Alfred Charles True.

An address on the educational values of courses in agriculture online

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their theories it would be a great gain for the cause of truth and science.
And the expression of the thought may come through language or mathe-
matics or the graphic arts.

Before considering whether the study of agricultural subjects may con-
tribute to aid the student "to hold fast on lofty ideals" let us briefly con-
sider the educational advantage which comes from the addition of manual
operations to the scientific study of agriculture. The educational authori-
ties to whom I have referred lay much emphasis on the principle that
"effective power in action is the true end of education." And they do not
limit action to mental processes only but recognize that effective power of
mind may just as well be expressed through bodily action. It has long
been agreed that thought in its highest forms may be expressed through
the hand of the sculptor, artist or architect but it is only of late that our
schoolmen have come to see that within appropriate limits fine and accurate
thinking may be expressed just as truly through the hand that molds the
clay or works the wood or iron or performs the operations of the farm.
The straight furrow, the rapid and efficient handling of farm machinery,
the nice manipulation of butter-making have their educational values for
the accuracy of thought and efficiency of mental action they represent but
they also have additional and peculiar educational value because of the
manual training they involve. This is an item we should not lose sight of in
constructing a college course in agriculture. It may be true that students will
not come to college to learn the operations of the farm but it is also true
that they will not be thoroughly cultured agricultural graduates if during
their college course they have not engaged in farm operations. No portion
of the agricultural course deserves more pains-taking attention from teachers
than that which relates to the manual exercises or practicums which should
accompany the teaching of the science of agriculture. It is narrowing the
range of agricultural education and reducing, rather than raising, the edu-
cational values of agricultural courses to leave out manual training in ag-

Finally, may courses in agriculture be so constructed as to have an
educational value because they inculcate "those supreme ideals through
which the human race is uplifted and ennobled, the ideals of beauty, honor,
duty and love"? In the answer to this question is involved the great
problem of the right conception of a civilization based on a righteous and
rational industrial system. As long as industrial pursuits are regarded as a
curse or drudgery and the ennobling pursuits are philosophy and statecraft
and war there is naturally little chance that industrial pursuits will be con-
ducted on any higher basis than that of a gross materialism i, e. for the
money there is in them. For ages the ideal state as portrayed in Plato's
Republic has actually in one form or another been the ideal which has
moulded the thought and activity of men. To reach a condition in which man-
ual or other severe labor is unnecessary and to have leisure for philosophy,
politics, war, and pleasure as the real business of life has been the aim of
the individual man. To set over against the large mass of the workers a small
privileged class to enjoy the fruits of their labor has been the actual goal of
society's aim, even when this has not been acknowledged. But in these


last days we are coming to see that this is a false aim. The belief is growing
that civilization should seek the good of the greatest number, that through
and in the various industries by which nature is controlled and fashioned to
man's uses the workers may find not only a livelihood but also the means and
opportunity for wide mental activity and refined pleasure; for beauty, honor,
duty and love. These are the new revelations to our age. And the problem
before us is to establish agriculture, as well as our other industries, on this
new basis. The author of a remarkable book, entitled Western Civili-
zation, has endeavored to show that our civilization differs from that of the
pagan nations in that the center of dominant interest has shifted from the
past or the present where it formerly was to the future where it will remain.
And it seems true as regards the educational world that something like this
is transpiring. Hitherto the chief aim of education has been to learn and
remember and apply what the past or the present has taught us. It is true
that with the revival of learning after the Middle Ages and with the open-
ing up of the reservoirs of classical literature there came into Western
Europe a flood of ideas new to Western civilization. These were- nec-
essary to bring the Western peoples into the world current of civilization
but they were after all old ideas and they turned the thoughts of men back
to the past. In considering the classical literatures we should always re-
member that for a long time men in Europe and America studied them
primarily for the ideas which they contained. It was new knowledge they
sought in the pages of Greek and Roman authors, not mental gymnastics or lit-
erary style. This movement had hardly spent its force when the new natural
sciences appeared and began their claims for incorporation in the educa-
tional system. Their day is now and they have greatly broadened the scope
and range of our educational activities. Their chief aim is to define the
constitution of things as they exist and show the method of their develop-
ment. They lack the ethical element except as this is involved in the love
and pursuit of truth. This has since been supplied by their application to
the needs of man. Industrial education based on these sciences has its
dominant interest in the bettering of human environment and in the future
enlargement and refinement of human activities. The teaching of agricul-
ture, or of any industrial art, under these conditions does not reach its
highest level unless it embraces this ethical element. We should teach
men in our agricultural colleges to be intelligent farmers not simply that
they may thus make a better living but rather that they may be leaders in
making agriculture a live, progressive art, which in the future shall provide
a more stable and satisfactory basis for thrifty, intelligent, refined and
happy rural communities, as well as a stronger guarantee for the manufact-
ures, commerce, art, literature and science of a higher civilization in
which industrial and civil peace and not war shall be the established order.
It is because industrial education, broadly conceived and planned, adds to
its other merits this high ethical content of a dominant future interest that
I claim for it a high educational value, and predict for it an increasing
space in the educational scheme of the future.

