and opportunities to put the information into practical use, be it carpentry, electricity, tool making, or welding. The needs for a class in agriculture are greater than any other mentioned. Where an experimental farm would be ideal for the large rural school or a consolidated school it is impractical for the small school because of cost, labor, supervision, and time that cannot be allotted to it. Better would it be to supplement classroom teaching with extensive use of government pamphlets, both state and federal publications and make frequent field trips; but these latter disturb a school schedule which must do much in little time.
Over and beyond all these needs spreads the atmosphere of the teacher's attitude, as vital to rural youth as air and water are to us. The teacher must deeply sense the reality of the close cooperation between God and the farmer in his daily round of duties, the sacredness of the land which, so endowed by the Creator, is the beginning of all man-made materials. She must realize that the Catholics of rural America are the future of the Catholic Church in America, that the salvation and prosperity of our nation will come not from the busy, pleasure seeking industrial centers, but from the industrious and nature loving rural areas. She must in word and deed proclaim the dignity of manual labor.
So that the "educational programs will include an appreciation of rural living, the use of the soil, production for home use, cooperatives, home arts, and such other arts and skills as the particular needs of the rural group requires" along with an appreciation of the dignity and importance of manual labor, the high school teacher must not only in isolated classes but in every class make practical applications. Ample opportunities for such will be present in economics, sociology, religion, science, practical English, arithmetic and home economics.
That this may become a reality for all Catholic rural high schools has been the desire of the Catholic Rural Life Conference for some time past, and we hope that with our united efforts it may soon materialize, for the benefit of the students and the future farm dweller.
THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC RURAL LIFE CONFERENCE
4625 Beaver Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50310-2199
Imprimatur: +GERALD T. BERGAN, D. D. Bishop of Des Moines