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ROUND TABLE OF STATE AND COUNTY SUPERINTENDENTS
TOPIC: A STORY OF ACHIEVEMENT AND ENDEAVOR IN
THE COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT AND THE RURAL COMMUNITIES
EDITH A. LATHROP, COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT OF CLAY COUNTY, CLAY CENTER, NEBR.
Authors of modern education agree that there is very little of real supervision among rural schools, and that the county superintendent is underpaid, unskilled, and inefficient.
Since these statements are true to a great degree, one might believe that the county superintendent has no story of achievement. Yet there is at work a little leaven which in some states has made statutory provisions for a deputy, thus making it possible for the county supervisor to promote things educational. Again, school people are universally becoming agreed that the office of county superintendent must be taken out of politics, and that there must be a higher standard of qualifications. Some states make provision that a non-partisan board shall appoint the county superintendent, and even in the states where politics yet enter into the election, the spirit of the hour is to evade party lines in the choice of this officer. The last decade has called more county superintendents to the educational platform and to larger fields of labor in higher institutions of learning than ever before. This means that there is beginning to be an educational future for the ruralschool supervisor. Why should it not be possible for a county to call for its educational leader outside of its own county or even state? Cities do this. Why not counties?
The country schoolhouse is no longer the social and literary center of the community wherein meet the spelling-schools, the literary societies, and the grange, together with the Sunday meetings. The school interest of the rural community is dead because the school has not kept pace with the general improvement. The rapid means of transit and communication brought to rural communities thru the automobile, telephone, and rural mail service have centered the interest in the towns.
The rural school must once again be the rallying-point of the rural community, but it must be the modernized rural school. The building and environment must be in keeping with twentieth-century progress. The new education would make the centralized rural school such an educational center. Consolidation has proven good. It is the only way that equal educational rights can be given to both rural and city child. It has proven that it increases the school term, the attendance, and that it provides better teachers and an enriched course of study. It is economical because money is spent to better advantage, and with less waste.
Consolidation has come to but few country schools. Children will for a long time to come be taught in the little red schoolhouse of the East, and the box-car building of the West. What is the story of endeavor for the one-roomed country school? There are in these schools today more teachers who are better qualified than there were ten years ago. Many counties in Nebraska, for instance, are fast attaining the ideal that the country teacher must at least be a graduate of a twelve-grade high school.
There is an improvement in the architecture of these one-roomed buildings. Many of the new structures are scientifically lighted and heated. Many rural schools have basement furnaces.
Aesthetic culture, which has long been a part of the city-school environment, is coming to the rural school. It is creating a desire for beautiful school grounds. The old time white walls, blackened by the dust of years, are being decorated by paper or paint. We see within these one-roomed buildings window shades, clean sash curtains, and freshly blackened stoves. The cheap calendar and gaudy chromo decorations are being replaced by well-framed copies of real masterpieces of art. This awakening of a love of order, cleanliness, beauty of form, and harmony of color in both the exterior and interior surroundings of the rural school is real education. A child nurtured in these surroundings will soon reach that degree of culture where nothing else will satisfy.
The only way to quench the dying interest of the rural school is to raise that school to a higher plane and then place therein a living teacher. Next to the teacher the county superintendent is the greatest factor in rural-school progress. Where both have been devoted to the betterment of rural conditions, these many points have been won for the one-roomed country school.
THE STATE SUPERINTENDENT, THE COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT,
THE STATE NORMAL
In this discussion I wish briefly to mention two or three fundamental principles of co-operation in the fields indicated by the topic under consideration and with your permission use my own state, West Virginia, to make plain what I mean by these propositions.
1. The law governing school administration should provide for a system that is nonconflicting, simple, and strong.
Previous to 1908 each state institution, including the state university and six normal schools, in my native state had a large board to look after its peculiar interests and protect it against the encroachments or progressiveness of any other similar institutions. These boards, composed of some good school men, some good politicians, and many just ordinary "also men,” met many times and at many places. The law creating these nine boards of regents and sixteen boards of directors, aggregating 168 members, made very unfavorable conditions for co-operation. Our state, suffering under this load of a too cumbersome organization, threw off this weight "that did so easily beset us." We now have a bi-partisan State Board of Control composed of three high-salaried men appointed by the governor. This board has complete charge of the business affairs of our twentyone state institutions. They pay teachers and officers, make repairs, buy furniture and food, in fact, carry on all the business from buying breakfast bacon for the reform school to building an agricultural hall for the state university. Besides saving the state about $250,000 annually, this board saves much confusion, and makes business co-operation compulsory. For example, under the previous plan, when the session of the Legislature came there came also many members of faculties, and normal-school principals demanding that their respective schools and sections of the state get their share of the public money. This condition brought about a kind of “Rob Peter to pay Paul" method of appropriating for the state schools and therefore destroyed co-operation.