In thus claiming an ethical content for properly constructed agricul-
tural courses I do not of course make this in any comprehensive and ex-
clusive sense. Other subjects which should be included in the scheme of a
college curriculum and are included in the curriculum we are considering,


are more essentially and broadly ethical studies and should be pursued
especially for their ethical content.

There can, I think, be no doubt that taken in their entire range agri-
cultural subjects furnish an abundance of materials from which to construct
a sound and strong educational system. But good materials are not enough
to guarantee a substantial and convenient building. There must be a good
architect and well-trained builders. No courses of study can have a high
educational value unless they are planned and taught in accordance with
sound pedagogical principles. This is something college teachers are espec-
ially prone to forget. The)- are so interested in the subject matter of their
specialties that they are very apt to make the fatal mistake of supposing
that all they have to do is to present this subject matter as rapidly as p>s-
sib e and let their students absorb it. The method or even the order of
presentation, is practically deemed of little account. It is a pouring out of
information from beginning to end. I fear that the lecture system so com-
mon in our colleges has much to answer for in this regard. Really go d
teachers are much rarer than they ought to be in our colleges. I sometimes
think that research with all its advantages has tended to lower the quality
of teaching, especially in the lower college classes, by laying a wrong
emphasis on methods of work for which the more immature student is not
prepared. It is after all one thing to investigate and a different thing to
teach well.

The relative educational value of agricultural courses will depend
largely on the methods of teaching. Let us therefore briefly consider some
of the pedag >gical principles on the application of which the educational
value of these courses will depend.

1. The foundation of educational success in agricultural courses must be
laid in the interest of the student. On this such authorities as Prof.
H tims, and others who follow the leadership of Herbart, very strongly
insist. In this I believe they are right, provided they do not make
too much of it. Without doubt the teacher should secure the interest
of the pupil at the outset and hold it to the end of the course in Agri-
culture and in other subjects; but this is not all he should do. There
may be much interest without much instruction. The stump speaker
often excites his hearers to the highest pitch of interest without giving
them any useful information. I have seen pupils in a school room kept
in an excited state of mind all day without making any material prog-
ress in learning.

2. There should be careful selection and systematic arrangement of topics
to be taught in a given course. Obviously only a relatively small number
of the vast array of items included in Agrcultural Science cm be profit-
ably brought before a class in the limited time assigned to agriculture in
even a four-year college course. The choice of topics for instruction is
therefore an important matter, and more so as the science increases in
range and bulk. In making this choice the needs and interest of the
student, rather than the fancy and preference of the teacher, should
control. Logic is an old-fashioned and somewhat discredited study
nowadays. Nevertheless it were well for teachers of agriculture to fol-
low its principles in the arrangement of the topics they select to teach.
The inter relations of the topics should be carefully considered and as


far as practicable the student should be put in possession of asystem of
truth regarding agriculture as the result of his college training in this
subject. To the disjointed, helter-skelter teaching of many college
instructors must be charged the frequent failure of students to grasp
and hold in a firm and permanent way what they attempt to learn in
college courses.

