THE rapid progress of American industries within the last decade, especially since financial uncertainties have ceased to disturb the political atmosphere, is a matter of common and almost trite remark and congratulation; and at the present moment the process of development seems likely to continue with a geometrical ratio of increase, both as regards manufactures and agriculture. The key-note originally sounded by the promoters of the Pacific railroads, “Attack the wilderness with railroads,” has awakened gigantic echoes from the Dominion of Canada to Mexico. But the quality of the tone has somewhat changed. Mining, the original motive, however important still, is being overshadowed by the fundamental industry, agriculture, even in the land of gold itself, and in the heart of the “ great American desert,” which seems destined to become in its turn, for a time, the granary of the world. American commerce has carried coal to Newcastle, cutlery to Sheffield, hams to Westphalia, and grain to Russia. Our exports of breadstuffs, and even of the perishable article of fresh meats, are making such formidable competition for the European farmer that he would fain invoke against it the reënactment of protective tariffs, for whose repeal he gave the casting vote in the struggle with which the name and fame of Cobden are linked.
With the development and prosperity of the fundamental industry, all other industries flourish. The prosperous farmer is enabled to supply himself not only with the necessaries of life, but also with luxuries, and to pay the tribute exacted from him by a protective tariff on such primarily important articles as iron and steel ; thereby giving extraordinary encouragement to the home manufacture of that and of other articles, and thus again indirectly causing fearful competition to the European manufacturer. Stinted in wages, or thrown out of employment altogether, the more ambitious portion of European laborers comes to swell the tide of immigration, as well as, in a fast increasing ratio, the industrial wave that sweeps westward, regardless alike of the terrors of “ the desert,” the rugged mountains, and the hostile Indian.
It is pertinent to inquire what the United States government has done and is doing toward the conservation, encouragement, and practical promotion of this stupendous interest, which involves, as direct producers, over one half of the population of the United States, and, indirectly, the essential conditions of the prosperity of the whole. The manufacturing and other industries have been assiduously fostered by protective tariffs, often far beyond the time when any such assistance was really needed, save for the enrichment of individuals ; and such duties have often pressed heavily upon the interests of agriculture. The prosperity and progress of the latter industry, notwithstanding such disadvantages, were held to prove the needlessness of government aid ; and for the first eighty-six years of the republic, almost the only direct recognition agriculture received at the hands of the general government was embodied in small subdivisions of the patent-office building and reports, and in very general and usually ill-observed instructions to government surveyors to note the agricultural capabilities of the regions surveyed by them. But most of these notes remained, as a rule, pigeonholed in the general land office.
Most prominent among the factors that have contributed toward the extraordinary development and prosperity of agriculture in the United States is, unquestionably, the great native fertility of soils, as yet unexhausted in the newer States and Territories, which are thus enabled to pour out upon the East and upon Europe the accumulated soil treasures of many ages. That these cannot hold out forever, or even for many years to come, is an inexorable law of nature; and the steady diminution of production per acre in the States east of the Mississippi River, resulting in their increasing inability to compete in the growing of cereals with the newer States, has long given warning that the experience of the Old World is being repeated on the new continent, and that the old and ever - recurring question is upon us of maintaining profitable productiveness by means of systematic culture and returns to the soil.
Whether this question shall be allowed to assume the aspect of the menace that annually confronts the European agriculturist, — “ No manure, no crops,”— or whether an ounce of intelligent prevention shall forestall the heavy burdens that will otherwise rest upon the coming generation and its industries, is the issue that must largely be determined by enlightened government action, in the face of the already inveterate bad habits of the vast majority of American farmers, that are, as usual, promptly adopted by the European immigrant. The ravaging of the virgin soils by heavy cropping without change, or even the slightest attempt at returns, followed by the “turning-out” of the “ tired ” land, and, too often, by the washing away of the surface soil from the hard plow-sole formed by shallow tillage, not uncommonly resulting in the definitive ruin of the land for agricultural purposes, is repeated more or less in every newly settled region. Deserted homesteads, and melancholy old fields scarred with gullies, mar the face of the land in the rear of the pioneer farmer, and impose upon his steadier successor a heavy tax, in the way of reclamation, on soils that, if rationally cultivated, would not have felt the need of manure for scores of years. For want of the most rudimentary knowledge of agricultural facts and principles, the planters of the South have for three quarters of a century wasted nine crops of cotton for every one made, by failing to utilize the chief product of their fields —cotton seed — for returns to the soil, which needs but little more to maintain its full productiveness forever. Such a crying evil as this would hardly have been allowed to exist so long in any country less averse to the least semblance of paternal government, without something more than the faint warnings and remonstrances uttered from time to time in the periodical press, or in government documents. The great perfection attained by agricultural implements for large-scale culture, under the hands of American inventive skill, serves but to add to the rapidity with which the process of soil devastation is carried forward into new fields.