Under the Board of Control method of supervision, the school principals and teachers remain at their professional posts during the Legislature, feeling secure with the assurance that the Board of Control with well-kept records and carefully worked-out recommendations will see that all institutions are cared for in a business-like way.
A similar change was made for the betterment of the professional management of the state schools. A bi-partisan Board of Regents, appointed by the governor with the state superintendent of schools as president, has full charge of the university and normal schools, as to employment of officers and teachers and the fixing of salaries. Thru this one board the normal-school principals work out a unified plan in regard to courses of study, placing of teachers, and general policy. Under such management former irregularities and jealousies have disappeared and hearty co-operation has taken their place.
I am aware that many states are similarly organized and am also aware that many states still have laws and organizations which do not tend toward co-operation. As stated in my first proposition, the organization should be quite simple. Too many boards for this, and boards for that, and committees and subcommittees divide responsibility, dissipate energy, and destroy conditions for harmony. Where such a process is needed, the lawmakers should draw the legislative rake thru the school system, straighten out the kinks, and gather up for elimination all superfluous and conflicting organizations and officials.
2. Law and custom directing educational affairs should provide for reciprocal pull and push among school officials.
For example, lines of communication and responsibility between the state, superintendent and county superintendent should be numerous and strong. If the law does not make specific provision for this condition, those in authority should assume such relationships. By means of reports, conferences, campaigns, appeals, publications, and much correspondence continuous help should flow from one to the other. I believe in the people and local initiative, but on the other hand I believe in a strongly organized government from the head down, with every link so strong that the officials can, if necessary for the general good, shake the uninformed people out of their boots, provided of course the boots are old and out of date.
3. School officials and other school workers should be bound together by an educational enthusiasm that carries them beyond the narrow limits of law.
Being a Methodist, I can best express my idea on this point by saying that we should "get educational religion” that will set us on fire with zeal. In my state the brethren have been stirred up to good works by (a) a campaign for more professional reading outlined in teachers' reading circles; (b) teachers' county and district institutes; (c) round tables; (d) School Improvement League; (e) school federations; (f) county superintendents' conferences; (8) county mass meetings of members of township boards; (h) conference of institute instructors; (i) school visitation; (j) annual education conference at summer school of state university; (k) state education association; (1) many field campaigns carried on by co-operation of county superintendent, state superintendent and his assistants, normal-school principals, and other educational leaders; and (m) extension schools of the college of agriculture. The effects of these means for personal contact, followed up by an abundance of literature, ought to be to make educational spirit as universal as ether.
While these remarks are confined to state work, I am not ignorant of the fact that educational enthusiasm knows no state boundaries. Let every one of us, like Absalom's conspirators, kindle our bonfires and blow our trumpets from the hilltops when the call comes from Hebron, so long as the call is worthy to be passed to others.
THE STATE SUPERINTENDENT AND THE GENERAL AND SOUTHERN
GEORGE B. COOK, STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION, LITTLE ROCK, ARK.
This subject is one that presents certain difficulties in attempting to review the relations of the General and Southern boards with the state departments of education, as briefly as necessary to do on this occasion. There is the constant temptation to relate the statistics, setting forth in detail just what these boards are doing in the several states. Again, this is a subject with which those assembled here are generally familiar, and there is very little to be said that is new. Furthermore, it is scarcely fitting to bestow upon those who are devoting their time and money so generously and so effectually to this work the praise they so richly merit but which they do not seek.
There is, however, a great object-lesson in the very fundamental principles which actuate both the General and the Southern boards.
First, there is the close relation between these boards: thoro understanding of just what each board is specifically doing; no overlapping of efforts or funds; no waste by duplication.
Again, both boards have taken every means to know existing conditions and needs. Their preliminary investigations have been thoro and far-reaching, and upon this solid foundation of fact have they builded so wisely for both the present and the future.
Then, their efforts are stimulative and corrective rather than purely creative. That is to say, these boards have taken advantage of every initiative on the part of the people and the states for educational advancement. They are elevating and standardizing those phases of educational development, and the attendant institutions, with which the people are acquainted and which have the support of public sentiment, already more or less clearly defined.
And, finally, every gift from the General or Southern Education Board has been placed without the least affront to the self-respect of the people or the institutions receiving these gifts. There is no tendency to pamper or make dependent the recipients of their generosity.
These boards are composed of men who not only represent, but who are, the highest types of our civilization-men who have dealt with and handled successfully the larger affairs of life; men upon whom rests a great responsibility, and one which they realize, a responsibility not only to the present but to future generations; and in the work of the General and Southern boards is this great responsibility being discharged to the betterment of mankind for all time to come.
