The Need—But How to Meet It?
THE DIFFICULT WORK of that long winter season of 1928—29 resulted in at least one important conclusion. There was great need in those Macedonian villages for every phase of rural reconstruction.
Health instruction was, for instance, quite unknown although the Refugee Settlement Commission was attempting to meet, from its resources, a few of the most pressing medical problems by providing, over a fairly wide area, village doctors and small pharmacies. Malaria was rampant, and it was soon apparent that very often what seemed to the casual observer to be rank laziness in an individual was in reality a completely sapped vitality from recurring fevers. The almost complete lack of latrines, either in homes or at schools indicated that sanitation existed not at all. Home practices were primitive, and children were left, for the most part, to care for themselves or each other. There was considerable leisure at certain periods of the year, but there was little of wholesome recreation and nothing of a cultural nature to fill in this time. On the economic side of life there existed a pressing need of agricultural education for every age levels — school children, village youth, and the practicing farmer.
These people, it must be remembered, had been in the raids of war and devastation. They were suffering at this time trot the unfailing results of war. Miracles had been accomplished by the Greek government in getting so large a proportion of the refugees already settled on the land. The peasants themselves had achieved wonders in the way of taking up life anew — the refugees in an entirely new world; the natives with their farms now a fraction of the former size. After all, what time, or money, or energy had there been for such "luxuries" of civilization as we were discussing a moment ago?
It was obvious from our winter's contact with all of these problems that our first approach should deal with the question of providing a more suitable livelihood. If the economic need could be at least partially met, there might be in time a little money for a few of these other necessities.
In attempting to arrive at a suitable line of attack in this field we had of course not only our own experience of the winter, but several very courageous attempts on the part of the Greek government. One of these, dealing with the problem of agricultural education, was the so-called "Sunday Schools" already mentioned in the previous chapter. This scheme had been put into operation a year or so previous, and I had encountered in my travels several teachers who had received the year of special training provided by this plan. Moreover, in each agricultural school of the country I had found twenty of these rural schoolmasters undergoing this year of post-graduate instruction. The agricultural station near Salonica had one department devoting full time to such a program.
It was apparent that a serious attempt was being made in Greece to adapt the rural school to rural needs. The scheme which had been inaugurated seemed to have great possibilities. Upon closer examination, however, it gradually developed that in practice the plan was not working out satisfactorily, and probably never could function under the circumstances in any efficient manner. A few teachers possessing more than average ability were developing school gardens, teaching a little nature study, and by various means giving to their school something of a rural flavor. In general, however, little or nothing was being accomplished. In fact, what could be done when one really analyzed the situation?
In the first place schoolmasters who had received the additional education were to receive from their communities a twenty to twenty-five per cent increase in salary as a means of encouraging them to undertake this new work, but there were no community funds available from which to grant this increased pay. Most of the teachers, therefore, very quickly lost whatever zeal they may have had in the beginning. Then, too, once they were back on the job they received little encouragement from the supervisors. The district inspectors were academically trained and academically minded. They were not in a position to assist in this work even had they been so inclined, which, for the most part, they were not. If all of these problems were satisfactorily solved, there still remained the fact that rural teachers, having seventy-five or one hundred pupils, or even more in their classes, had little time or energy left to devote to these extra activities.
There was also another problem. It was originally anticipated that with this scheme properly functioning better methods of agriculture might be gradually introduced into these backward villages through the medium of the pupil. But what could children of twelve or thirteen years, even when they were in the highest grade (the sixth), really assimilate of a vocational nature? After all what interest did they have in learning such "stuff" when their home life was one of drudgery and economic slavery ? If anything were to be done, these little chaps needed to be introduced to some of the interesting and exciting phenomena of their rural environment. Perhaps in this way one might construct in their minds new attitudes toward country life.
There was still one other feature of this plan (the one from which it gained its name) which did not seem to hold out too many possibilities, judging by the way it was already failing to materialize. It was expected that these teachers would conduct classes on Sundays and holidays for the adult farmers of their communities. However, really to improve native farming even in a primitive region, is an extremely complicated problem. These pedagogically trained instructors had had only one year of rather superficial agricultural instruction by means of which to change their attitudes and to prepare them for more practical activities. Observing some of these teachers "at work" in their laboratory periods during the year of special training was sufficient to indicate what they would be able to do of a practical nature when they returned to their villages. And in the field one found the situation as might be expected. These pedagogues were quite incapable of organizing intelligent discussions of fundamental problems and the wise old peasant seldom returned for a second meeting.
No, the rural school did not seem to offer any permanent solution to this problem of vocational education in agriculture. Nor did it provide many suggestions for us except sound warning as to what not to attempt.