Apart from this primary and most serious problem, there are thousands of other questions, of less general importance but locally of equal interest, that confront the farmer, especially in the newer States, surrounded as he is by new conditions of soil and climate, with which he does not know how to deal, save in so far as his previous experience and good judgment may aid him. The farming of the first generation is usually a series of experiments, in which the native fertility of the soil is the saving clause between profit and loss. As the soil becomes less thrifty by wear, the second and third generations continue the course of experimenting as to crops and methods of culture giving the highest profit under the local circumstances. Few, however, realize the best results that could be achieved with the means at command, and many are the disheartening failures, under the pressure of which the farmer abandons his “ improvements,” in search of the fabled “ soil that never gives out,” supposed to exist somewhere to westward. If the conditions of the best success, as ascertained by systematic investigation, had but been pointed out from the beginning, or if even the actual experience of the prosperous few had promptly been made generally known, how different would have been the history of agriculture iu most of the States west of the Allegheny Mountains ! If the measure of success has been great even under the tentative, unsystematic practice prevailing thus far, how much greater might it have been had the light of systematic scientific research been made to precede the industrial army, instead of following slowly in its rear, to show the causes of the results that have followed the blind experimenting of the vanguard! The work, however, is one that lies beyond the power of young communities or even States. Of late, one of the great railroad corporations 1 has thought it worth while to institute an agricultural survey of the regions through which its lines are to pass. But it seems peculiarly the province of the general government to take measures tending to remedy the omissions of the past, and to provide against their recurrence in the future.
The year 1862 will in this connection remain memorable in the history of American agriculture. The subject of a donation of public lands for the endowment of industrial colleges had been repeatedly mooted, and in 1857 a bill to that effect was brought before Congress by Mr. Morrill, of Vermont, But in the violence of political agitation at that time, and on account of the especial opposition to the exercise of power by the Federal government, it did not become a law. The subsequent events, leading to the civil war, created a strong popular tendency in the reverse direction, in the Northern States ; and this, concurrently with the consciousness of the need of popular support on the part of the government, resulted in the passage by Congress, and approval by the president, of two measures most important to agriculture : the creation of the Department of Agriculture as an independent bureau, and the donation to the States of thirty thousand acres of public lands for each representative, for the endowment, in each, of “ at least one college, where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”
This beneficent act to promote the arts of peace, again championed chiefly by Mr. Morrill, and passed almost within hearing of hostile cannon, is entitled, whether by oversight or with a view to the conciliation of popular sentiment, “ A bill for the benefit of agricultural colleges,”—a title which does not do justice to its broad and liberal scope, and wise deference to the varied requirements of the different portions of the immense empire covered by its action. As a matter of fact, the impression conveyed in that title has in a great measure remained fixed in the popular mind and parlance, it being usually designated as “ the agricultural college act:” and this has given rise to not a few misapprehensions and acrimonious discussions that a candid consideration of the act itself would have rendered superfluous. It was natural and proper that in the States in which agriculture was the overshadowing interest it should have taken precedence, both in point of time and allotment of funds, of the “ mechanic arts ; ” and it was equally natural that in manufacturing States the latter should have claimed the lion’s share, for the time being. The subdivision of the fund into two portions, applied to the establishment or farther endowment of separate institutions representing the two great industrial branches, has been preferred by two States, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania ; while in the rest, both have remained united within one institution, newly established or preëxisting. It is not proposed to discuss in this paper the topic of instruction in the mechanic arts, but to deal first with that portion of the subject in which agriculture is directly concerned, and by the light of the experience had to consider what are and should be the functions of the United States Department of Agriculture.