The men who compose these boards have associated with them other men of equal merit-men who have been selected from the millions with a view solely to their peculiar and special fitness for the mighty work to be placed in their hands-men of acute and specially trained minds and, moreover, men with pure hearts and noble motives. In the hands of such men have been placed the execution and administration of the affairs of these boards.
While these two boards are so closely cognated, their work is somewhat divergent but always harmonious.
The General Education Board was chartered by Congress in 1903, and the original gift of Mr. Rockefeller of $1,000,000 in 1902 was increased by $10,000,000 in 1905, and by $32,000,000 in 1907.
The statement of the fund, as published in the 1910 report of Dr. Elmer Ellsworth Brown, United States Commissioner of Education, shows approximately twelve and onethird millions, with an income of over one and one-quarter millions, in the special fund under the direction of Mr. Rockefeller and his son; while the general fund is over thirty millions, with an annual income of four and one-third millions of dollars.
The broad purpose of the General Education Board reads in its charter: "The promotion of education within the United States of America, without distinction of race, sex, or creed.”
The practical application of its beneficences is divided into three important heads: 1. The promotion of practical farming in the southern states. 2. The development of a system of public high schools in the southern states. 3. The promotion of higher education thruout the United States.
The activities of the General Board, along the three lines just named, are very clearly set forth in the report of Doctor Brown for 1910. This review presents to the thoughtful reader a most remarkable array of facts.
All of us are familiar with the wonderful progress toward practical farming that has been made thruout the South during the past five years—how hundreds of communities have been awakened in every southern state; how 200,000, or more, farmers are working under the direction of some 200 farm experts; how tens of thousands of boys have been enrolled in the boys' corn clubs; how nearly all of us in the South have accepted, at their proven value, the practical application of scientific facts in farming and stock raising;
how, during this short time, the farmer who sneers at “book farming” has almost become the exception, instead of being the rule.
This work, accomplished thru the United States Department of Agriculture under the wise direction of Doctor Seaman A. Knapp-than whom none is greater in our generation-has been made possible by the unostentatious and generous contributions of the General Education Board.
In view of what has been accomplished, what is now being done, and what the future promises, it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that this one phase of the work of the General Board is the basis of the most effectual industrial revolution of modern times.
But this is not all. In the promotion of public high schools the work is equally significant and effectual. Thruout the South, our educational systems were not in reality systems at all. There was an almost impassable chasm. We were extending our elementary schools, and broadening our colleges and universities, but the weak point was our want of secondary schools. This burden was placed as a millstone about our institutions of higher learning. They were weighted down and held back by preparatory departments.
The General Education Board has come to our rescue by establishing professorships of secondary education in each southern state. Approximately one thousand high schools have been established and the expenditure of $7,000,000 in high-school buildings and equipment has been effected, and our institutions of higher learning relieved on one hand, while on the other a new impetus has been given the elementary schools.
This brings us logically to the third phase of the work of the General Board, the promotion of institutions of higher learning, which reaches the entire nation.
The permanent endowment of colleges and universities places these institutions above the temptation of commercialism, and enables them to develop along the highest lines, intent only upon the single purpose of their existence.
The direct contribution of five and one-quarter millions of dollars by the General Education Board, in the eastern, western, and southern states, used as the basis for stimulating local effort, will result in a grand total of $23,000,000 in permanent endowments.
In order to cover fully the entire educational field, the General Board is establishing state supervisors of rural and elementary schools.
So we have presented a comprehensive plan for material, aye, and for spiritual, uplift. By promotion of practical agriculture, productiveness is increased, values enhanced, and the ability to support our enlarged educational systems is given, with the sure reaction of giving back to the states for life's struggles young men and women better, and ever better, trained in heart, mind, and body.
The Southern Education Board was organized in 1901, after the Fourth Conference for Education in the South. Following a preamble setting forth the importance of universal, practical education, the needs above existing conditions, and the unusual opportunities for progress presented with the beginning of the new century, this resolution was adopted, and serves as the basis for the activities of the Southern Board in lieu of charter, constitution, and by-laws:
Resolved, That this conference proceed to organize by the appointment of an executive board of seven, who shall be fully authorized and empowered to conduct:
1. A campaign of education for free schools for all the people, by supplying literature to the newspapers and periodical press, by participation in educational meetings and by general correspondence; and,
2. To conduct a bureau of information and advice on legislation and school organization.
For these purposes this board is authorized to raise funds and disburse them, to employ a secretary or agent, and to do whatever may be necessary to carry out effectively these measures and others that may from time to time be found feasible and desirable.
The powerful influence this board has exercised in creating public sentiment and affecting the crystallization of this enlightened sentiment into activities and laws cannot be measured.