Answering the Call
Quickly winning the support of the district inspectors, I was authorized to discuss my plans and my needs with men in the field. After some study of the problem it was decided to open three winter courses within the district of Drama; one at Doxato, not far from the ruins of Philippi; another in the village of Adriani, to the east of Drama; and a third in the village of Prosotsani, about ten miles west of the city. The instructor for Doxato would be the agriculturalist from the colonization office of that town; for Adriani a young man front the main office of Drama was engaged; and to conduct the work in Prosotsani an agriculturalist of that town was secured.
To each of these men I outlined in detail, as well as I could my whole conception of the job. Ex-orphans whose interest in this opportunity for self improvement had been enlisted would form the nucleus of the classes. As to what should be taught I could not be very specific. My background of information was altogether too superficial. I could only emphasize that the course should be related definitely to the farming of the area and that it should deal only with one enterprise or one phase of an enterprise.
A few of these ideas were reemphasized in the simple contract which was drawn. It was agreed that each man should receive compensation at the rate of drs. 800 (about $11 that time) for the course of twelve lessons. In every case the approval of the mayor was secured, the plan was explained to the priest, and the village school master was interviewed to get permission for the use of one of the classrooms. With these and other details out of the way the three men were given my blessing and told to proceed.
In the Serres section three more courses were attempted under a slightly different arrangement. During a call on the Minister of Public Assistance in Athens permission had been secured to use on a part-time basis such instructors in the orphanage agricultural schools as might be available for our purposes. On my previous trip to Macedonia a visit had been paid to the orphanage school near Serres. This time I returned and discussed the question of engaging some of the teachers for part-time courses which might be organized in near by villages. In the end the Director of the institution with two of his assistants agreed to undertake the work for the extra pay which they would gain. The three near by villages of Vezniko, Katanouska, and Dovista were selected as the centers in which to work. It was arranged that the lessons in all three of these villages would be conducted on the same evenings or on the same holidays and thus one car could be engaged to provide transportation for all three men. We agreed, of course, to cover the cost of transportation in addition to payment for the lessons.
Each teacher engaged was provided with simple forms which had been prepared for reporting enrollment, indicating certain facts relative to the type of person who attended the classes; blanks for reporting the attendance, a lesson report for the teacher to fill out and mail to me in Athens immediately after each session, and finally a simple but fairly comprehensive questionnaire for reporting certain fundamental facts regarding conditions in the villages. The lesson report was designed not so much to cover the instruction provided, which would undoubtedly be exceedingly meager, but to throw some light on the approach of the teacher, his topics, the reaction of the Pupils, and suggestions for the future.
I thought I was well on the way to success. I had spent two weeks of constant travel in Macedonia, and while the roads were terrible and the food bad, they could be endured. I returned to Athens to continue my conferences with the Ministries, prepare certain additional forms which were needed, and to catch my breath for another trip in a few weeks when the work should be under way.
I had hardly arrived back in Athens when disquieting news began to come in. The three teachers of the orphanage school who apparently had seldom been outside of the four walls of their building, except in good weather, wrote that they had found the travel over the rough, muddy roads most fatiguing and that they could not consider continuing the work unless they were more properly remunerated. Their idea of remuneration was that each man should receive a wage of two thousand drachmas for the course instead of the eight hundred which I was offering. This compensation, it should be understood, was almost equivalent to the full-time salary of a government employee. Apparently they felt that an American organization could afford anything. A compromise was finally agreed upon in correspondence by a slight increase in the salary and by calling the attention of these men to the "disappointment" which would undoubtedly be felt by certain of their superiors in Athens. At this stage of the game we could not afford to let anything interfere with our modest objectives.
In December I returned again to Macedonia to inspect my "schools." What I found was a little surprising — to me, at least, and at that particular time. One of my six units seemed actually to be under way! The instruction in Adriani had started. In Doxato the course was "going to be opened soon." There had been some difficulty regarding the use of the school, so I visited the local teacher and settled the matter myself. In Prosotsani the instructor had not been able to arrange for as light. I saw the mayor and borrowed a lamp.
In Serres I stopped off to discuss the difficulties of traveling, the unsuitability of class rooms, and the problem of holding the interest of pupils. I found instead that I was forced to listen to the "professors" of this elementary orphanage school explain that it was something of a condescension for them to deal with peasant farmers and that there was some danger of their losing "standing" by so doing. One can easily imagine the reaction of the average American to such philosophy. It had just this effect upon me. One of the more serious sufferers from this affliction was singled out and was given a lecture such as he might have applied to one of his obstreperous pupils. To my surprise and slight disappointment, the air was cleared, there were some apologies all around, and we proceeded to a discussion of vital issues. The next day, however, when conferring with these men again the same point of view was exhibited, and so without further discussion my would-be professors were dropped.