One of the most salutary effects produced by the Morrill act was the lively interest and discussion respecting the proper organization of the new institutions to be formed under it, which arose wherever the law was carried into effect. A compact and impartial history of these first efforts, failures and successes, would be of great interest to educators, but is yet to be written : and it is perhaps too soon to attempt the task, since the actual outcome of the several plans represented in the different States is still subject to great differences of opinion.
As usual, two extremes have disputed precedence with each other, and, as usual, the final and best result will doubtless be found between them. On the one hand, it has been contended by many of those representing the colleges and universities that both the letter and intent of the law would be best carried out, and the greatest benefits conferred upon the classes named in the act, by the establishment of schools of science in connection with the older institutions, already possessed of a large part of the personnel and appliances needful for teaching “ such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, without excluding other scientific and classical studies.” These appeared to require only the additional endowment in order to perform fully and advantageously the desired functions, and this mode of utilizing the endowments seemed the more expedient, because the funds realized from the congressional donation were in most cases obviously inadequate for the maintenance of institutions embracing all the educational branches called for by the act. Since the new institutions could not he numerous or extensive enough to educate the industrial millions, it was argued that they must aim first of all to educate the leaders of progress, to whom the most thorough liberal as well as scientific training ought to be given.
On the other hand, it was contended, chiefly by the industrial classes themselves, that such a connection would he likely to deprive them of the benefits of the act especially intended to be conferred upon them, and, while the “ liberal ” part of the education would doubtless he fully attended to by the older colleges thus additionally endowed, the practical ” would be either left out or restricted within narrow limits; that, in fact, the whole intent of the act was obviously in the latter direction; and that the object would be best served by the establishment of new institutions, separate and, if possible, remote from the influence of the traditional college, where “ agriculture and the mechanic arts ” were looked down upon as of inferior degree and dignity, and where those devoting themselves to their pursuit would be subjected to the sneers of their classical and literary fellow-students. Coupled with these views was, usually, a demand for the enforcement of some manual labor upon the pupils, with the object of creating, or maintaining, a habit of work, and imparting that training of the hand and of the eye that is so essential to success in industrial pursuits, and which has been so conspicuously neglected in the traditional curriculum of education. Moreover, it was thought that these institutions ought to be and could be so constituted that “ every farmer’s son ” could profit by their instruction. That is, they contended that the education of the millions, and not that of the leaders only, was to be compassed under the Morrill act.
The measure of truth contained in each of these contradictory propositions has rendered their respective advocates singularly tenacious of their respective views, and the result has been the adoption, in different States, of either plan, according to the predominant elements of the population ; or, in some cases, according to the accident of finding some vigorous and capable hand to carry either into effect, — the first success varying accordingly.
It is not the object of this paper to discuss these experiments and experiences in detail or exhaustively. It is proposed to trace the general process of evolution, as exemplified now by one and then by another of the American colleges, whether established prior to, or in pursuance of, the Morrill act of donation. No single one, perhaps, could as yet be found to illustrate in its history, in a striking manner, all the several phases; but the attentive observer will be able to supply the examples, and will, it is thought, find the picture a truthful one.
So far as the colleges organized on what maybe called the popular plan are concerned, their establishment was in most cases accompanied or followed by an outburst of popular enthusiasm, in consequence of which their ranks were quickly filled, even to overflowing, thus giving to their advocates a basis for claiming an overwhelming success. It was proclaimed that at last the sons of the industrial classes had been given the opportunity for a sound “labor education,” fitting them at once for their vocation, instead of simply preparing them to acquire it for themselves by weary experience. The workshop and the farm had replaced the lecture-room, in which pupils were as a rule unfitted for industrial pursuits, by having other ideas “ put into their heads,” so that they rarely returned to the farm.
