Primary Document Eight
1943 Farm Labor Project Leaves Room for Improvement
Sour Not Produced by Non-cooperation; Result:
Distrust, Disrespect, Disharmony
By Louise Schneider and Marion Isaacon
Brooklyn College Vanguard
April 24, 1944
(On Wednesday at 2:30 p.m., a group of students who had attended last year's farm project at Morrisville, New York, met in the Vanguard office to discuss the successes and failures of that project. Out of that meeting has come the story printed on this page.
We are publishing this story, a critical analysis of various aspects of the program, to help build up what we regard as a potentially magnificent venture, and a permanent one too, we hope. It is through the realization of this potential greatness, through the understanding that this can be achieved only through trial an error, and to prevent the repetition of these errors in the present planning for the 1944 project that we are bluntly stating the conditions of the past.
No student, realizing this, can be discouraged; he can only insist that the errors of the past be erased so completely that the potential may become the actual)
Recruiting has begun for the Morrisville Farm Labor Project of 1944. Despite all glowing reports and photographs, the project as, from several angles, not as successful as had been anticipated. The inherent reason for this, we contend, was a basic attitude of the faculty under the direction of Professor Ralph Benedict, of the Biology Department. This attitude was one of suspicion and distrust towards the students, born of a feeling that most Brooklyn College Students are traditional agitators. At Morrisville, before the students had even thought of voicing any possible grievances, the faculty began to suspect them of fomenting trouble. There was little or no appreciation of the very earnest efforts put forth by the group. Little was made of our patriotic intentions; much was made of the 50 cents per bushel. The students had joined the project without hopes of great, if any, material gains. War-time conditions made jobs in the city both plentiful and lucrative. Nevertheless, these 150 young men and women were willing to forego the money they could have earned in order to help their country avert a food crisis. Obviously their intentions were far from unpatriotic. When some pickers, after twelve continuous days of hard work, felt that they needed a day of rest because of extreme fatigue, they were made to feel like shirkers. Although this was later remedied, the administration's attitude was; commonly, to meet justified complaints with unwarranted flagwaving and unnecessary exhortations to duty.
Suspicion and Quizzing
Normal social activities were regarded suspiciously. Occasional dances were held with naval Cadets stationed nearby. After each Saturday evening's recreation, investigations were conducted by the faculty in which girls were questioned in great details as to where they had been and what they had done. These questions distinctly implied a lack of moral integrity on the part of the girl, (to quote one student, "the investigation was insulting and degrading.")
Following in the same suspicious atmosphere were numerous violations of student privacy. Postcards were read, telephone calls listened. The whole situation served to create a feeling of mutual distrust.
When the Director was approached on the train going to Morrisville as to the possibilities of a representative student planning committee, he confused the issue by attempting to appoint his own student director for various student activities (e.g. Music Committee, Newspaper). After settling down at Morrisville, the group again asked an opportunity to elect a representative body, and was told that there was no time for elections. (Time could easily have been taken from one of the early compulsory Friday night assemblies.)
When a Student Council was finally elected after approximately five weeks of effort the faculty neglected to cooperate with it and ignored most of its request.
The question of bringing milk to the fields for student lunches serves to illustrate this point. For many weeks the students had been working hard under the hot sun. Lunch period was always anticipated as a time for refreshment and relaxation. The unusual noon day meal consisted of sandwiches, some fruit, and water. It was felt that bringing out half-pint bottles of milk, which could be covered and kept cool would be a healthy improvement. The milk could be purchased from the school cafeteria and brought to the fields on the trucks in the morning.
When an unorganized group of students proposed the pan to the administration, it was met with a presupposition of failure. It was the students themselves who accomplished the desired end through their later elected Student Council, and thus proved that things could be remedied if the issues were met squarely and not circumvented. If major problems had been settled with both faculty and students cooperating, the summer would have been a much more harmonious one.
If the 1944 Administration will have confidence in the pickers' judgment regarding working conditions, more satisfactory results will be obtained.
