Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Origins of Chazy Central Rural School, Part 3

Our series on the origins of Chazy Central Rural School concludes this week. This Saturday, October 22, CCRS will officially mark its 100th anniversary with a variety of events—visit for more information.

In Part 1, we looked at the broad social changes happening at the turn of the century and their effect on education. In Part 2we saw how proponents of the Country Life Movement tried to bring city innovations to country schools, and looked at some of the urban schools that inspired William Miner and George Mott. In Part 3, we’ll see how Chazy Central Rural School implemented the ideas of educational reformers.

Chazy Union School, ca. 1900. The building was later
incorporated into Gray Gables.
In 1915, 189 pupils were enrolled in the Chazy Union School in the village of Chazy, which employed 5 teachers. There were also seven schools in Chazy and three in Champlain that would become part of the consolidated school district. These were one-teacher schools that served between 20 and 40 students. The old one-room country school evoked nostalgic associations, but reformers insisted that it was a thing of the past which had no place in a modern, complex society. Thus, any school reform had to begin with the building itself.

Writers on rural schools painted horrifying pictures of run-down, unsanitary, and poorly ventilated school buildings. George Mott, in his proposal for consolidation, drew a stark contrast between Chazy’s “fine homes, well kept lawns, sanitary barns, flowers, and automobiles” and the “one roomed ‘building’ where ventilation is impossible, sanitary conditions a disgrace, and the whole exterior and interior not only so different from their own homes, but oft-times an offense to the eye and a disgrace to the whole environment of the community.” Children could not be expected to learn in stuffy rooms, sitting in uncomfortable seats (Moulthrop Movable School Chairs to the rescue!), under inadequate lighting.

Shakespeare Room, Chazy Central Rural School.
Decorative features in the school were meant to
inspire a love of beauty in students.
New York State Archives
Aside from these practical considerations, reformers also argued that schools should be beautiful. The building itself should be well-designed and made of good quality materials, and interiors should be painted in cheerful colors and decorated with pictures. George Mott wrote that the new Chazy school would be situated on an “ideal rural school site combining beauty with utility.” The 15 acres of land, purchased from Harvey Fisk by William Miner, provided ample space for a large building, “land for agricultural experiments,” a playground, and recreation areas. It also “offer[ed] a natural knoll, upon which the stately building may be seen above even the surrounding tree tops, a ‘thing of beauty and a joy forever.’”

The new school building was to be the setting for a new curriculum. As reformers were quick to point out, rural schools generally used the same curriculum as city schools, in spite of the fact that much of what was taught was irrelevant or foreign to the experience of country children. Mott pointed out that this system of education tended to have two effects on students. Either it pushed them toward the cities, or they became “disgusted with the hollowness and the unsatisfactoriness of such an education, and fall by the wayside with a contempt for that which they call ‘book learning.’” The solution was to make sure that the curriculum of rural schools was grounded in the everyday life of the country.

Agriculture Laboratory and Lecture Room,
Chazy Central Rural School
The goal of incorporating agriculture into the curriculum was twofold. One, it was hoped that by learning about nature at a young age, children would develop a love and appreciation for rural life that would help keep them in the country. Two, practical instruction in agriculture would be an important step towards introducing modern, scientific farming. Many in the country life movement felt that it was too late to reach adults and that it was better to focus their efforts on children. As William Miner wrote, “It appears to me that in order to improve farming methods in the State of New York, it will be necessary to start with the sons and daughters of farmers, during their school years to thoroughly drill them in habits of orderly, thorough and businesslike methods in dealing with the problems of enlightened agriculture….As you know, the minds of young people accept impressions and improved ideas far more readily than could be hoped for in dealing with the thinking apparatus of middle aged farmers, who proudly announce that the methods of their grandfathers are plenty good enough.”

Scientific Cookery, Chazy Central Rural School

Courses in agriculture were aimed at turning boys into modern farmers, while the Household Arts program approached housekeeping from a scientific perspective. The farm home also needed updating. “Far be it from any of us to criticize the bountiful and satisfying country meal of childhood,” wrote George Mott, “but the question still remains unanswered as to who is educating the growing girl to take the place of her mother in these days of canned groceries, tinned meats and tissue wrapped bread.” It was the school’s responsibility to “teach the girls not only sewing and cooking, but the application of modern scientific principles in food values, well balanced meals, the detection of impure foods, the proper organization and administration of a well organized home on an economic basis.”

