SOCIAL CENTER IDEA IN THE SOUTH

Ward, Edward J.

Social Center Idea in the South First Conference is Held in T xas By EDWARD J. WARD THE All-South-West-era. Conference for Social Centers, held at Dallas, Texas, February 17, was a memorable...

...The isolation and the recreational poverty of the unsocialized rural community were presented, and by contrast came such statements as that of Colonel R. E. Smith, president of the Texas Good Roads Association, who said: "I will be candid with you that I paid little attention to the Social Center idea when I first heard of it, but I want to say to you that my ideas of farming have almost been revolutionized...
...The evening session was devoted to the problems of the city centers and was opened by the well-loved Bishop Alexander C. Garrett...
...When, as at the recent meeting of Librarians in Milwaukee, the means of the widest and best distribution of good literature is the theme of study and discussion, the old American idea of making the public school building a branch public library is sure to be considered...
...When physicians gather, as at the recent meeting in Baltimore, or dentists, as at the recent meeting at Rochester, the obvious opportunity of making their service to the various communities more effective, through the use of public school buildings as local health and dental centers will be set forth...
...It has been found that not only public officials, but leaders in every line of public development welcome the invitation to speak before such non-partisan gatherings of citizens...
...The conference was called by Colonel Frank P. Holland, one of the most influential and valuable citizens in the Southwest, who for the past forty years has been among the foremost leaders of progress in that section...
...where, by means of broad social intercourse the neighborly spirit of sympathetic acquaintance may be developed...
...There is a phase of this subject which has special importance for rural communities...
...The common feeling of the school men and women who spoke was expressed in these typical Southern terms: "If the rural school ever does come out o' kink, it will be by means of Social Center development...
...It brought together men and women from five states and from more than sixty different towns and rural communities...
...He is an intense believer in America whose highest ambition is to help give democracy a chance...
...Conference for Social Centers, held at Dallas, Texas, February 17, was a memorable meeting...
...I ask that everyone having the good of the Southwest at heart come for a conference to formulate practical ways of widening the use of the public school plant and making it the people's Social Center...
...For instance when a body of men like the National Municipal League, devoted to studying the causes of failure in American stlf-govern-ment and the means of making citizenship more intelligent and effective gathers, it is safe to say that the need and feasibility of using the public school house as a public forum, a democracy expression place, will be given a prominent place upon the program as it has in the last two conventions of the National League...
...This is not to say that the subject of the wider use of public school buildings and grounds to increase their service to the community has not before been considered in conventions...
...A perusal of the programs of the recent conventions of almost any body of the bodies which are engaged upon the various particular lines of social and public improvement will show the contrary to be the case...
...Perhaps the fact that I have taken more interest in my rentersóbecome acquainted with them on the common ground of a Social Centeró makes them like me better, makes me like them better and consequently makes us both do better...
...Along with the civic education which will result from the common association of citizens' gathering in neighborhood civic clubs in their public school buildings, there is sure to be a social benefit in broadening the acquaintance of different political, religious and social groups upon the common ground of citizenship...
...It was the first time that men and women have come together from different communities over a wide section of country, to study, discuss and compare experiences in the development of public, common-to-all gathering places for each community, whele, in the free discussion of public questions the old "Town Meeting" custom may be revived...
...Not long ago a good renter was hard to find...
...where, in reading and listening to lectures, education may be made continuous through life...
...There is a hitherto largely undeveloped resource for the growth of intelligent public interest in the opportunity which the school houses and other public buildings offer for the gathering of citizens to consider and discuss together questions of common welfare...
...The Dallas meeting was the first to go directly to the problem of getting school houses and other public buildings open for all sorts of wholesome civic, social and recreational as well as educational activities...
...The experiences of New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Rochester, Columbus and other cities in this work were presented and at the conclusion of the meeting resolutions were drafted urging the state legislatures to make provision for the free and gratuitous use of schoolhouses and all public buildings as meeting places for citizens, and a permanent organization was effected for the promotion and development of the Social Center idea in the cities and country districts of the Southwest...
...While there were many important addresses given, none was more comprehensive and effective than the statement concerning the Social Center movement in Wisconsin received and read at Dallas from Senator Robert M. La Follette...
...In it were gathered representatives of Farmer's Congresses, Business Men's Associations, Labor Unions, Women's Clubs, City and County Superintendents of Education, Principals and teachers, ministers of the gospel, editors and publishers of the leading journals in the Southwest and members of the faculties of five state universities and agricultural colleges...
...People meeting together causes them to understand each other...
...Paul, is used for citizens' gatherings in the interest of public discussion, and which in many smaller places, notably Lawrence and other Kansas towns, is used to house "Women's Rest Rooms" and for other social and recreational purposes...
...Representatives of the Extension Divisions of the State Universities told of the ways in which through Social Center development, the people might better take advantage of the resources in their universities...
...It seems entirely different now...
...It will also result in lessening prejudice and misunderstanding and in Americanizing, not only the foreigner who comes into our midst, but also in developing a better American spirit among us all...
...The special methods of work with boys and girls were discussed and the needs of the regular school which can best be met only by emphasising the importance of that institution through the increased use of the building...
...and the words of Lincoln Stef-fens, "the greatest reporter of big things in America," when he speaks of this development of a common-to-all democratic social gathering place as marking "a new era," and when one considers the interest expressed in this development by such men as Mr...