Soon however, a new problem arose. Although a specified bushel weight was required (varying from 30-36 pounds) excess beans were not returned to the pickers. After bucking he Administration , the group reached a working solution. Again we were confident that our troubles were over-but not for long.
When surprised by rain we were forced to leave the fields and seek protection in whatever shelter, if any was available. Although we realized that it was unavoidable that the tentative shelters should have been drafty, leaky barns, we did object to waiting around in our soaking clothes for as long as three hours while waiting for Mr. Hinman to arrive. First excuses then promises were reiterated for more dependable transportation. The trucks were of ten late in to us. At times, however, they were late for valid reasons and at others their lateness was unexplained. Again the pickers fervently wished to believe the promises of better transportation but were repeatedly disappointed.
Why We Stuck
As each new compromise was formed, the students emerged optimistic and reassured of the ultimate success. Matters became worst and worst. However, poor picking bogged us down physically a well as psychologically. Group morale rises and falls in proportion to production.
On Monday, August 2,3rd, after repeated efforts to achieve efficiency and high production, the group struck-walked off the field. The last straw was the half-day order issued by Mr. Hinman in the face of urgent need for pickers throughout the region and promises of full use of our potentialities.
The strike was not an irrational outburst promoted by selfish motivations. We knew that there was a waste of labor, money and machinery because we were put to work on Mr. Hinmans's third and fourth pickings (poor crops), while other farmer's first pickings were left to rot on the fields. The United States Employment Service was petitioned for aid in resolving the situation. This resulted in further confusion and contradictions. On the one hand, blazing yellow and black posters, and on the other ands, we were kept idle and giver poor fields "for busy work."
Our student tried sincerely but ineffectually to settle the situation. In the end we went right on picking for Mr. Hinman during the remaining few weeks, disgruntled and disillusioned.
Although living conditions were good, the undercurrent of faculty antagonism was present here also. The absence of a registered nurse and adequate medical provision forced the students to rely on the faculty member who were occasionally called upon to carry a meal tray to a sick girl. They often neglected this duty.
This coming summer, success will be furthered by the employment of a registered nurse, and use of an infirmary. Here again greater confidence on the part of next year's faculty will be vital.
A question arises as to whether the primary end of the project was education or production. Obviously the perfect situation would be an equal combination of both. In this instance, however, the experiment bogged down to some extent. Courses were selected to correlate with the surroundings; rural sociology, geology, political science, English composition, literature etc. A certain amount of flexibility on the part of the teachers was necessary (classes had to be postponed, moved ahead, etc.) In most cases this was secured.
Many students, nevertheless, found that they were unable to study properly. Classes after a long, hard day of work were often too heavy a load. In a permanent project of this sort, shorter and better planned working hours would be advisable.
Although this report has concerned itself with the more unpleasant angles of the project, its many praiseworthy aspects are not to be overlooked. No one will den that this summer was an unforgettable experience.
The opportunity to spend most of our time in the sun and air, the glorious scenery of the countryside, the companionship of dormitories, and, above all, the completely new life we learned to lead, was both valuable and enjoyable. The students learned greater self reliance, in that many of them were made to take care of their own financial affairs for the first time, learned to attend to their own rooms, and personal effects (this includes cleaning and washing heavy work clothes.) The attempt at self government, contributed in a measure, to this increasing maturity. In addition, we became acquainted with the rural point of view and learned to appreciate it. Moreover, we took part in an experiment which was a step forward in education. Our summer was full of fun, learning, and close association with the beauties of nature.
In evaluating the 1943 project, we have emphasizes as the main cause of failure, the basic attitude of the Administration. The 1944 Morrisville Group must overcome this attitude, for complete success next summer, In pointing this out, we have tried to show that almost every problem that arose could have been solved by the existences of a c lose harmony between faculty and students, based upon understanding and mutual responsibility; the faculty must be actively with the students, not against him-it must be warm, trusting and understanding.