Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 13: Education
EDUCATION – IS THERE FURTHER NEED OF PMSS? POSITION PAPER
[Author unknown. Probably Glyn Morris]
TAGS: Glyn Morris; Pine Mountain Settlement School; Walter H. Gaumnitz; education; settlement schools; teachers; economics; coal towns; transportation; school buses; teacher salaries; Malcolm Ross; Machine Age in the Hills; L.C. Gray;
“Is There Any Further Need of a School Like Pine Mountain Settlement School?”
[Reflections on Machine Age in the Hills by Malcolm Ross (1933) and other indicators of change in education in the Southern Appalachians.]
The following paper grew out of a quite natural confusion in the of the minds of the members of staff, as we tried to think through a practical solution for a complex problem. It is an attempt to state as clearly as possible our problem. It considers some of the factors involved and our method of meeting the problem. It is by no means final, but It forms a basis for discussion and for further thinking for the members or the staff and the
Board of Trustees.
In view of the social change and growth which has taken place in our section of the mountains during the past twenty years the question arises more and more frequently as to whether or not there is any further need of a school like Pine Mountain Settlement School. Contrary to what has been commonly assumed “There is comparatively little difference between the number of children reached by public elementary schools in the mountain areas and non-mountain areas.” (Gaumnitz: “Education in the Southern Mountains,” Bulletin 1937, no 26, U.S. GPO, Washington, DC 1938) and Walter H. Gaumnitz, “Extent and Nature of Public Education In The Mountains,”Mountain Life and Work, July 1933). The past twenty years have witnessed the growth of elementary and secondary schools all through the mountains, as well as the building of many miles of concrete highways. But we cannot dismiss this question by simply saying that there are more schools now than there were twenty years ago and that there are many miles of paved highway where there were only wagon roads twenty years ago. For that matter, there are still large areas where there are no high schools and where there are no highways. For example on the north side of Pine Mountain, from Pineville nearly to Whitesburg, a distance of sixty miles, there are no paved roads and no public high schools. Nearly all of Leslie county from the southern border to Hyden has no paved road and no high school.
The question also involves consideration of the fact that Pine Mountain Settlement School is maintained at considerable expense by contributions from people who know very little about mountain conditions of the present day, and who are perhaps drawn to support the work almost wholly through sentimental impressions created twenty years ago. Again we must keep in mind the detrimental concomitant effects of a work fo this sort — for undoubtedly many mountain people use the school primarily as an economic refuge and not primarily for education. Finally, there is the question of our assuming a very fundamental obligation which rightfully belongs to the state.
In seeking an answer to our question we must consider two aspects of education — quantity, and quality, with particular emphasis upon the latter. And no answer can begin without keeping in mind a social and economic picture of the area under consideration.
From 1910-1930 the population of Harlan County increased from 10,566 to 64,557 or 510%; the population of Letcher County increased 236% and Perry County 274%. (U.S. Census, 1930) These are the coal-producing counties of our area. Most of the increase in population live in coal camps. This fact alone has created a social and economic problem of some proportion, a good picture of which is given in Machine Age in the Hills  by Malcolm Ross, and about which nothing yet has been done by the social agencies of the state.
L.C. Gray, in a summary report given before the Conference of Southern Mountain Workers, of the economic conditions and tendencies in the Southern Mountains, says (Mountain Life and Work) “The past thirty years has been a time of rapid transformation. Population …
in the region has increased about 56%. The heavy increases were in the coal-producing counties of eastern Kentucky and southwestern West Virginia.” Furthermore, “on the other hand, in many of the isolated rural counties of poor natural conditions for farming and without any industrial or mining developments, the country population remained stationary or even increased somewhat.” Along with this goes the fact that there has been a decrease in the total farm and crop area, and a birthrate continues nearly two and a half times what is necessary for a stationary population.It needs no argument to convince anyone that the economic life of the Highlands, particularly in our area, is at a very low level. With the migration into coal industry, the whole life of certain areas has undergone rapid and radical change. “The machine age has changed their hill virtues into industrial vices,” says Malcolm Ross, and he writes further of the need of training them in trades, health and the use of their minds for amusement’s sake. (Ross, Machine Age in the HIlls, p.235)
It has often been suggested that it would be helpful to stimulate the mountain people to migrate into other parts of the country. But Mr. Gray cautions against “stimulating the movement of these people to another environment, particularly into the midst of this chaotic industrial world of ours,” and expresses his own faith in the capacity of developing a worthwhile life for the mountain man right in the mountains.