Although agriculture, domestic science, and other vocational skills were an important part of rural education, the traditional academic subjects were also taught, along with drawing, music, handicrafts, and physical education. Carrying out this new curriculum required highly trained teachers who understood the special needs of rural schools. Reformers identified what they called the “teaching problem” as one of the main obstacles to improving rural schools. Many teachers had only high-school educations themselves and were barely older than their students. Short school terms and irregular attendance made it difficult for teachers to make progress. Teachers in rural schools had a harder job but were paid much less than their urban counterparts. In Chazy, they earned, on average, about $10 per week. School was in session for 36 weeks per year, and only about 65% of the students officially enrolled actually attended school regularly.

Providing faculty housing was one potential
solution to the problem of retaining good teachers.
One of the aims of the rural school reform movement was to make country schools more attractive to teachers and to find potential teachers who would not be deterred by the special challenges of rural life. The advertisement for prospective teachers laid out the situation quite clearly: “As the village of Chazy has only about 300 inhabitants, teachers who are dependent upon the city for means of study, recreation and amusement, will find few inducements. On the contrary, those who enjoy rural life and who wish to have part in a great undertaking where there is opportunity for pioneer work in a worthy field, will find that this school offers them many advantages.”

When it came time to work out how all these changes in teaching, curriculum, and infrastructure were to be brought about, the answer inevitably was centralization and consolidation. Consolidation of small school districts would increase the financial resources available, facilitating the hiring of better-trained teachers, including specialists in the new subjects proposed for the rural curriculum. Modern facilities could be created, and grading and/or platooning instituted. Children would benefit from schools with larger enrollments that would “provide social and cultural contact with companionable associates necessary to the best development of every child.” However, consolidation was a common sticking point when it came to actually carrying out rural school reform. 

Reformers attributed resistance to conservatism, ignorance, or just plain stubbornness, but rural communities articulated valid concerns about proposed reforms. They worried about the costs associated with changes, and did not want to relinquish control over their small, local school districts. They often felt that reformers were condescending and resented the implication that the rural family was failing in its educational role. They were also concerned that the reforms being instituted were meant to benefit urban areas—that the ultimate goal was to make the countryside more productive in order to support the cities. And there was often some truth to that.

Article from the New York Times,
October 16, 1921
What may be most remarkable about Chazy Central Rural School is not the form of the school itself, but the fact that William Miner and George Mott were able to carry out their ambitious plan. A year after the proposal was first brought before the public, the school was open (though not yet complete) and within a few years was attracting attention from all over the United States. Here was a community that had actually accomplished what most people only talked about.

William Miner’s financial support of the school project eliminated one of the major obstacles and potential objections to the plan. As someone with family roots in Chazy, who had himself attended a one-room district school, residents probably felt that he could be trusted to have their best interests at heart, in spite of his wealth and connections to the broader reform movement. And George Mott, whatever his flaws in other areas, was skilled at generating enthusiasm among the members of the community and making them feel that they had been offered a rare opportunity that they would be foolish to reject.

In the 100 years since Chazy Central Rural School welcomed its first students, much has changed in American society. Although agriculture still plays an important role in the economy of Chazy, we no longer assume that most boys will grow up to be farmers, and most girls to be housekeepers, and the curriculum has changed to reflect that. In 1968, a new school building was erected and the original building torn down. But Chazy Central Rural School continues to be, in many ways, the center of public life for the community. Indeed, that may be even more true now than it was in the early 20th century. In those days, the school was closely identified with William Miner, but now we can say it is an institution that truly belongs to the community of Chazy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Origins of Chazy Central Rural School, Part 2

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the opening of Chazy Central Rural School, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at its origins. These blog posts, which will delve into the historical context of the school’s founding, are based on a talk I gave for the Clinton County Historical Association. Part 1 looked at the broad social changes happening at the turn of the century and their effect on education. In Part 2, we’ll see how proponents of the Country Life Movement tried to bring city innovations to country schools, and look at some of the urban schools that inspired William Miner and George Mott.

Interior of a Rural School
Instructional Lantern Slide produced by the NY State
Education Department
New York State Archives
For the most part, early progressive education reformers focused their efforts on urban schools. Cities had more resources and seemed to be in greater need of attention. So, by the turn of the century, the differences between urban and rural schools had become quite striking. The one-room country schoolhouse, where children of all ages were taught by a single, minimally-trained and supervised teacher, seemed all the more backward when compared to urban schools. Rural school reformers thus started from the presumption that the most effective way to help rural schools was to introduce the modifications that had been implemented in city schools.

In their correspondence regarding the Chazy Central Rural School, William Miner and George Mott most frequently cited three urban schools as their inspiration: John Dewey’s Laboratory School at the University of Chicago; the Speyer School of Teachers College, Columbia University, which was a combined elementary school, social settlement, and teacher-training facility; and the school systems of Gary, Indiana under superintendent William Wirt.

