Training the Workers
BEFORE PROCEEDING FURTHER with the development of this narrative we need to consider briefly one major problem which received serious consideration from the very beginning of our educational undertakings in Macedonia. Exploratory activities during the winter and spring of 1928—29 brought out the fact that qualified leaders, even in the field of agriculture, were exceedingly scarce. Experience of the second year, with the inauguration of a definite program, clearly indicated that our achievements in any phase of rural reconstruction would be limited by the leadership which we ourselves could produce. Assuming, somewhat optimistically, that one might find instructors in the "four essentials," with a workable knowledge of subject matter, there still remained those other important elements of professional training that go to make successful vocational teachers and extension leaders.
With the six agriculturalists who constituted our first corps of field workers barely established in their areas, all program activities were interrupted and in March, 1930 the first training conference was conducted. If we neglect, for the moment, the educational nature of our supervisory visits we may consider that this three-day institute marked the beginning of a long and systematic course of professional training. From that time on no little attention was given to this problem and a very sizeable portion of our annual budget was devoted to this important aspect of the work. Sometimes it seemed to me a rather unfortunate waste of time, money, and energy to train leaders only to have them leave for civil service positions, which they all coveted, or be dropped from the organization for one reason or another.
But more thoughtful consideration of the matter brought the conviction that every young man and young woman well trained in educational method and extension technique represented a definite contribution to the progress of the country at large. This in itself might well prove to be an important by-product of our main responsibility.
In Chapter IV we considered, rather superficially, the educational limitations from a practical point of view of any agricultural graduates that might be found. We referred also to the traditional attitude of the educated toward manual or menial work in general. We did not discuss the prevailing unfamiliarity with good teaching methods or current theories of vocational education. Community surveys, job analysis, the project method, or socialized recitations were unheard of, except by a small minority of younger pedagogues who exercised rather limited influence. We faced the responsibility and enjoyed the privilege of taking raw human material and out of this moulding intelligent and efficient leaders.
It was difficult in the beginning to differentiate as to the relative educational needs of our field staff. Their knowledge of agricultural subject matter might perhaps be considered as fairly adequate—at least from the theoretical side. In this first small group the proportion of those who had some understanding , of farm problems and village conditions was fairly high. On the other hand their knowledge of good teaching methods, so essential to successful extension education, was lacking, not only as a result of their having had no special training in this field, but also from the fact that they, as pupils, had seldom come under the influence of such methods. In the primary school they had been forced to learn by rote, memorizing vast quantities of uninteresting information and taking down in note books page after page of factual material, slowly dictated by the class room instructor. After all, when one has large classes and the great majority of children are too poor to purchase books this procedure is not to be too severely criticized.
In secondary, as well as in higher institutions of learning, the greatly overworked lecture method represented the common practice. Socialized, motivated lessons with thought-provoking questions and intelligent discussion were something exceedingly rare. Even should we be willing to concede that the question of method is relatively unimportant in the public school where pupils attend from compulsion, it is quite another matter when it comes to evening courses or part-time education where the students are young people or mature men and women who participate in such meetings of their own free will. Nor is this factor any less important when one is attempting to induce the conservative peasant to adopt a new farm or home practice.
The means which were employed in our attempt to solve the difficulties described in these paragraphs are well-known. Our only excuse for bringing this problem into these pages is to complete the picture of the situation that existed, and more particularly to emphasize the effectiveness, under primitive conditions, of certain procedures that have long been found useful in America.
In-service training is considered by many authorities as one of the most effective methods of professional improvement. Certainly when preceded by a good basic education it can be used to carry an individual to great heights of professional skill. The extension courses of some of our large American universities are well patronized not only because they fill the need of busy people who were unable previously to complete their formal education, but more from the fact that the educational leaders and vocational workers who avail themselves of such opportunities bring to the seminar and the lecture room a wealth of personal experience, interpret new information in the light of this background, and then focus the results of new concepts and improved skills upon their daily tasks.
The value of such an educational process is of course tremendous. In certain states supervisors of vocational education and directors of extension so conduct their regional conferences and their visits to the field that these also become systematic training courses of a highly effective sort. Furthermore, a few of the more progressive institutions grant advanced academic credit for satisfactory work of this latter type. Quite aware of the increasing importance attached to in-service training we sought to draw upon its methodology in solving our Macedonian personnel problem. The results which we achieved in this field merely bear out the experience already gained by many others.