In Harlan County, out of a total of 5056 between the ages of 14-17, there are 1,895 or nearly two-fifths, who are not in school. This fact is more important when we remember that school ages are high in this section due to late starting and intermittent attendance. In Letcher County, nearly one-third of the same age are not in …
school. There are varied reasons — inaccessibility of school; no enforcement of attendance; and the expense of transportation — which must be born by individuals.
Granted that there has been a growth in the number of public schools, primary and secondary, particularly the former, what are they doing to meet the demands created by this rapid social change and what are they doing to help young people meet the demands created by the economics of the mountains? To answer this we must begin at the bottom, and for this purpose let us look at the figures given by Mr. Gaumnitz. He emphasizes the fact that “true education is to be measured by what happens to the child in the classroom — change n habits, knowledge, attitudes, outlook — and the comprehension of the whole scheme of things.” These cannot be measured by figures. But figures do indicate just how much possibility there is for this sort of thing in the light of what we know are necessary prerequisites for good teaching and learning.
|Annual length of school term in days||143 (in mountain counties)|
|Average days attended per pupil||96|
|Per cent over age||52.7|
|Illiteracy (21 years and over)||13.3|
|Per cent of teachers with high school education or less||76.1|
|Averag value of school buildings per teacher||$710.00|
|Average expenditure per teacher||$610.00|
|Average salary per teacher||$510.00|
“In Kentucky, it is found that more than three-fourths of the teachers of mountain counties have the equivalent of a high school education or less. For the non-mountain counties, only 21.3 per cent of the teachers are found with so little training.” (Mountain Life and Work, July 1933, p.24)From these facts we can draw our own conclusions as to whether or not public education is doing, or could do anything to meet the …
needs of the mountain people. Education progresses as people themselves see the need for it. Much of the public education of the mountains is a spill-over from the non-mountain section of the state. It represents the very extreme minimum. Even in less backward sections of the country, public education is far from doing all that could be done. HOw can we expect to see public education in the mountains fulfilling all the obligations of a good education when the prerequisite of such a condition is a high social standard in the people themselves? The gap between the need for a specialized type of training, and the type of public necessary to demand and instigate such training is greater here than anywhere so that for the time being the inspiration and support of any such thing will of necessity come from the outside. This is the answer to any objection which grows out of the fact that schools like Pine Mountain are supported largely by people outside the state and in other sections of the country. In view of the conditions, the mountain people must have help to get started. Whatever evil accompanies such a venture can be minimized only by making the student realize that such an evil exists, and that of the two evils — going without schools, and having a school supported from the outside — the second is the lesser.
As I write this I am interrupted by a caller — a former Pine Mountain student now at Berea. She came from “down Greasy”. Three years ago her brother shot and killed a man, and now we discuss a killing of yesterday when a twenty-year-old boy was killed at a Christmas brawl down the creek. She re-affirms most emphatically the need for Pine Mountain. And just such an incident is the strongest argument we have. For what are the public schools doing about training young people to live at peace with one another? This …
is only one of the questions we might ask, and some may say it is the task of the church to answer it, But it is fundamental and far more important than reading and writing. It is one of the places where our public schools in the mountains fail and is just indicative of the fact that they do nothing towards the specialized type of training needed in the mountains. Where practical training for a life situation is needed the children are given abstract abstractions. A different quality is required from what is being given.
Briefly, we may summarize:
- However increased in the past twenty years, there is still an inadequate quantity of public education being offered in the mountain areas.