Elementary Geography Class,
Laboratory School
George Mott spent two months in Gary taking a course for school superintendents in the winter of 1916. Like many people who were interested in education reform he was captivated by what Wirt had accomplished there, and in fact the original proposal presented to the town in November 1915 stated that the new school would adopt the so-called “Gary Plan.” Although CCRS ultimately decided not to implement the plan, it clearly had a powerful influence on Mott and other would-be reformers. 

Gary was a new city—it had been founded in 1906 by US Steel as a company town. When Superintendent William Wirt arrived in 1907, he had the opportunity to create an innovative school system more or less from scratch. Wirt introduced what he called the Platoon System, also known simply as the “Gary Plan.” Its main goal was to maximize use of school facilities in order to serve a growing number of students in limited space. The platoon system divided students into two groups. For part of the day, Platoon X used classrooms for traditional academic subjects, while Platoon Y did specialized activities—sports, music, art, library, field trips, assemblies, etc. They then switched places for the second part of the day.

Print Shop at Emerson School, Gary, Indiana
From The Gary Schools: A General Account
Wirt envisioned each school as what he called “a self-sustaining child community.” The school should contain all the elements that children would find in the adult world, so that they would be prepared for life in modern society. The Gary schools provided industrial and manual training facilities such as printing, electrical, carpentry, and metalworking shops, so that students could gain work experience and learn real skills. Students also worked on the school grounds, in the office, and in the cafeteria.

The Gary schools are a good example of the way the two strains of Progressive education reform could coexist. On the one hand, the platoon system was designed to maximize efficient use of resources and required coordination and planning from above. On the other hand, the curriculum grew out of a desire to provide an enriching environment in which children could naturally learn by doing.

While city schools frequently served as models for what rural school reformers were trying to accomplish, they also recognized that country children had specific needs and that the country school had a different role to fulfill in the rural community. In addressing the broader problems facing rural residents, proponents of the Country Life movement hoped that education and specifically, the rural school, would become a catalyst for change.

From Country Life and the Country School
The Country Life Movement aimed to counteract the forces that it was believed drove young people away from the country and pulled them to the cities. People left rural areas because of the lack of economic opportunity, but were also drawn toward the cities because of their social attractions. The solution, then, seemed to be finding ways to make country life more attractive so that people would not want to leave. 

In looking at the conditions of country life, reformers identified isolation as the root of many problems. It was unavoidable that people in rural areas would live at some distance from their neighbors, but there were other ways of fostering community and cooperation. Better methods of communication, like improved roads, the telephone, and rural mail delivery, would help. So would organizations like the Grange, Farmers Institutes, village improvement societies, and cooperative associations like creameries.

From Country Life and the Country School
Key to bringing about these changes was education, and so the school was at the center of all discussions about country life. Mabel Carney, one of the most prominent writers about rural schools, pointed out a number of reasons why the school could, and should, be at the forefront of the Country Life Movement. For one, the school was a “democratic community institution, representing the whole community.” Every community had a school, and it was guaranteed at least some financial support. As an agent of the state, it had a certain degree of authority and could compel “attention, support, and attendance.” Finally, properly trained school teachers were prepared to take up leadership roles in the community.

The first step was reforming the school itself. In the 1910 book The American Rural School (which George Mott advised all CCRS teachers to read) author Harold Foght identified six elements that were essential to the 20th century rural school:

1. More thorough school organization and administration
2. Greatly increased school support
3. Professional supervision and instruction
4. Modern school plant
5. Practical course of study
6. Centralization and consolidation of schools

In Part 3, we will see how Chazy Central Rural School implemented these school reforms.


Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Country-Life Movement in the United States (Macmillan, 1911)

Joseph C. Burke, William H. Miner: The Man and the Myth (Langdon Street Press, 2009)

Kenyon L. Butterfield, Chapters in Rural Progress (University of Chicago Press, 1908)

Mabel Carney, Country Life and the Country School: A Study of the Agencies of Rural Progress and of the Social Relationship of the School to the Country Community (Row, Peterson and Company, 1912)

Ronald D. Cohen and Raymond A. Mohl, The Paradox of Progressive Education: The Gary Plan and Urban Schooling (Kennikat Press, 1979)

David B. Danbom, “Rural Education Reform and the Country Life Movement, 1900-1920,” Agricultural History 53, no. 2 (April 1979), 462-474.

H. W. Foght, The American Rural School: Its Characteristics, Its Future and Its Problems (Macmillan, 1910)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Origins of Chazy Central Rural School, Part 1

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the opening of Chazy Central Rural School, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at its origins. These blog posts, which will delve into the historical context of the school’s founding, are based on a talk I gave for the Clinton County Historical Association. Part 1 looks at the broad social changes happening at the turn of the century and their effect on education.