Our field staff, even after the program became fully rounded out, was never of sufficient size to provide a very inspiring group for training courses or conference meetings. This slight disadvantage was frequently solved, however, by augmenting our own numbers with outsiders having similar interests; thus not only did the training which was provided exert a wider influence, but the discussions were much more exciting and the methods which were employed in our rural demonstration were given added publicity.
In arranging suitable meeting places for our periodic gatherings we had a wide choice and we enjoyed the cooperation of many institutions. These included, among others, the Agricultural Normal School at Salonica, the American Farm School, Salonica University, the College of Agriculture in Athens, the Maraslion Normal School, the Athens Health Center of the Rockefeller Foundation, the American School for Girls in Salonica, and the National School of Physical Education. Such educational relationships were extremely beneficial both to us and' to these other agencies which gave so generously of their own facilities.
In these study courses all of the work had to be conducted in Greek. On certain occasions, having to do with the development of special subjects, the writer or his American associates gave lectures or conducted discussions in English, requiring the aid of an interpreter. We made a point of utilizing, from among the minority of younger pedagogues, men who were well qualified to represent us in putting over certain ideas. Once having enlisted the cooperation of such an individual long and intimate conversations took place to make sure that we were thinking alike, and that the special purpose of the assignment under consideration would be carried out. Several Greek friends rendered invaluable service through the years in our program of staff training. As time went on and American departmental heads became replaced by thoroughly prepared and highly efficient English-speaking Greek supervisors, the latter were able to take over more and more of the training responsibilities. Throughout the ten-year period covered by this review the policy always maintained was gradually to fill all key positions with a few carefully selected, well trained and intelligent Greeks. These loyal workers served not only as directors of the various departments, but also as devoted apostles of the educational philosophies which we desired to have instilled in our field workers and disseminated throughout the country.
The first training institute to which we have referred was held at the Agricultural Normal School in Salonica. This institution, which was conducted in connection with an Experiment Station, was devoted to the training of selected village schoolmasters, as outlined in Chapter IV. The enrollment was kept at about twenty. The head of this school, Mr. A. L. Mozer, had already become deeply interested in our venture. He remained one of our staunchest Greek supporters and was always a wise counselor until his untimely death several years later. Director Mozer volunteered to stop all class work for three or four days and to require his whole student body of experienced schoolmasters to participate in the conference. The needs of his teacher students were sufficiently related to those of our men to make it quite profitable for these people to attend a conference designed primarily for our own leaders.
Judging by our observations in the field, two or three special problems seemed to be pressing for immediate consideration. There was always of course the need for up-to-date information related to Macedonian farming. Then there was the question of what to do for the youngsters in rural schools. Our leaders were expected to cooperate with village teachers in developing school gardens and in giving talks to the children. Most of our people had been invited by the local teachers to appear on their programs with one lesson per week for the older pupils. It was essential, for many reasons, that this time should be well used. We did not want our men to do what they had a tendency to attempt, namely, to try to teach these small children practical agriculture.
In the first place these village pupils were too young to profit by vocational instruction. In the second place they came, for the most part, from homes of poverty where farming was considered so much drudgery. These little chaps of ten or twelve years did not care for another dose of what they considered to be the same medicine when they got to the school.
Nor did we wish our representatives to conduct the usual type of uninteresting lesson which passed in that country, as in many others, for nature study: drawing pictures of a few leaves, learning the parts of some flower, or memorizing the names of certain animals in far off lands. These underprivileged children needed something of a thoroughly interesting nature, drawn from their own environment and arousing their curiosity in the wonders that actually exist all about them. If we could succeed in doing this we might possibly change slightly their attitude toward rural life, and prepare in them receptive minds for more practical ideas later on. The philosophy of the Cornell nature study department when adapted to the environment of the Macedonian child has an even greater application than among rural children in the State of New York.
We decided to define our contribution in this special field as "Natural Science Stories for Children." We had a long way to go. We might explain the theory of such teaching, as we did, but our instructors lacked the necessary material to draw upon for this type of lesson and their own educational equipment in the field of general science was altogether too limited. Here was a problem sufficiently important and difficult to occupy our attention for several years to come.
