OCTOBER 5, 1944
WASHINGTON, Wednesday—I have spent the entire morning at a session of the Conference on Rural Education, which is being held here in the White House, and I am afraid that as these sessions take place both morning and afternoon, my column will have to deal largely with this subject.
Two outstanding speeches were made this morning, one by Howard A. Dawson, director of Rural Service, National Education Association, and one by Murray D. Lincoln, president of the Cooperative League of the United States, and executive secretary, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
The problems of rural education are, of course, many. One basic point is the fact that 48 percent of our children live and are educated in rural areas, while the income in those areas is usually lower than in urban areas. There are still 108,000 one-room schools in this country, and 25,000 two-room schools. Teachers in these schools should be far better trained, and therefore receive higher salaries, than teachers in city areas, because they teach a variety of ages and subjects. Instead, they are usually poorly paid, and so have less training. The average teacher's salary in places where the population is more than 2,500 is approximately $1,900 a year. The average for rural schools throughout the country is under $1,000 a year, sometimes sinking as low as $300 a year for certain minority groups.
The war situation has closed many rural schools, because teachers are unobtainable. In addition, the number of teachers now being trained is greatly reduced. It has meant, in many cases, the granting of emergency certificates to people who are unqualified. Frequently, in the poorer paid schools, the educational level of the teachers is limited by the fact that they have not gone beyond high school, and sometimes not beyond grade school.
The organization of school administration throughout the nation, moreover, should be changed, and many state laws which at present put a premium on poor organization should be altered. For instance, in some places the school districts are poor, and therefore get state aid. If several poor districts consolidate, however, they are rated differently and get less state aid. As a result, there is no incentive to consolidate and get better teachers and a better school.
I think one important point was made by the editor of one of the farm papers. He said: "If what is being said at this conference could go out to farm communities, in understandable language, in their own papers, it would be more effective than all the pamphlets sent out by educational groups, or those many articles in metropolitan papers." I am convinced of this; but farm papers and country weeklies are governed largely by what the people want to read, just as the larger papers are. I think the point to be remembered, therefore, is that this material must be in the form which will appeal to farm people as interesting reading.