3. The methods of teaching agricultural courses should be such as to af-
ford the opportunity and impose the necessity on -the student of exert-
ing himself strenuously to gain the mastery of these subjects. Hence
the advantage of the so-called laboratory methods as contrasted with
lecturing. Much educational value is added to courses through which
the student learns how to study and is compelled to perform mental
labor, aside from the acquisition of any definite amount of knowledge.
This was one of the rightful claims to high pedagogic value put forth in
behalf of the old classical courses. In /connection with them even the
laziest student had to perform a considerable amount of mental effort to
pass. Though he rode a "pony" all through ttie course instead of toil-
ing on foot, he got much exercise of mind. There is plenty of oppor-
tunity for making agricu'tural courses of high pedagogic value in this
regard but they will not be such if the agricultural instructor is content
with lecturing or simply pointing out things to the student with the aid
of lantern slides or objects. He must be a teacher \n some real way.

4. To give a high educational value to agricultural courses attention must
be paid to the time element in education. I do not now refer to the
duration of agricultural courses but to the relative amount of mental
activity compressed into a given time through skilful teaching. One
great pedagogical advantage which the languages will always have as
subjects of instruction is that they furnish within a very limited area a
large amount of varied material for purposes of instruction thus enab-
ling the skilful teacher to put the student through a relatively large
number of mental exercises in a comparatively brief time. When
language is taught on the basis of the science of philology the words
and sentences are the objects; their inflections and syntax relations
furnish the means of scientific classification, comparison, induction and
deduction. And within a single page there are so many elements of
philological science that the pupil has abundant opportunity for con-
stantly learning new facts and principles and reviewing old ones. In a
single recitation period he may be kept continuously in a high state of
mental activity and have very varied mental exercises. In teaching the
sciences on the other hand by the laboratory method the instructor
must be constantly on the alert to prevent the time from slipping away
with only an inconsiderable amount and variety of mental effort on the
student's part. Hence the necessity of much attention to the devising
of laboratory methods of instruction which will permit rapid and varied
work, the previous preparation of materials so that there may be no de-
lays in the class room, and the holding of the student to strenuous effort
from first to last. All pupils recognize a vast difference between terch-
ers in this regard and lazy pupils have a keen instinct for detecting
" soft " courses.

5. The educational value of courses in agriculture will also depend on the


extent to which they are made the means for developing originality and
executive capacity in the students. It is not enough that through such
courses the student shall gain much exact and useful knowledge or
correct methods of activity. He should acquire ability to seek and find
new truth, and to guide and control the activities of other men in prac-
tical and scientific lines. The college graduate is not the man he
ought to be unless he is capable of adding to the sum of human know-
ledge and becoming a leader in human progress. The quality of the
future work of our experiment stations and departments of agriculture
will depend on the original power developed in the graduates from our
agricultural courses. The progress of the practical agriculture of this
country in competition with the world will depend very largely on the
quality of the leadership of the graduates from these agiicultural
courses; and the organization of the agricultural industries on right
lines, as well as the betterment of the social conditions of agricultural
communities, should naturally depend very much on the leadership of
the agricultural colleges and their graduates. The signs all j oint to the
wider and stronger influence of educated men in the large affairs of
industry and public business, including the narrower range of public
business which we ordinarly call the government. In these broad lines
there will be abundant opportunities for agricultural graduates to make
for themselves honorable and useful careers. Their success in this
direction will depend largely on the quality of the teaching they re-
ceive in agricultural courses.

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Online LibraryAlfred Charles TrueAn address on the educational values of courses in agriculture → online text (page 2 of 2)