Then there were the questions of teaching method, adult education, peasant psychology, community surveys, farm management studies, course of study planning, and the home project as adapted to Greek conditions. The greater part of these considerations, insofar as we were able to deal with them at this time, had a very definite relationship to the problems of the village schoolmasters as well as our own workers.
We were fortunate in the men whom we found to assist us in this first conference. One of the younger professors at the Greek farm school was a man trained in agriculture, well grounded in science, and a graduate of a good normal course. In addition to these qualifications Professor Papanaoum was interested in children. He offered to conduct a series of demonstration lessons on natural science stories such as we had in mind. We held several preliminary conferences during which we discussed teaching method as well as the philosophy underlying our desire to introduce this type of lesson into the village school. It developed that I had discovered just the man for our purpose. Since the teaching of elementary natural science lends itself very readily to good pedagogical methods, it appeared that we might combine the two ideas and, while demonstrating to our people the type of lesson we had in mind, emphasize also that procedure which makes for good teaching in whatever age-group or subject.
Another fortunate discovery was the director of the new Pedagogical Academy for Men. Dr. Zoupanakis had studied abroad, was thoroughly versed in the whole field of pedagogy, and believed (contrary to the apparent conception of many professors) that the science of teaching could be explained in simple language that anyone might understand. Dr. Zoupanakis very ably demonstrated that he could do this. He and Professor Papanaoum combined in a joint attack. The latter took pains in his period to demonstrate certain methods that the former desired to bring out. In his lectures Dr. Zoupanakis drew upon the lesson that had been given to illustrate his points.
The principles learned in that section of the conference were never forgotten by our men. Professor Papanaoum brought in for the purpose of this demonstration a class of fifteen village youngsters whom he had never seen before; and within a few moments after the opening of his first lesson he had won the undivided attention of the whole group. Out of their own simple environment he built up a fund of interesting information. On this foundation he constructed with his pupils a wider knowledge of the subject. He aroused in the children a frenzy of interest and curiosity with his natural science demonstrations. Dr. Zoupanakis had no lack of good illustrations to draw upon when it came his turn. He emphasized his points in simple, understandable language and he made a lasting impression upon all those who heard him.
From demonstration lessons, as conducted in this first conference, we proceeded in later years to practice teaching. Naturally our people were at first somewhat embarrassed to attempt work of this kind before their own colleagues but they very quickly entered into the spirit of the plan and it was interesting to observe the intelligent criticisms and the sound suggestions that were offered from among our own group. In 1931 Dr. Zoupanakis became head of a large normal school in Athens and we followed him, with two or three later conferences, to his new educational center. There we had not only the benefit of his sound philosophy but the cooperation of the State College of Agriculture in problems of farming, the assistance of the Rockefeller Foundation in matters of rural sanitation, and the help of the National School of Physical Education in pointing up some of our recreational activities.
Good teaching, although a most important factor in our program was, of course, not the only problem. An equally serious concern of ours was the lack of ability on the part of some of our men in regard to the simple farm skills; also the position of the whole group in what they considered to be the proper attitude of a trained agriculturalist toward manual work. An agricultural agent told the farmer what to do; he did not show him. Nor did he expect the farmer to question his general ability if he could not milk a cow, or hold a plow handle correctly, or yoke up a team of oxen properly. Our idea was considerably at variance with this point of view. We took the position that we were not interested in the recommendations of any man unless he could back up his theory with the ability to do all of the practical farm jobs that a peasant performs as a matter of routine. Something had to be done about this question if we ever expected to get very far in our work. The Macedonian peasant had already been the victim of too many impractical suggestions to listen respectfully to very many more. Therefore, we turned our attention to this item in the summer of 1930, only a few months after our conference of March.
July and August represent a slack season in Macedonia. Most of the crops, except in irrigated sections, are harvested. But the heat is intense, and meetings, such as one might conduct in the rainy season of the winter, are out of the question. As a matter of fact our program had not been in operation long enough to develop a particularly heavy summer schedule regardless of the season's demands. So the month of July of that first summer was utilized in giving to our instructors a good dose of practical farming. Arrangements were made with the same normal school and experiment station of Salonica to take our people for the month. The mornings were to be devoted to performing ordinary farm tasks, while the late afternoons might be used for individual conferences with various agricultural instructors at the station. Their farm work would consist of the most ordinary jobs, such as digging ditches, hoeing, weeding, plowing, and caring for animals in the stables.