The radical error of the position assumed by the advocates of the “ popular plan ” was that, in their eagerness to assert the high position which agriculture ought to hold in the estimation of mankind, they frequently overshot the mark, so as effectually to assert its lowliness, its inability to bear comparison with other pursuits by the light of a liberal education. In their anxiety to protect the agricultural student from possible snobbish sneers, arising from the antiquated idea that all manual labor is beneath the dignity of educated men, they proposed to make that idea a determining factor in the choice of the location, connection, and organization of the new schools, by withdrawing them as much as possible from contact with the existing centres of high culture. In this dignified seclusion they hoped to convince the pupils, uncontradicted, of the dignity of labor, — surrounding them with a dense “ agricultural atmosphere,” through which no other rays should penetrate. It was even proclaimed in an agricultural convention that “ muscle must be put on a level with brain,” and the sentiment was actually greeted with applause at first, though subsequently followed by energetic protest against such stultification of the cause of agriculture. This grave error, so diametrically opposed to the letter and spirit of the Morrill act, has served long and well to sharpen the arrows of satire against the agricultural colleges, and to deter ambitious young men from entering them, even where a different system prevailed.
The institutions organized as scientific schools, and, as a natural consequence, in connection with preëxisting colleges or universities, by a simple amplification of the scope of scientific instruction, found themselves quite unembarrassed by numbers, even where there was a sincere desire to fulfill in every respect the intent of the act; which, unfortunately, was not always the case, thus creating much ill feeling, acrimonious discussions, and unwise legislation. To speak plainly, some of these institutions had to wait a year or two for the first student in the special departments ; not counting a few cautious nibbles on the part of raw country lads, who needed but a short time to find out that their place was not there, the preparation obtainable in the country grammar school being quite inadequate to enable them to pursue understandiugly the courses of instruction offered. There followed some years of unexciting têteà-têtes of agricultural instructors with single students, or with the minimum number usually supposed to constitute a class; thus giving the teachers abundant leisure to reflect on the causes of this failure to appreciate the advantages offered. It may not be irrelevant to observe that the present paper owes its origin, in part, to a similar opportunity for reflection, and subsequent action thereon.
The results of these cogitations were very various, all perforce agreeing in the conclusion that there was little demand for agricultural education of the character offered, namely, that which is adapted to the training up of agricultural experts, — the Oekonomen of Germany. This fact was painfully apparent from the beginning, in the great, and in many cases for years insufferable, difficulty of finding well-qualified teachers of agricultural science for the new institutions. Men had to be trained, or had to train themselves, especially for that purpose, as quickly as might be ; and many have been the curious demonstrations of the difference between merely knowing how to do a thing by rote and the ability to teach students the why and wherefore. This was especially the case in the agricultural schools established on the popular plan, where “plain, practical farmers” were placed in charge of classes of boys who had grown up on farms, and who soon found that they were learning little beyond a somewhat improved handicraft, at the expense of half their time spent in field labor, differing but slightly from that to which they had been inured from childhood, on the home farm.
This, in fact, proved the turning-point in the popularity of the “ labor ” schools. After the first flush of enthusiasm, parents as well as sons began to gauge the benefits received under the system which gave half the pupils’ time, or more, to manual labor, conveying little or nothing new after a few weeks’ practice, and therefore of no educational value. It soon began to be said that the pupils were made to work for the profit of the college, with occasionally the additional intimation that they had to labor to “maintain a lot of professors in idleness,” instead of getting an education, and that the parents might as well take them home, and get the benefit of that service themselves.
To this the advocates of the labor system replied that the farm work, instructive or not, was necessary to maintain the habit of manual labor ; that if it were omitted the students would lose that habit, have their minds and tastes diverted from the farm, and would to a great extent take to other occupations in life.
The parents rejoined that they sent their boys to the college to get an education, first of all ; to make them better farmers, if farmers they chose to be, but, above all, to be educated.
The first and early result of the controversy was that the pupils were paid wages, instead of working gratuitously, as at first ; and another tidal-wave of popularity set in. A farmer’s boy was now given an opportunity to pay his way and get an education at the same time, so that the poorest could avail himself of the benefits of the college, with little or no expense to his parents.
This phase of the process of development has taken strong hold of the popular fancy, and is still among the first ideas broached wherever the subject of agricultural education is discussed among the farming population. The theory that after giving half or more of the day to sedentary mental study the rest can quite as beneficially be devoted to taking the needed physical exercise in the guise of remunerative farm labor as in the taking of walks, ball-playing, bicycling, or other games producing no obvious useful result, seems simple and incontrovertible ; the more, as such things have so often been done, and are constantly being done, by young men who, from obscurity, have risen to high positions.
