MAJORING IN PEAS
A Group of Brooklyn College Students Begins an Experiment in Education
By Beatrice Meyers
New York Times
July 18, 1943
Majoring in green peas and string beans, with supplementary courses in such academic subjects as English composition and political science, 150 Brooklyn College students are experimenting with a new kind of education in a small up-State village this summer. Quartered on the campus of the Morrisville Agricultural and Technical Institute, the college corps, the first of its kind, spends its days harvesting crops on Madison County farms. In the evenings the boys and girls —80 percent of the number are girls— go to class.
Familiar to them until a week or two ago only as part of the blue plate special or the vegetable dinner, peas and beans now compose the chief topic to student conversation. The undergraduate newspaper is called The Bean Stalker. Themes song for the group is a little ditty beginning “ I think that I shall never see a plant repulsive as a pea,” while still another song declares that “If I die in Morrisville, I’ll leave you green peas in my will.”
One Hands Already
Griping, as in the Army, is prevalent, but not even the worst gripers complain seriously. The students are enthusiastic about their work and about their new way of life. In unmistakable city accents they call across the fields, comparing notes on quantities picked. They remind one another hat t takes 3,000 pods to fill a bushel basket. And they look ahead to the next section of field, where the yield is expected to be heavier.
Already they feel like old hands harvesting, although they admit that the first week it seemed that they were going to have to pay for the privilege of picking peas. At the rate of 50 cents a bushel, they are now making enough to cover room and board, and in another week or two most of them hope to be showing a profit. The girls exhibit “our new hands of all nail polish—the good earth.” They brag that most of the muscular aches and pains they were warned about have failed to materialize.
Divided into ten teams, the students compete on a group and individual basis for awards made at the end of each week for greatest number of bushels picked.
Communal living and constant association with their classmates are new to most of the students. Girls who in Brooklyn merely scurried past each other in the college corridors now share rooms. “Bull sessions” in the dormitories and lounging on the lawns of the institute’s campus in the long twilights have quickly cemented friendships. For the first time, too, they have a chance to meet their instructors away from the academic desks. At least two members of the faculty go out to the fields with the students every day.
Brooks and Heylar Halls are the girls’ dormitories. Heylar is a former county jail, converted by the institute after the county seat was moved away from Morrisville. Heylar girls are fascinated by the history of their dormitory. The Bean Stalker, in its first issue, published the following verse, published the following verse, proudly entitled ”Pome”:
“I wish I were in Heylar,”
The cheerful Brooks girl said;
“I sure wish I could sellya
My double decker bed
No screens are on my windows,
No pillo neath my head,
I wish that they had put me in
The county jail instead.”
Classes are held four nights a week, beginning at 7:30. No cutting has been reported. Faces, sunburned and peeling, are alert. Discussion is brisk. Pencils and pens hover over notebook, ready to jot down each word of wisdom. The general feeling, expressed by one co-ed, is that “it’s wonderful to be able to look out of a classroom window and see tree-covered hills and green meadows.”
Work is done in three divisions. There are correlation courses in farm biology, geology an rural sociology, war service coursed in military topography and navigation and required courses, chiefly for freshman and sophomores, in English composition, political science, sociology and mathematics. All courses carry regular credits towards graduation and follow college regulations regarding registration, attendance and quality of work. Next fall, when the term begins there will be lighter programs and more time for voluntary work for the girls.
Friday evening assembly is taking on the appearance of a town meeting. Townsfolk and farmers join in the discussion. Generalizations, such as “the agricultural situation” and the “farm bloc,” are becoming vivid realities as the farmers explain their problems.
Students sit in on Morrisville’s town meeting, too. Community churches have been thrown open to the Brooklyn youngsters, as have the square dances held in the Morrisville Grange Hall. City girls, better versed in rhumba or conga, discover themselves pulled into the sets, allemanding left and right, and being swung, with a vengeance, by their partners. “They’re awfully kind,” the girls chorus. “They explain all the steps and don’t laugh when we make mistakes. Kids in the city wouldn’t be son nice.”
As energetic as they are enthusiastic, the students have no time to be tired. Returning to the institute after a day’s picking, loaded in huge red trucks, they sing as spontaneously as they did when they left for the fields at 7:30 in the morning. Many of them hike a mile to Electric Pond for a quick dip before dinner. When they have a free moment, they find an instructor and take a stroll, stopping in at farms along the wy to visit the farmers and their families.