A few days of this schedule and a hurried call came from the station director stating that the men objected strenuously to this type of work and that they did not consider such tasks as quite in keeping with their standing as "agronomes." A meeting was called and I explained again our philosophy in regard to rural leadership under the program which we were sponsoring. The point was emphasized that this was not only an opportunity to perfect themselves in those qualities which might ordinarily lead farmers to criticize them, but a chance for me to find out what kind of men we had. Their attitude toward everyday tasks of the farm and their ability to perform these jobs would determine salary standards and pay increases of the future. We had no further trouble along this line except that one or two of the men soon demonstrated once and for all their own complete inability as practical farmers. Eventually such men were eliminated from the program.
The following summer a similar arrangement was made with the American Farm School of Salonica. Again the July training course consisted of practical work, but the jobs were of a somewhat different nature. The men were taught surveying, road building, cement mixing, and similar skills that were found to be important in our village work. After this year program responsibilities would not permit the absence of our leaders in July in addition to the vacation period which required the month of August. But this type of training was no longer quite so necessary. Those who were not adapted to such practical activities quickly dropped by the wayside. Those who remained or who came into the organization later on soon developed a pride in being able to perform the everyday tasks of a farm as well as any peasant, and the increased confidence thus won encouraged this favorable trend. Furthermore, daily contact with the practicing farmer, as the set-up of our program required, was in itself an educative process.
We have been dealing solely with the professional needs of our agricultural leaders because our narrative has thus far brought us only to that section of our rural approach, and also from the fact that this department began and continued as a major activity because of its economic importance. But the attitudes, the weaknesses, the needs, and the methods already described as relating to agricultural workers applied equally to all of the other leaders who eventually became a part of this demonstration. These facts were particularly true of the young women who were later engaged to develop a program of home education. In their case the first training conference was devoted to the performance, under supervision, of the simple home tasks. One of our demonstration centers, to be described later, was used as the meeting place and here the instructors improved their own skills in cooking, sewing, gardening, child care, nursing, first aid, and all of the common tasks that go to make up the daily routine of a peasant home.
The preceding discussion does not bring out, as we wish it might, the educational nature of our supervisory trips in the field. This cannot so easily be done. It is sufficient to state that a visit was never made without pointing out to the worker certain good features of his class room teaching, his evening discussions, or his approach to a peasant problem, and at the same time leaving with him definite suggestions for improvement.
A few of our readers may wonder how it is that an American can participate effectively in such supervision while seriously lacking in a working knowledge of the language of the country. Several years of experience in supervising schools and observing class room instruction in different foreign countries taught me that this apparent disadvantage may not be such a serious difficulty in this field of education; that it can, in fact, be turned to considerable advantage in making one more keenly observant of the approach of an instructor and the reaction of his pupils. However, this does not excuse any American from learning the language of the country as quickly as possible.
It is sufficient to conclude that this in-service training produced eventually and, in fact rather quickly, highly satisfactory results. In this the program itself was an important beneficiary. As time went on the emphasis shifted from improving the worker to perfecting the work. We began to look to the men in the field for guidance and counsel. Ultimately this point of view determined, as it should, the topics selected for conference discussion, and this in turn reacted again to the benefit of the work as a whole.
The extent to which many of the staff were able to develop their professional skills is worthy of special comment. Several of these leaders became thoroughly expert in the art of teaching. They could hold the interest of young children while providing useful information in a manner that would command the respect of our best trained pedagogues. Several became well versed in the psychology of adult education and they could direct group discussion with admirable expertness, pooling the information of the whole assemblage, holding to the main theme, and finally attaining the objective of the meeting.
All of these people came to have an humble respect for the knowledge of the peasant and to realize that he also in his field was wise in many things. They learned how to conduct community surveys, make farm management and home studies, develop practical courses of study, and plan long-time programs of village improvement. Eventually I was able to derive no little inspiration as well as great satisfaction from observing certain of our Macedonian leaders expound with trained intelligence and with experienced conviction on the philosophy and methodology of rural reconstruction. Much more important, however, was their ability to draw upon these implements of education in giving to their people improved farm practices, better homes, and higher standards of living.
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