In the midst of my difficulties I met D. Zographos, Director of the Serres Agricultural Station. Mr. Zographos was of middle age, well educated, thoroughly experienced, and occupied a position of considerable importance. He had had some teaching experience and enjoyed working with boys. I conferred with him to get his moral support and any recommendations which he might care to make. To my surprise he not only made several good suggestions, but offered to conduct one of the courses himself as a demonstration that the job could be done.
I could not quite believe that Mr. Zographos meant what he said. The rainy season had begun and I thought perhaps he did not realize what was involved in traveling to one of those outlying villages, so I suggested that we visit one of these places together. He readily agreed. After proceeding through ram and mud and over rocks, almost tearing the car into bits, we reached the village. Mr. Zographos appeared to take these little difficulties as a matter of course. We saw the mayor, had a meeting with some of the boys, and made arrangements for starting an evening course at once.
With the aid of Zographos I met the Director of Colonization in Serres and found that while he had no sub-offices in the field one or two men could be permitted to go to certain villages in connection with affairs of the main office and stay on for meetings such as I had proposed. Mr. Zographos agreed to demonstrate in his village that such lessons could be conducted and to act as my representative in supervising the activities of two other men in that locality. By the end of this tour ten courses were organized, or, I should say, "arranged for."
It would be difficult to describe the effort that was required to put over those few units of work that first winter. The "one out of six" that I found functioning on this second trip of inspection was just about the proportion which held for each succeeding visit. The simplest things could seem to hold up the whole procedure. It appeared that someone had to arrange for such ordinary items as fuel, light, and transportation. Many of these men had no idea concerning the importance of being systematic and always on time. Very few of them had any conception of that psychology of the man who "does his darnedest" to put a job over just for the fun of putting it over. It seemed that I needed to be in every place at once and almost run each one of the classes myself. Sometimes an instructor, together with his barely inaugurated course of study, had to be dropped and the program transferred to another village where a more energetic individual may have been discovered. We must not, however, judge these vicarious instructors too harshly. They knew little of teaching methods, they had had no training in vocational education, and basic survey material on which to construct a sound program of instruction at that time was unavailable.
The travel involved in organizing this experimental program was terrific. Even in ordinary weather many of the roads were almost impassable for cars from an American point of view. In the rainy season they were beyond description. Train travel would have been considerably easier and cheaper but with the urgent necessity of getting something done in short time I could not wait the necessary twenty-four hours for the next train after a job at one place had been done. Consequently I would hire an automobile. We always managed to get to our destination, but very often we left behind a trail of blown tires, broken springs, and not infrequently had completely to abandon one car and take to another.
There was one unusual aspect of the transportation problem of that time which needs to be appreciated in order fully to comprehend the situation. Anyone who has traveled in the East knows that a good native driver with an ordinary American car can accomplish wonders over roads which at home, would be considered quite impassable. But, at that time, most of the drivers were not particularly expert. American automobile salesmen, who had made a harvest out of a peculiar situation, were responsible for this state of affairs. All of the refugees who had left property behind in Asia Minor were entitled to an indemnity under the Treaty of Lausanne. The first installments on these indemnities had already been paid. With a little cash in hand combined with the ambition which every human being seems to have to drive a car, and a super-salesman located in every sizeable town, thousands of these people provided ready victims for eager automobile dealers. Peculiar partnerships were arranged. Sometimes one man would contribute the funds while another would provide the "brains" for the business; namely, the ability (or so he thought) to drive a car. Unfortunately I was forced to ride on several occasions in automobiles that were owned by such a combination. The driving that resulted and the effect on the car, not to mention the passenger, can be imagined. When the machine was completely in ruins the second partner of this corporation had only to walk out and find a similar but more lucrative arrangement.
A trip to the village of Moustheni will always stand out as a landmark. The road followed the ancient highway which ran between Kavalla (ancient Neapolis) and Amphipolis, thence to Salonica. In recent times the road seems to have been utterly neglected. A new highway was started and then abandoned. For some reason which I cannot understand a long section of this road presented a regular, unbroken series of "thank-you-moms" which everyone brought up in the days of sleigh rides will remember. The only way the driver could navigate this "highway" was to drop slowly into each depression, then put on enough power in low gear, but still with some speed, to slide over the ridge, the underside of the car scraping and sometimes balancing on the peak. Very soon the flywheel housing was jammed in to such an extent that we had to pry it back with a crowbar. Even then the revolving wheel rubbed on the metal housing and we went through the country screeching like a fire engine.
One item which will always remain as a serious discredit to the Venizelos regime is the failure of that party while in power to provide suitable roads for the country. Ample loans for the rehabilitation of Greece had been secured and funds were abundant. As a result of this many amazing improvements were achieved. But when it comes to highways the record is most unfortunate. Unscrupulous politicians frequently secured the use of these funds, inefficient engineers were engaged, and grandiose schemes were promoted never to be carried out; not infrequently deep cuts were put through, fill-ins made, grades leveled, and then all of this left unfinished to erode away in the rains. A later regime did much to remedy this situation and eventually the roads were greatly improved.