Then there were the special schools of agriculture of which nine offered so-called practical training of an elementary grade. Four of these latter were orphanage centers organized and operated under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Assistance. Most of these schools required completion of the six elementary grades for entrance and kept their pupils for two years. All of these elementary units were boarding institutions. The practical work was, therefore, of necessity provided on land owned and operated by the school. Everyone of experience in this field knows that it is exceedingly difficult to keep the equipment and the practices of such an institution on a level with the average farm. In a primitive region this seems to become almost impossible. The instructors were well trained from a technical standpoint, but they were also extremely theoretical. They had had no training in methods as applied to vocational education and little instruction in farm practice. Their contact with the fundamental problems of rural life had been exceedingly limited. The instruction in these schools was, therefore, theoretical in the extreme. The school farms were operated as might be expected. Moreover, country boys coming from homes of poverty and used to primitive conditions found it rather difficult to return to their villages after two or three years in such an institution. One year of contact with this problem did not seem to offer us much assurance that we ourselves, even with our considerable experience in this field, and under the conditions prevailing, could operate a school that would represent much improvement.
Similar to the elementary institutions were the "middle" or secondary schools of agriculture of which there were two in the country. These required for entrance four years of gymnasium (high school) training, in addition to the six elementary grades. The full course was three years in duration. Everything that has been said of the elementary training applied with equal force to the middle schools, except that these had certain additional weaknesses. The instruction was even more theoretical, the students had even less contact with typical farm practices, and the graduates had no intention whatever of returning to a farm. Their one ambition was to secure a government position. Such positions they sought in competition with the graduates of the one agricultural college and so there was considerable friction between the college and these secondary schools. With the urgent need for men in the Colonization Department the graduates of the middle schools had been fairly successful, however, in securing temporary positions. With the anticipated closing down of these offices the college men were beginning, more and more, to press the right of their claims. Since the middle school graduates would never consider farming as a vocation and since the college was filling the need for the more advanced type of training, there was considerable agitation at the Ministry to eliminate all secondary institutions of agricultural instruction. It was anticipated by certain members of our Board, and by myself as well, that my background of experience in vocational agriculture would very quickly be drawn upon and that we would be able to apply to Macedonia some form of the Smith-Hughes plan which provides for vocational training of secondary school level in agriculture in the United States. But although the problem was carefully considered from this approach, there seemed to be no practical method by which this efficient scheme of agricultural instruction could be grafted on the educational system of Greece.
Something might, perhaps, develop later, but this, at least was the conclusion of the moment after several months of careful study. Rural schools were quite elementary and the children too young for vocational training. Secondary schools were all located in the larger towns or cities, and were purely academic in nature. Even if a vocational department were to be added, the students would necessarily be boarders. The supervised practice would, therefore, have to be provided on the school farm and not at the homes of the pupils as in America. Thus the chief value of the vocational department, as it normally functions under the Smith-Hughes plan, would be lost.
In our analysis of these educational problems we have still to mention the adult farmer. There was certainly great need for bridging the gap between the experiment stations, of which there were several in the country (including the one college of agriculture), and the practicing farmer. There were many sound practices, good breeds of animals and improved crops which, if put into the hands of the practical farmer, might be adapted beneficially to his needs. But in this respect the farmer was left pretty much to his own devices. With the refugee situation so pressing, the government had all it could do to provide the necessary land and the implements of work. As for making the soil produce an adequate living, that was up to the peasant. We attempted to visualize in this situation an application of the county agent system of agricultural extension, and we found it not too easy. To cover a geographical unit similar to the county of our country would be exceedingly difficult with inadequate roads and transportation facilities. To reduce the area would result in creating a system much too expensive for Greece. Altogether we found this problem somewhat less complicated than the others, but still showing a sufficient number of obstacles to make one cautious.
In studying this whole matter we were forced to consider also the question of suitable workers for any program that might be devised. There was, as already indicated, one college of agriculture located in Athens and doing good work. A new agricultural department of college grade was just being organized at the youthful University of Salonica. About thirty graduates were being turned out each year by the institution in Athens. A few others would eventually come from Salonica. No university man, however, would consider going into village work. His training was for advanced teaching, or research, or directing an office. A college man simply did not deal with the individual peasant. Such work as was necessary in this connection was taken care of by graduates of the secondary schools. As the middle school men could not always qualify for some of the higher positions, and, therefore, could not carry this question of prestige to quite the same heights as the university graduates, there might be some possibility of securing workers with such training for a new program.
At the moment, however, the Colonization Department was providing opportunities for all available men. Some of these people were permanent employees of the Ministry of Agriculture loaned out to the Refugee Settlement Commission for temporary use. Others had been taken on directly by the Commission, and these would no doubt lose their positions with the gradual closing down of this work. Salaries of agricultural men had been especially good during these years of Colonization activities. The Refugee Settlement Commission paid bonuses of at least fifteen per cent to those agriculturalists who had been loaned to them by the Ministry of Agriculture. Technical workers who were taken on directly were also well paid. A foreign organization, therefore, would have to compete with and probably exceed these schedules, if workers were to be secured.