The proposition involves, however, several fallacies that seriously interfere with the practical working of the plan, which, as is frequently the case in social problems, fails to take sufficiently into account that human nature of which boys have so large a share, as well as the fact that the average boy sent to the colleges, though legally entitled to the chance of becoming president of the United States, is far from being made of the sterner stuff from which Whittingtons and Franklins are evolved. He is to a great extent hopelessly obtuse in respect to the amusing features of plowing, hoeing, or weeding, and the more so the greater his familiarity with them at home. He is perversely disposed to prefer a climb upon the most rugged hills and the most fatiguing athletic games, to the gentlest and most lucrative work in the cornfield or stable. He may be persuaded or compelled to conform his acts to the prescribed discipline ; but it may be gravely questioned whether, as a rule, such compulsion is conducive to a preference for the pursuit of agriculture as a life occupation, more particularly in the case of those boys whose natural ability would make them most influential in the cause of agricultural progress.
The gravest objection, however, is one that remains unperceived, in a great measure, even by those most immediately concerned, but which becomes glaringly apparent to the teacher who is not satisfied with merely going through his class exercises, but scrutinizes the results achieved when and after the pupil leaves the institution.
The inadequacy of the time usually given to the preparation for life in American colleges is a standing grievance, and one that all the ingenuity annually brought to bear on the revision of the curriculum by the college faculties has not and cannot overcome. The traditional four years’ course cannot possibly be made to hold all that is now needed to be known by every well-educated man and woman, without omitting or weakening to utter inanity too much of the fundamental training needful to proper and well-balanced use of the mental faculties. To use a homely phrase, it becomes more and more impossible to “put that quart into the pint pot ” that was amply large fifty years ago. This is most especially true of those courses embracing a considerable proportion of studies in the natural sciences, whose stupendous development and important applications to every-day life are so prominent a feature of our time.
As neither students nor parents can at present, as a rule, be persuaded to prolong the term of education in college beyond the traditional four years, it follows that the student has no time to spare for anything that is not of educational value, or can readily be learned outside of the college. And it follows equally that the time spent in merely mechanical, uninstructive labor in the agricultural colleges detracts to that extent from the opportunities of the student, and stunts his education.
No pretense of nursing the “habit of labor ” can offset this grievous, and in the course of the student’s life usually irreparable injury; no special plea that, unless this course is pursued, his mind may be turned away from agriculture can stand for a moment. The colleges intended for “ the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes ” cannot legitimately be transformed into missionary establishments for the conversion of youth unto agricultural pursuits, by surrounding them with an opaque agricultural atmosphere. It is the duty of parents to afford their children the best opportunities within their means for a judicious selection of the life pursuit which shall be best adapted to their natural talents and tastes, and wise parents will rarely do more than to assist them in the selection, whether of a profession or of a companion for life. Nor will they be disposed to find fault with the schools or colleges that have given their own children the opportunity of recognizing the vocation that will make them most successful. It is not for the purpose of learning how to plow and hoe, but why to plow and hoe at all, and when and where to do it to the best advantage, that, parents are willing to send their eons to the colleges. In any case, the “ rubbing in ” of the purely mechanical part of the farmer’s vocation is hardly calculated to inspire a preference in that direction, especially when the pupil is conscious that his education is thereby curtailed. He is quick to perceive that, while “ honest labor ” dignifies the laborer because it is honest, it is not more dignified or honest because unintelligent, or such as can be performed as well by a steam-engine or a horse.
It cannot be questioned that it is precisely this aspect of farming — its supposed necessary association with hard, unintelligent, merely mechanical labor, unrelieved by any considerable use of the intellect — that has in the past caused it to be looked down upon as a pursuit unworthy of educated and intellectual men, and which still supports the same view, to some extent. An aversion to farming is often apparent among those engaged in it, and leads to the neglect of home life ; and home adornment while such expressions by parents as “ I don’t want my children to drudge as I have done ” go far towards promoting the hegira of the most ambitious portion of the young rural population to the towns and cities, — to the dry-goods counter, counting-house desk, and other overstocked occupations, of immensely inferior intellectual opportunities, but opening to them more or less the possibility of considering themselves an integral part of a polite community, and of participating in those recreations and amusements from which the physical and social isolation of an American farm would largely exclude them.