- The quality is nowhere near adequate. Nothing s being done towards a specialized training for mountain youth to help them cope with the economic and social problems peculiar to the mountains The present public school system is woefully inadequate in physical equipment and personnel.
There is a growing tendency to look critically at a private school in the mountains and rightly so. But the criticism has been directed towards schools whose work overlaps that of public schools, and who offer a semi-classical and academic college preparatory education to children who need practical training in hygiene vocations, etc. Well-intentioned but giving a stone where bread is needed. The only justification for the maintenance of a private school is that it contributes something to the life of the people which is not being done by any other agency; and that the need for such a contribution justifies the money and labor expended.
There is a need for some sort of training place for young people of the mountains, where they may be taught to look critically at …
their own problems; where they may be trained in the essentials of leadership; where they may be given opportunity for the specialized training needed for a better life in the mountains, and where they may be given an opportunity for vocational guidance and training in preparation for what we hope will be a brighter industrial era in the hills.
There can be no doubt then for the need of a school which gives a specialized type of training for mountain youth, and one which is flexible in its requirements. As the Danish Folk School has grown up in response to the needs of the people of Denmark, so we must have a distinct type of school of the Southern Highlands. Just “any old kind’of academic training, because it is called SCHOOL will not suffice. Pine Mountain has had a unique history as a pioneer of education in the mountains. This must be continued, but in order to do so we must constantly scrutinize our work in the light of the needs of the mountain people.
Our problem then is — how can Pine Mountain best serve its students and the community? We must confine ourselves for the present to answering the first half of the question, since the last half requires a special report. In the consideration of our problem, several interesting questions have arisen, and the problem is made complex by several interesting and important factors.
First, the large turnover of students. From 190 to 1933, 996 students have been at Pine Mountain for a month or more. During that time the average length of tenure for a student was approximately twelve school months. However, since 1931 the turnover has decreased materially. In a study made by Mr. Hubert Hadley, dated March 1931, he shows that up until and including 1931, the average turnover at …
Pine Mountain was seventy percent yearly. From 1931 to 1934, the average turnover for the four years has been forty per cent, thus showing a marked decrease. Whether or not this is a result of the depression, or from other factors is not known. And whether or not this is a definite trend for the future remains to be seen. On the other hand, while the problem of curriculum is complicated by transient students, the proportion of graduates is steadily growing, and the records show favorably,
It is interesting to note in this connection, that since 1923, thirty-eight students have been graduated from the Senior High School. Of the thirty-eight, twenty-six have been graduated since 1931, and there are fourteen students in the coming graduation class. Of the twenty-six, two are now at home, one is in Nurse’s training school, and eight are working, nine are either in college or in Normal School, two are teaching and three are married. These figures indicate that proportionally, Pine Mountain graduates do very well as far as placement after High School is concerned.
Second, the Rural and the Mining Camp children. The Pine Mountain student body is divided sharply into two groups, those who live in a town or mining camp, and those who live in the rural mountain areas. The former group comprises forty-three percent and the latter fifty-seven percent of the student body. While basically the same, and no more than one generation removed from his rural brother the mining camp youth has background differences and an outlook for the future which must be considered. The picture which Malcolm Ross gives in his Machine Age in the Hills is anything but a hopeful one and is quite a contrast to the picture one might draw of those sections of the mountains where the mining camp is absent. The coal industry has reached and passed its hey-day, leaving behind the …
wreckage of tremendous industrial deflation in a section unused to industry and totally unprepared to cope with any social problem. It is in fact quite a different social set-up from that found in the rural sections. The youth from the mining camp thinks in terms of the camp store, the tipple and the motion picture house, and is the product of an unstable and transient community. The rural student returns to a home in the hollow where raising a crop is the major theme. In either case the average income is low, and vocational possibilities are very few. To limit the school to one group would simplify the problem of curriculum somewhat.