But to return to our story. It soon developed that much more than four weeks were required for the twelve lessons. In reality they took anywhere from six weeks to three months. But they had to be done. Otherwise how could we have any idea concerning the problems of these villages, or the type of program that might eventually be formulated out of this experience? In the end we succeeded. Not only did we achieve the twelve units that were set up as our original objective, but we completed fifteen winter courses in fourteen different villages. In one center, Adriani, the farmers requested a second series after the first group of lessons were over. Three of these fifteen units of work represented a variation in our experiment which has not been mentioned up to this point. This slightly different approach should not be overlooked in this brief review as it had a rather important bearing in the program that later developed.
In December while visiting the American Farm School in Salonica I met a young man who was looking for work. He owned a threshing outfit which he could use in the summer, but he needed something from which to earn a livelihood in the meantime. This young man, Demosthenes Economou, was a big, robust, athletic individual who looked as if he could accomplish almost anything that he set his hand to. His education was rather limited as the American Farm School of which he was a graduate aimed to train village boys for farming instead of providing a more advanced, but less important, type of instruction for teaching purposes. He had a good knowledge of practical farming both from home experience and school training.
Various possibilities of using this young chap ran through my mind as I traveled about over Macedonia and returned to Athens. By the time I came back to the province in January a scheme had presented itself, the plan was discussed with Demosthenes, and he was finally engaged on a temporary basis of three or four months.
In order for me to experience a type of farm life in an area quite different from those previously encountered, Economou was placed in central Macedonia up near the Bulgarian frontier on the mountain sides of Porroia. Three villages were selected for the assignment; Platanakia, Kastanouska, and Kato Sourmena. Economou was required to occupy himself full time in these three villages talking with the farmers, holding meetings with young men, perhaps visiting the schools, and finally giving help and assistance wherever he could. A different type of report blank which would bring out the experience of this new approach was prepared for his use. Demosthenes was then launched on his work.
By the end of three months Demosthenes Economou had achieved some rather interesting results, even with his lack of training and experience and without adequate supervision. At least he had been able to keep fairly busy. In Kastanouska he had conducted thirteen lessons for young men and adults with a total attendance of three hundred and one and an average attendance of twenty-three. In Platanakia he had conducted twenty-four lessons with an average attendance of twenty-six. In Kato Sourmena he had held twenty-nine meetings with an average attendance of seventeen. Two other villages had frequently pressed him into service as he passed by and in these he had conducted thirteen meetings. Many requests for assistance had come to him to help in this thing or that. He had made altogether one hundred and fifty-two home visits.
The other twelve units when finally carried, by sheer physical force, to completion presented some interesting facts. Only one man had failed (by three meetings) to achieve the full twelve lessons and this was due to the sudden burst of an early spring with its rush of farm work. The average enrollment for all the courses was 28.7 with an attendance averaging 37.4. This meant that there were at least ten visitors, mostly adults, always in attendance at these meetings. Actually this average represented a relatively high attendance in two or three of these places where the leaders were particularly good instructors. Non-orphans, chiefly adults, made up fifty-six per cent of the enrollment, with the percentage changing from a small proportion in the beginning to a much greater ratio as time went on. The village youth and especially the ex-orphans were not being held to any extent. Apparently the instructor who knew the farming of his region and had something practical to offer was attracting the practicing farmer. The total average attendance for all fifteen units was five hundred and fourteen, equivalent to a sizeable school.
At times I had the opportunity of visiting enthusiastic and profitable meetings which made all of the difficulties fade into unimportance. One evening I attended a lesson in the village of Adriani. Even with no knowledge of the language I could readily see that the "pupils" were keenly interested in the topic. Through my interpreter I learned that the discussion was centering on the question of preparing soil for the tobacco seed beds. The leader was a young man who was himself from a peasant home, brought up on a farm in northern Greece, and a graduate of a secondary agricultural school. Present at the meeting I attended were about fifty young men and adult farmers. At the very next session the attendance jumped to one hundred and twenty.
This young chap had no fewer difficulties than the others. There was trouble in finding a suitable room; he had a hard time selecting a convenient hour; the problem of lighting the place had to be solved. His own transportation to and from this village was not easy to arrange. But these difficulties were all surmounted with his enthusiasm and his energy as his only resource. It was evident that with the right man and the proper organization the job could be done. And the need for some such assistance as this was more apparent than ever.
Although I was far short of visualizing any year-round, co-ordinated, unified program in rural education, I had gained considerable experience and I had a pretty thorough knowledge of village conditions. Between trips to Macedonia I had visited Epirus and the Pelopponnesus. I had seen experiment stations and investigated elementary, secondary and higher institutions of agricultural training. In spite of the very considerable item spent for travel in addition to the part-time salaries of my temporary workers, there was still a good balance (nearly $4,000) left over from our original grant. Even though the ex-orphans and the peasants may not have learned much, I, at least, had benefited tremendously.
Answering this call to Macedonia had been a profitable thing, educationally speaking, for me.
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