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Page 6 of Mountain Life & Work vol. 15 no. 4 January 1940

Part of Mountain Life and Work

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Page 6 MouNrmN Lire AND WORK Winter, 1940 meet the challenge to democracy by encouraging among farm people the forming of small study groups composed of from ten to fifteen farmers and their wives and the older members of their families, for the purpose of studying the problems of the local community, the state and the nation. It is hoped that these study groups will strengthen the bases for efficient participation in civic affairs and for determination of state, national and international policies. Although beginning only four or five years ago, there was last year a total attendance at meetings of this kind of at least 2,500,000. Most of these club meetings were under the auspices of private agencies. They were led by members of the community instead of by pid specialists who came to give instruction. a I I I b They selected their own topics and sought information from libraries, newspapers, radio speeches, propaganda material, specialists acting as resource persons, conversations, and lectures. In common with other rural folk throughout the United States, study clubs are now being developed by the people of the Southern Mountains assisted by the Adult Education Cooperative Project of the Conference of Southern Mountain Workers. They constitute a renewal of the old New England town meeting ideal of democracy; they are also a refinement, or a redirection to more effective social purposes, of the informal discussions of the "cracker box" type in the old country store. These study clubs represent a definite change in attitude taking place in rural America. From 1900 to 1930, when both people and wealth were moving so rapidly to the great cities, and older farmers were retiring to the villages, the country was looked upon as the least desirable sector of American life. Farm boys and girls, country teachers, ministers, doctors, lawyers, even parents, accepted the belief that success could be achieved only by getting away from the country and into the great city. The experiences of the past few years have changed the picture. Now we find the paths to the city closed. Many city folks are seeking for a few acres, where, in future crises, they can tide over by raising a few vegetables, keeping a cow and chickens. The country is seen in a new light; it is regarded as having in it possibilities of a real life equal to, if not better than, that which may he found in the great cities. Instead of trying to solve problems by getting away from them, as farmer folk once did, they are now turning their thought toward discovering how to make their present situations better. Hence the increased interest, not only in national affairs, but in the problems of the local community. The study club makes organized study of local problems possible. The group study plan differs in many ways fro"n traditional educational processes. It starts with the interests of the individual instead of with some knowledge a teacher may think the indi v'dual should have. it not a teach' I ing process in the usual sense of that term, but a drawing out and sharing process, such as characterizes ordinary conversation. There is no propaganda, good or bad, such as characterizes the teacher-pupil situation. Groups are small and 100 percent participation is sought. Some of the results that mark this process, as distinguished from the ordinary teacher-class program, are clarification of thought, tolerance, self-confidence, ease of participation, readiness to assume responsibility, aroused interest in subjects discussed, greater desire for knowledge of the facts as to public problems, and judicial attitudes toward the mass of propaganda with which the American public is bombarded by all sorts of selfish interests today. The leadership is different from the lectureaudience or teacher-class relationship. The group being informal, the leader is not supposed to know much more about the subject than the others. indeed, knowing too much is a disadvantage, as it might cause the session to degenerate into a question-answer program between members and leader. The leader is supposed to know enough to throw in a question occasionally; to keep loquacious ones from talking too much; to encourage the timid; to keep down personalities that might cause hard feelings; to assign persons to get facts for later reports; to sumcnari-r_e the discussion from time to time; to review previous discussions or have some one else do it; and to rouse interest in coming discussion sessions by presenting the question next to be taken up. He is a guide, a moderator, and director rather than a participator and teacher. It is highly important to remember that group participation rather than teacher-pupil participation is the essence of the discussion group. Members talk informally. In contrast to the meeting controlled by parliamentary law, the leader is seldom addressed. Members talk to one another directly. The leader merely keeps them

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