...The educational system is, in many respects, the most important of all the institutions of democracy, and the wider use of the school plants will result in a larger interest on the part of all the people in the equipment and methods used for the education of the children...
...and where, in physical activities, in entertainment, musical, literary and dramatic expression the recreational instinct of the community may find wholesome outlet...
...In this, the University of Wisconsin is a pioneer, but it is already evident that other state universities see the benefits promised by this development and are moving to follow the example of Wisconsin...
...And the meetings were held in the well-equipped auditorium of the fine new Dallas high-school...
...When one considers the...
...Should this movement become general, it would unquestionably result in the establishment of a foundation of intelligent democracy which would make civic progress not only rapid, but conservative and sure...
...The use of the rural school plant as a social center for the life of the people promises not only an increased understanding of the special problems of the rural communities, but where recreation features are added to the discussions and social gatherings, it promises an increase of the attractiveness of rural neighborhoods which will tend to prevent the increased flow from the country to the city...
...But each of these bodies takes up some one phase of the subject of Social Center Development, as the convenient, economical means of promoting its particular line of community service...
...And when men and women gather to consider the prime educational service of the public schools, they are likely to take large account of the advantage of Social Center development, as a means of increasing the equipment, support and interest in the regular school work, as was the case at the recent meeting of the Department of Superintendents of the National Educational Association at Mobile...
...In some parts of Wisconsin, notably Milwaukee, where the school board offers the free and gratuitous use of the school buildings for the meeting of neighborhood organizations, the formation of nonpartisan civic clubs whose aim is the development of intelligent public spirit through the open presentation and free discussion of public questions, a movement which promises benefits not unlike those of the pure democracy of the old New England town meetings, is strongly under way...
...It is because the University of Wisconsin in its Extension Division recognizes the opportunity for carrying to the people of the state its stores of garnered knowledge, its inspiration of trained leadership, its enthusiasm for education which the use of public school buildings as civic and social centers offers, that it has added a department of civic and social center development in order to furnish expert counsel and aid to the people in any community...
...The afternoon session of the conference was devoted to the problem of developing the rural school social center...
...But important as the civic, social and recreational possibilities are, none of them is more important than the educational benefit which will come through the wider use of school buildings during the time when they have hitherto been unused...
...The Theme was so large that there might have been danger of footless, scattering divergencies, were it not for the work of Charles W. Holman who had charge of the program and who so arranged the whole conference that, while there was no repetition, nor overlapping, every one of the twenty-eight speakers presented a vital and related phase of the subject...
...This works strongly to counteract the tendencies away from democracy which seem at times to threaten us...
...Yet practically, because the public school house is the one common building which is present in every community, Social Center development means the wider use of the public school plant during the time when, in unsocial-ized communities, that building is given over to the mice...
...This man, Holman, is a remarkable combination of the commanding and cavalier Southern gentleman, the fearless and tough Westerner and the ingenious, successful and humorous Yankee...
...When men and women, interested in fine art exhibition come togther, the splendid example of Richmond, Indiana, which has made fine art galleries of its public schools and so won for itself the title, "the Art Center of America" is pretty sure to be more than referred to...
...The conference itself well illustrated the Social Center idea...
...In his work he has been backed not only by the two publications which Colonel Holland owns but also by Colonel Holland's distribution of libraries to be installed in the school houses in the various communities...
...Statement of Senator La Follette read at First All-Southwestern Social Center Conference CHOSEN INDIVIDUALS may strive faithfully in meeting and solving the complex problems which arise from the industrial and economic conditions of our time, but lasting results will be achieved through the growth and development of civic interest on the part of the citizens in general throughout the state...
...Of course the Social Center idea is not limited to the wider use of the public school building but includes the wider use of any public building, the city hall for instance, which in a number of cities, Milwaukee, Rochester, St...
...When a national organization devoted to supplanting the vicious dissipations which sap community life, by promoting the provision of wholesome means of recreation, such as the Playground Association of America, gath-ers in Convention, it may be expected that the advantage of using the public school building as an indoor recreation center will be presented, as it has been at the last two conventions of that Association...
...He addressed the call to all persons who were engaged upon any phase of the problem of public improvement, and he showed in the wording of the call that he has grasped the tremendous significance of the social center movement in all its bearings: "There is need for the people of all classes and organizations to become better acquainted...
...words of an observer, from over the border, the editor of one of the influential Canadian dailies, who not long ago, after an investigation of the Social Center idea, said of it: "The Social Center idea is one whose realization tends to make life more enjoyable for all members of the community and it is moreover on the realization of this idea that the hope of an American Democracy depends...
...We must fight prejudice and the effects of isolation...
...It is wasteful public business to keep school buildings shut up at night...
...the young people are fired with ambition and if this goes on, better corn will be raised over Texas than there ever was before...
...It will also mean an opportunity for continuation of education for boys and girls beyond school age, and for adults...
...Justice Hughes, and by students of sociology and "soldiers of the common good" of every rank, it is safe to prophesy that the future Dallas Citizen will make it one of his boasts regarding his live, wide-awake progressive town that the First Social Center Conference gathered anywhere in America, or the world, was held there...
...For the past year he has been serving as a social engineer, with pen and voice promoting in the rural as well as the urban communities of the Southwest Social Center development...
...Other motives are responsible for this migration, but the motive of wider recreational opportunity is not inconsiderable...

Vol. 3 • March 1911 • No. 11


 
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