Another, and perhaps the most influential, cause lies in the character of elementary instruction, both at home and in the common school. The very existence of the latter has brought about a feeling, on the part of the parents, that they discharge their whole duty to their children by making them attend school ; so that home instruction is almost laid aside, not only during the school years proper, but also at the time when the child’s physical perceptions are most acute and wide-awake, — the time which the kindergarten system of instruction utilizes so admirably in training and sharpening the naturally predominating interest in objective nature. When little or nothing is done in that direction at home, and the child finds, on reaching school, that the subjects so closely connected with home and farm life are almost totally neglected, the natural impression will be that they are inferior in importance to writing, reading, and arithmetic, and that the perception, knowledge, and handling of merely physical objects is of little educational or intellectual value. To this repression of the child’s perceptive faculties by the time-honored scholastic system of teaching must be ascribed a far greater share in the lack of interest in agricultural education than can be compensated by any system of organization in the agricultural colleges. These can never do their best work upon material whose home and school education have combined to turn the taste away from agricultural pursuits.
Again, the rural village, to which the European peasant’s son looks back with longing as the scene of his youth’s enjoyments, is as yet an unknown quantity in the greater portion of the United States, and especially so in the properly agricultural regions of the Union, where farms are large and the dwellings separated by long intervals. The county towns and cross-roads hamlets, where on Saturdays a portion of the rural population congregates around the blacksmith’s shop, variety store, and corner grocery, rarely offer any rational social enjoyment, even in temperance communities ; while in the frontier States these gatherings not unfrequently exemplify Pandemonium.
The recognition of this comparative barrenness of the farmer’s intellectual and social life in the large agricultural States has found practical expression in the “ Grange ” movement, which contemplates essentially coöperation for the social, intellectual, and professional improvement of the members, and through this the promotion of education, knowledge, and emulation, thereby securing the elevation of the farmer’s calling and also rendering it more profitable.
The distinctively social feature of the order of Patrons of Husbandry, ministering to one of the greatest needs of our rural population, has enabled it to survive the probationary period and the mistakes into which its leaders fell at first in affiliating it with political parties ; so that, after the first recoil, it is reviving and steadily extending on a more solid basis than before, and with less prospect of reaction. Its declaration of purposes and principles expresses well and forcibly the foremost need of American agriculture: not a holdingdown of the aspirations of youth to the grindstone, by unremitting labor and a stinted education, like the peasant class of Europe; but the ennobling of the farmer’s pursuit by the use of knowledge, under the guidance of a trained intellect, and the lightening of the burden of labor thereby, both in directing it into the most profitable channels, and in taking from it the sensation as well as the reproach of drudgery by rendering it intelligent.
Viewed from the stand-point of the avowed programme of the Grange, the labor-school plan is a step in the wrong direction, unless that labor is kept strictly within the limits of instruction, properly so called ; and although this incompatibility has not always been recognized, and in many cases granges and grange conventions have passed resolutions expressing the reverse opinion, yet the steady tendency of the colleges has been toward the abandonment of all uninstructive labor as a task incumbent upon the students, while, nevertheless, offering them every opportunity and inducement to engage in such labor of their own accord, for exercise, recreation, or profit, as the case might be. On the other hand, instructive labor such as is given the pupil for the sake of illustrating and impressing upon him the principles he is or has been studying, can only exceptionally fulfill the regular requirements of a well-conducted “model” farm, and is frequently as little capable of being made profitable to the college as is the laboratory work of elementary students in chemistry. It cannot, therefore, as a rule, be compensated, a fact now distinctly set forth in the registers of several prominent agricultural colleges.
With the abandonment of obligatory uninstructive labor, the project of making every student pay his college expenses while getting his education also falls to the ground. It is as incompatible with his acquisition of a sound education within the four-year limit as the financial success of a farm conducted with a view to the best general instruction is impossible. In other words, a good education is necessarily expensive and not lucrative, for the time being ; and if the student spend half of his time in making his expenses, he will have to stint his education to a corresponding extent, or he must give a longer total time to it. The latter course would be the more needful, because in agricultural practice, involving so many varied and complex problems, a little rudimentary knowledge, badly digested, is often less serviceable than simple common sense and the following of good examples. We have here only the reassertion, on a different plane, of the principle of conservation of force, which forbids us to expect obtaining from a given amount of virtual energy more than its mathematical equivalent in work.