One other disconcerting aspect of the personnel problem had been discovered during the year. No one who held the slightest hope of finding permanent work with the government and securing tenure of office, with all of the rights and privileges which this afforded, would ever consider any other type of position even at a much greater salary. This state of mind was obviously an important item which would have to be reckoned with in planning for the future.
By the first of March (1929) our New York headquarters began asking if we had any recommendations to make; any conclusions which might seem to point the way toward future developments. Such information was essential in connection with the several conferences that were taking place relative to the future of all foreign work.
In view of these appeals for an answer to this question, it was decided to begin analyzing our experience of the previous months.
The several unit courses which had been undertaken were not yet completed; some of them were in fact just getting belatedly under way. But we had proceeded far enough to have accumulated a little experience which might be drawn upon. Therefore, we arranged for two conferences; one to be held in Serres on the seventh of March, and the other in Drama on the ninth of the month. In each place the Colonization Department gave us the facilities of its offices. The several instructors of each area working for us on a part-time basis were brought in to these meetings, and the government officials connected with these offices — men who had advised with us during the progress of the work— participated in the discussions.
A brief questionnaire had been prepared and submitted in advance to everyone who was expected to be at the meetings. Surprisingly enough each person came to the conference with his questionnaire filled out. But neither these answers nor the discussions which resulted seemed to throw much light on the problem. They were, however, not quite as barren of original ideas as had been the lesson reports submitted by the various instructors during the course of the teaching. It will be recalled that these reports included items dealing with the question of how such instruction might be improved or how the whole program might better fit the needs. Unfortunately most of the men seemed to take this temporary, experimental scheme for granted and their own contribution to the working out of the plan as almost perfect. So we did not gain much from this source.
It is unnecessary to list all of the questions that were taken up at the two conferences, or to deal at length with the limited number of suggestions that grew out of the discussions. Among the items considered were the following:
1. What months are most suitable in the villages for agricultural instruction?
2. How frequently can groups be brought together and for how long a period can their interest be held?
3. In what manner can agricultural instruction be applied in the field? For instance, in the case of the orphan boys (who are for the most part merely employees), would the employers ever be willing to pay these young men, in part, by giving them the full use of a small plot of land ?
4. Can we include young men and adult farmers in the same classes?
5. Should any permanent program that is organized aim to deal with both groups or concentrate chiefly on boys and young men?
It was agreed that we had probably hit upon the most important of the slack months this first winter, but several suggested that teaching could be done in November and some even thought that October might be included. It appeared that this date varied with the region, the crops grown, and the climate. Most of the men decided that peasants, either boys or adults, could not be brought together more than three times per week , and that even this might be a little too intensive. No one seemed to be quite sure as to how long he could hold the interest of a I group, but one or two indicated considerable confidence in their ability. Everyone saw that it was quite unsatisfactory to include both youth and adults in the same class. To the question "In what kinds of lessons were the adult farmers most interested" one instructor naively replied, "Very few came after the first two or three lessons and it is therefore difficult for me to express an opinion."
The question of applying agricultural instruction in the field was based obviously on my thought of introducing the home project idea into such work. It was pointed out, however, that with land so scarce and individual holdings so small, no employer would ever give to his hired man any payment through the use of farm land. One or two felt that boys living at home with their parents might find it possible to apply the instructino in some such way as this.
At this point let me say that as the program later developer the home project idea, as we understand it in the States, we found to be exceedingly difficult to apply. Without going into all of the reasons one difficulty lay in the patriarchal system prevailing in that part of the world. This conception of parent authority frequently leaves little freedom of action to the son, whether he happens to be fifteen or fifty.
One or two of the Colonization officials suggested that as land was being distributed, small plots might be set apart in certain villages for the use of an agricultural instructor in making experiments, conducting demonstrations, or promoting projects with students. The majority agreed that any future program should deal primarily with boys and young men on the assumption that an adult would not change his traditional ways. It happens, by the way, that the experience of later years did not bear out this theory.
Some of the conference members felt that a practical agricultural school was the only solution of our problem. I had seen enough of such schools, however, to question the advisability of adding any more.
A few original ideas, or we might say possibilities, however, came out of these discussions. There was nothing that enabled me, even with my winter's experience, to visualize a comprehensive and coordinated year-round program. I was convinced that first consideration should be given to the economic aspect of village life; that the greatest need was for some kind of itinerant or part-time instruction for the man or the boy already facing the realities of a difficult existence. Just how this should be provided, under conditions as prevailing in rural Macedonia, was not yet indicated, either by my explorations of the winter or by the conferences which attempted to summarize this experience.
New York was pressing for an answer. March went by, April passed, May arrived, and still I was unable to solve the riddle. The need was obvious; but how to meet this need in any really effective manner was quite another matter.
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