But it seems that the problem of the mining camp youth is at present more astute than that of the rural student. Life in the camp is more complex, and those children reared there have a problem of adjustment which the rural child does not have. In any case, it would seem that our responsibility lies just as strongly in the direction of the camp as the hollow. The mixing of the two groups has a desirable effect when we consider the mountain problem as a whole, especially in this area. To limit the school to one group would tend to make for a group consciousness within the mountain group. The mountain people, both indistrial and rural, must learn to think in terms of the whole group.
Third is the question of college, which looms large in the minds of many of the students. The prevailing attitude is that by virtue of a college diploma one is raised from the ranks to a more exalted place. One of the most lucrative occupations in our area, in fact, the only one of much account, is that of school teacher. Ths position carries with it considerable prestige and honor. Even an eighth-grade graduate who teachers school is termed “professor”. Consequently …
there are many students who are working with this in mind. Prerequisite to college, of course, is the necessary high school “units”. With the student, it is a matter of time and material covered, not a question of attitude, method of finding facts when necessary, general comprehension of things. Education is an abstraction. Consequently, units once received are a closed book.
Fourth is the wide variety of educational levels in one grade. This is inherited as the result of the absence of any kind of academic standardization in the county grade schools, and further reflects the very poor quality which students are receiving. The results of achievement tests given this year illustrate this. It was discovered, for example, that of the twelve students in the seventh grade, nine of whom were new, one was in the eighth-grade level, two in the seventh grade, four in the sixth grade, three in the fifth grade, and two in the fourth. Of the twenty-three tenth grade students, three of whom are new, one was in the eleventh grade level, four in the tenth, two in the ninth three in the eighth five in the seventh, six in the sixth and two in the fifth, Of the thirty-two ninth grade students, twenty-five of whom are new, one was in the tenth grade level, two in the ninth, four in the eighth, ten in the seventh, eight in the sixth, six in the fifth and one in the fourth. With this wide distribution of educational levels in each grade, one can see what a teacher must face, how difficult is the task of those students who are carrying work far above their educational level, and the retardation in progress which the advanced student must suffer.
And the last consideration is the possibility of student placement. Our only index of what will happen to the student who graduates from Pine Mountain is the record of the thirty-eight who have already …
already graduated. It does not seem likely that this good fortune will continue. While the number of graduates was small, the possibilities of placement were good, particularly as a good deal of help was given by individuals interested in Pine Mountain, and in the various individual student. But this is only a temporary arrangement and cannot continue. This year’s class numbers fourteen, and at the present time it does not seem likely that more than three of them will either find work or go to college. Because of the limited number of students which Berea will take, and because of the financial limitationd of any who micht possibly go to other schools, college is out of the reach of most, even though they might be intellectually qualified. But we cannot escpe from feeling a sense of responsibility towards helping those qualified to secure a place where they may use their various talents and training. In other words, we have a definite responsibility towards those graduates who are capable of holding a position if we could secure one for them.
Now we have listed some of the major factors we must keep in mind as we tr to make a program for Pine Mountain. In endeavoring to solve our problem of how we can make Pine Mountain most useful to the students we have made the following outline. The order indicates the importance of the items listed, but they cannot be construed as operating as entirely separate from each other.
- Immediate needs. corrective health, hygiene, methods of cleaning house, sanitation, repair work, farming and gardening, nursing, woodwork.
- Academic adjustment,
- Vocational guidance (which may go hand in hand with 2)
- Liberal cultural education (for want of a better name) Training toward a comprehension of the whole scheme of things.
- Preparation for college for those qualified.
- Out first concern must be for the immediate needs of the boys and girls who come to us. These will naturally vary with the student …
student. But in a general way, they will consist of having habits of cleanliness; orderliness; corrective measures in health and hygiene. All students whether they plan to stay one year or six will need these. One of the basic needs of the mountaineer is to learn how to live cleanly and to make the most of his natural surroundings. This, of course, has always been given major emphasis at Pine Mountain. In connection with this, we must keep in mind those basic courses — cooking, sewing, weaving, carpentry and furniture making, farming and gardening, dairying, etc. We must not forget the importance of the general set-up of the school with its requirement that each student do his share of the work necessary for the maintenance of the school. The student benefits more from this one thing than from any other in proportion as there is created in him a sense of responsibility, respect for neatness and orderliness, and cleanliness. All these are virtues whose lack is probably one of the mountain man’s greatest weaknesses. Living at the school is in itself an education. Then as the student becomes adjusted, and the certainty of his continuing in school becomes more assured, special courses in the domestic arts are given.