As to the exact amount of instructive manual labor that may be profitably required of the agricultural student, opinions and practice still differ considerably , but even here the obvious tendency is towards restriction rather than increase, in the older institutions originally organized on the labor plan. The facility with which any one thoroughly conversant with principles acquires the mere manual dexterity or handicraft forms a strong and increasingly appreciated argument against extending that portion of the too brief educational course beyond the point at which the pupil possesses a practical knowledge of the conditions and details involved in the successful performance of an operation, leaving to a subsequent “ practical course,” or to experience, the acquisition of actual dexterity.
This gradual abandonment of their extreme position by the labor schools, with an obvious approximation of their fundamental ideas to those of the scientific schools, has on the whole been followed by a reduction of numbers, but also by an unquestionable increase in their efficiency toward accomplishing the primary objects of the Morrill act. With the falling-off of that portion of their pupils that sought in them merely a cheap, low-grade education, with little reference to the pursuit or improvement of agriculture, there came the need of making a showing of quality as against mere numbers, in order to maintain their standing and claim to legislative aid. It was broadly argued that it was not the number of pupils on the college rolls, and subsequently returned to the plow, that would establish their claim to utility and support, but their influence on the progress of rational agriculture within their sphere of action. Hence their faculties were naturally pushed toward exerting that improving influence not only upon the sons, but also upon the parents themselves, by meeting them at fairs, farmers’ institutes, conventions, and society meetings, and discussing with them their needs, failures, and successes. At the same time, the model college farm began to be utilized for experiments designed to determine questions of practical importance to agriculture in the various States, — questions with which, perhaps, the farmers themselves had wrestled in vain for want of a full knowledge and command of the controlling conditions. A few successes in this direction at once created a stir of interest, as it came to be understood that the colleges might be made to confer benefits not only upon the rising, but also upon the existing generation; and this, in turn, reacted upon the number and quality of the students sent to the colleges for the purpose of securing the advantages that the knowledge taught there might be expected to confer.
In other words, the popular colleges gradually took upon themselves some of the functions of experiment stations, in investigating agricultural questions of at least local, if not general, interest. And here their action began to harmonize with the scientific colleges. While waiting for students to come, the latter had utilized their spare time in trying to awaken the slumbering interest of the rural population, and had found an effectual stimulant for the purpose in showing the latter the advantages, of a most substantial kind, that they might derive from the systematic scientific investigation of the mooted practical questions that were being long and contradictorily debated in their society meetings and agricultural periodicals. That is, they also began to constitute themselves experiment stations, and to meet the farmer on his own ground ; and the practical demonstration of the utility of the knowledge they offered to dispense gradually began to fill the aching void of the agricultural lecture-rooms.
If we summarize the conclusions legitimately deducible from the experience had in the establishment and working of agricultural colleges in the United States, as to the wants of the agricultural population in respect to education, they might be stated thus : —
(1.) Education corresponding to that given in the peasant schools of Europe, impressing upon the pupil the rules and practice of agricultural operations by means of constantly repeated manual exercise, and at the same time giving him a merely elementary general education, proves unsatisfactory and unacceptable here, where there is no peasant class, whose pursuit, as a rule, passes hereditarily from father to son. Those who care for education at all desire something more than mere routine training.
(2.) Neither is there a considerable demand, at least consciously, for high scientific training in agriculture, apart from the need for teachers for the agricultural colleges, as is proved by the insignificant attendance on the schools of agricultural science unprovided with model or experimental farms.
(3.) The colleges of an intermediate character, combining more or less of actual farm labor with a fair amount of higher instruction in the sciences, are more or less numerously attended. A large proportion of their pupils, however, fail to pursue farming as a calling after leaving college, having resorted to the latter as a cheap and convenient high school rather than for professional study. On the whole, their influence in improving the methods of agriculture in their respective States has not been marked, except in the case of those which have assumed to some extent the functions of experiment stations, and as such have rendered assistance in the solution of practical agricultural problems. Otherwise they are in most cases petted on the one hand, and condemned as comparatively useless on the other, in public discussions, in the newspaper press, and in the legislatures, to which they must periodically apply for pecuniary aid to supplement their inadequate endowments.
Eugene W. Hilgard.
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