1896 Fredericton Encaenia

Address in Praise of Founders

Delivered by: Downing, George M.


"Address in Praise of the Founders by Prof. Downing" The University Monthly XV, 8 (May 1896): 202-205. (UA Case 71)

In many of the states of the U. S. there have been established state institutions which have for their object the education of the sons of farmers Originally these were called Farmers' High Schools but this name is held in high disgust by the present institutions which are the outgrowth of these schools. These early farmer students learned simply to do the ordinary labor incident to farm life. A reference to the calendars shows that very few graduates returned to the farm, but most of them became lawyers, physicians, lumbermen, etc.

The attempt to make the education a purely agricultural one was abandoned a few years after the inception of the movement. The demand was for education on a broader foundation. So with change of both name and charter, these institutions were licensed to provide a liberal and practical education in the leading branches of mathematical, natural and physical science in order to prepare the youth for the several pursuits and professions of life. On this new and broad basis, the colleges have grown and notwithstanding the fact that they receive support from both states and nation, many have been liberally endowed by individuals. As the result of this first movement, Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many smaller yet thriving institutions may be pointed to as the outgrowth of the early idea.

The original object of educating farmers for the farm has not however been eliminated. All of these colleges present in addition to a regular four years course in agriculture, short general courses, creamerymen's courses, private dairymen's courses and Chautauqua courses. Excluding the last the number of students in attendance upon these courses forms as a rule only a small percentage of the whole number of students.

The problem of how to educate the farmer has been a burning one for many years in the United States. It is probable that the State of Pennsylvania has succeeded as well as any other state in the union. Though this is true, there are within sixty miles of Philadelphia, farmers and families, who besides being unable to speak English, know little of what lies beyond the mountains which limit their vision. The Pennsylvania Dutch, as they are called, are nevertheless a hard working people, who succeed in accumulating, during the days, considerable wealth from the sale of farm produce at the country towns. This is only one of several different cases, for throughout the larger portion of the central mountainous regions, where no railroad penetrates and where no mining industry prevails, there may be found just such examples. Early in the present year, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a compulsory education bill, which was intended as a blow at the evil of non-attendance upon public schools. It required that all children between the ages of seven and twelve should attend school, either public or private, regularly, under penalty of a heavy fine, the school directors alone having power to excuse delinquents upon good cause. The county commissioners were to undertake the responsibility of enforcing the law. There is every indication that the law will become a dead letter, since it would involve the appointment, of deputies in each school district at an increase of cost to the counties which would not be balanced by incoming fines. Increase of the burden of county taxation upon the people means political death to the commissioners and hence few have the fortitude to do their duty and fling their aspirations to the winds.

Children cannot be legislated to schools. An ideal method would be to educate the parents up to a proper appreciation of a common school education.

The managers of Chautauqua schools are making efforts to reach those districts in which these school difficulties are gravest. It is true that the agricultural Chautauqua does not fulfil the mission of the public school. Each has a mission to fulfil. But whatever serves to give interest to education overcomes contempt for it. So the Chautauqua attacks the farmer at his most vulnerable point It gives him information regarding the elements in which his soil is lacking, how to feed his cattle, how to be his own veterinarian and so forth. Inaugurated and sustained by the state colleges the ability of the controlling staff of the Chautauqua cannot be questioned. This staff of teachers prepares courses of reading for home study, covering the subjects of crop production, animal production and horticulture. The purpose is to bring the advantages of the agricultural school to each farmer’s fireside as far as practicable. The course is open to all and may be begun at any time. The only expense involved is the purchase of the books required which are all standard works and which may be procured through the college at reduced rates. From time to time during the course, addresses are delivered at each centre by the instructors in charge, who aim to interest as well as instruct. The Chautauqua movement in Pennsylvania is now three years old and students receiving instruction at home number about one thousand. This number is rapidly increasing and there is every reason to believe that the movement will fulfil the purpose for which it has been intended.

The work of the agricultural courses has been supplemented by the work of the agricultural experiment stations which were established under the Hatch act of 1887. These stations have research and experiment for their controlling purpose rather than the direct and specific work of instruction. Experience has, however, shown that experiment and research may be coordinated with instruction so that each may derive decided benefit from the other.

The publication of the results of the station work takes place bi-monthly and the free distribution of these bulletins to all interested in agriculture is provided for.

About one year ago the legislature and executive established in Pennsylvania a department of agriculture. Previous to this time, a state board of agriculture, over which the government of the state presided, held control of many matters pertaining to agriculture. It was felt that a state department could attend to these affairs more efficiently, and hence the change. The state board held farmers' institutes in different parts of the state under the direction of local members, and the department has seen fit to continue these meetings at the general request of the farmers. Able agricultural workers are usually in attendance, and their addresses, together with the discussions which these call forth have assisted the farmer in materially increasing the profits of the farm, and at the same time he realizes that the interest which the state takes in him is not mercenary or political, but is simply the attempt on the part of the state to replace old and ineffective methods with the new and scientific.

There is one factor in this education whose influence is little felt in Canada. There are, I believe, some granges in the eastern central portion of the Dominion. It is much to be regretted that the grange influence is so small here. May this not be due to mistaken ideas of the objects of the grange? The general opinion of it, as far as one can glean, is that it is simply an organization among farmers for the sole purpose of purchasing implements and supplies cheaply. The word grange is synonymous simply with grange store. With this single object how could such an order exist? It is true that there are grange supply houses, where the granger may purchase supplies at reduced rates, but the grange is organized, not to command these rates alone, but for more worthy ends. Its objects are to bring to the farmer the social and educational advantages which other classes of people enjoy, literary and social, features predominating all others, and hence combining these it assists and supplements the work of the common school.

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