Chazy Central Rural School
From a set of instructional lantern slides produced by
the New York State Education Department, 1919
New York State Archives
When Chazy Central Rural School first opened its doors to pupils in the fall of 1916, it was like nothing that had ever been seen before in the North Country. A five-story Spanish Mission style structure, topped with turrets and a bell tower, it towered over all the other buildings in the village. Inside were classrooms for students from first through twelfth grade, laboratories and workshops, two swimming pools, a thousand-seat auditorium with film projector and organ, doctor’s and dentist’s offices, and a sunlit cafeteria where students ate at marble-topped tables.

Rev. George R. Mott,
first Dean of CCRS
CCRS was formed when the village school and ten other rural school districts in Chazy and Champlain merged under a new state law that allowed for consolidation. The two main figures behind the push for consolidation and the creation of a new school were William H. Miner, inventor, philanthropist, and owner of Heart’s Delight Farm; and George R. Mott, minister of the Chazy Presbyterian Church. While their goal was always to create a school that would serve the particular needs of the children of Chazy, they were also deeply connected to broader currents of thought regarding education. CCRS was very much the product of a particular moment in time and beliefs about the role of public schools in 20th-century America.

Chazy Central Rural School grew out of two early-20th century movements: the Progressive educational reform movement and the Country Life Movement, both of which attempted to solve some of the problems associated with the shift from a primarily rural, agricultural society to an urban-industrial one. In both movements, public schools took center stage as as one of the key sites of social change. Progressive educators and advocates of the Country Life Movement had many ideas about what rural schools should look like and what role they should play in rural communities. In fact, if you read the dozens of books on the subject published between 1900 and 1920, and then planned a school based on what you had read, you would probably end up with something that looked very much like Chazy Central Rural School.

So what were the problems that rural school reformers were trying to solve, and why did CCRS look the way it did when it opened in 1916? Over the course of the 19th century, agriculture and rural life had been transformed by demographic shifts and technological changes. In 1835, more than 2/3 of all Americans lived on farms. If you were a white man, you had a good chance of owning property and working for yourself, rather than for wages. But as the United States became a more industrialized nation, that changed. In 1880, the Census Bureau found for the first time that the majority of the workforce was in non-farming jobs. By 1900, two out of every five Americans lived in cities.

Farm family posing with a threshing machine, late 19th c.
from Passion for the Past
For those Americans who remained in the country, farming was altered by the introduction of new machinery and long-distance transportation. Farming had always represented independence and financial security, but by the 1890s, that was less true than it ever had been. Farmers depended upon seed and equipment suppliers, storage facilities, banks, and railroads, which were increasingly part of impersonal corporate conglomerates. They had little control over what prices their products would command, or where they would be sold.

In both city and country, there was a growing sense that schools were not adequately preparing students for life in a modern, industrial society. In cities, this sense of crisis was compounded by a growing and diversifying student population that included first- and second-generation immigrants along with students who did not plan to attend college. In 1890, less than 5% of American adolescents attended high school, but by 1920 over 30% did. Instead of preparing students for college and professions, the high school now also had to provide a general education to students with varying needs. Traditional academic subjects were supplemented by programs in music, drawing, sports, nature study, and the like. Schools expanded their offerings to include technical, business, and other vocational training.

John Dewey, the best-known proponent
of “education for democracy”
In making these changes to American schools, Progressive educational reformers were guided by two main philosophies, which historians have described as “education for democracy” and “education for efficiency.” Proponents of education for democracy emphasized the need to make schools creative environments. They promoted child-centered activities and programs based on the child’s individual interests. The school itself should be a microcosm of the larger society, where students would learn about all aspects of life and would be given opportunities to use their hands as well as their heads. Nurturing the individual child, it was hoped, would help produce a more just, equitable, and democratic society.

On the other hand, proponents of efficiency in education drew upon the practices of business and industry to make schools run more smoothly. They introduced reforms in administration, supervision, teacher training, and testing, with the goal of turning out students who were prepared to take their places in the modern bureaucratic system. In this case, the personal happiness of the individual child was secondary to the needs of society as a whole. These two perspectives could, and did, exist within the same school system. And although their approaches were different, both ultimately had the goal of producing a harmonious society made up of well-adjusted individuals.

In Part 2, we’ll see how proponents of the Country Life Movement tried to bring city innovations to country schools, and look at some of the urban schools that inspired William Miner and George Mott.


Joseph C. Burke, William H. Miner: The Man and the Myth (Langdon Street Press, 2009)

Ronald D. Cohen and Raymond A. Mohl, The Paradox of Progressive Education: The Gary Plan and Urban Schooling (Kennikat Press, 1979)

David B. Danbom, “Rural Education Reform and the Country Life Movement, 1900-1920,” Agricultural History 53, no. 2 (April 1979), 462-474.