We feel more and more the need of giving our attention in thought and planning to those students who must return to their homes. Particularly is this true if there is to be no general movement out of the mountains around us here.
Our next concern is in having the student make the necessary academic adjustment. This often difficult and must be done with considerable care. It is part of what may be called our guidance program. Standard achievement tests, despite their limitations as far as mountain children are concerned, are fairly accurate guides …
guides as to the academic standing of a student, and with Intelligence tests, we have a further guide in the proper grade. It cannot always be done and for the most part, we can only approximate it. The wide degree between the student’s academic standing when he comes to us, and actual grade in which he should be enrolled, make an accurate adjustment impossible. This may take several years. In the Junior High school, for the present, we are trying to make each student meet our academic requirements and to take a full-time academic program. This is done for two reasons:
- So that they may learn well the fundamentals, English, Arithmetic, etc.
- So that we may have time for observation as to their possibilities, aptitudes, etc., for future guidance
In this connection, it is well to say that we are making a definite effort to take as new students those who are ready for the seventh grade, rather than any above. We find it less difficult to remedy habits, and easier to instill the Pine Mountain philosophy into the younger students. Then too, they have a chance to stay here for longer time, thus making our work surer. Furthermore, since the school is committed to a policy which emphasizes industrial training, homemaking, vocations, etc., and makes academic training secondary, the question raised by taking younger children may be overlooked. It is not so much a matter of taking only those children who cannot get to another school as of giving a specialized type of training to any mountain youth.
Our next concern has to do with vocational guidance. By this is meant an effort to help the student find out for what he is best suited in the light of his interests, aptitudes, and possible future employment. As yet our own knowledge of the “science” of vocational guidance is very meager. We like to think of our whole plan at Pine Mountain …
Mountain as one of guidance in the sense which Dr. Brewer used the term that all education is, or should be, guidance. But we are trying to find out as much as possible about the student, and in a common sense way trying to help, using our own experience and knowledge, and any other material which can be brought into use. Within our own program, there is quite a bit of opportunity and flexibility to permit a variety of training and experience built around the student himself. To illustrate this let us take several cases here, out of the eighteen who are taking individual courses
“A” is a hardworking, conscientious student; her achievement test shows her to be in the very lowest percentile, and her I.Q. is just below average. Her father and she have college in mind. She has a marked ability in the kitchen where she does her work. After talking the matter over with her she is brought to realize that her marks are low, and though she studies harder than anyone in this class she is getting nowhere. She feels no sense of achievement. She is persuaded as diplomatically as possible to develop her special talent in cooking. Special courses are arranged for her under Miss [Bertha] Cold, the dietician. Her academic program is cut to English, Business Arithmetic, and some Social Science. The reason for the last will be brought out later in this paper. Most of her time now is spent in the kitchen where she has been given considerable responsibility. She does excellent work, has a real feeling of achievement and is quite happy.
“B” is a hardworking student with about the same academic potentialities as “A”. She displays a real talent for dressmaking. Now she spends most of her time planning and making dresses under supervision, working on projects, and is doing real, advanced work in sewing.
“C” is a boy with a very low I.Q.. He is a senior and should be in the seventh grade. He has been promoted each year because he tried, and not because he achieved any academic level. More persistently than anyone else he wishes to go to college so that he may be a school teacher. He has dodged every effort on our part to persuade him to think of some other vocation. All semester the teachers have concertedly brought pressure to bear so that now he has come to realize that the work [of college] is too difficult. He has also been made to realize that woodworking, in which he is proficient, is as honorable a