Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Audubon Farm School for Boys at Dubuque Iowa


By S. L. Walsh

School boys ready to head off to market
A red haired, freckled-faced boy, with a cast in his right eye, came running down the dusty street, white and hot beneath the rays of the afternoon sun. Behind him trailed a troop of some half-dozen other boys, ranging in years from ten to fifteen.

There was a certain tense stealthi­ness in their movements that betok­ened mischief, emphasized by the fact that the leader carried a good-sized stone in either hand. The little band halted in front of a house set in a small, trim, well-kept lawn.

"This the place, Micky?" one of the party asked.

Micky nodded, his breath coming quick, apparently as much from ex­citement as from haste.

The next moment they were on the lawn, tearing up bushes, trampling ugon the beds of full-blown geraniums, and then with a loud whoop, and a volley of stones, bang, bang, bang, bang, against the door of the house, they had swept away like a band of Iroquois, out for plunder. 

From within the dwelling, an old man, much agitated, hastily appeared.

"Oh, Mr. Horchem," he called out eagerly, to a passerby, "which way did those imps go?
If ever I catch that pest, Micky Callahan, I'll wring his neck! I didn't see him at it, but I know he's at the bottom of this."

And that is how Benjamin J. Hor­chem, principal of the Audubon School, at Dubuque, Iowa, first heard of Mas­ter Micky Callahan, and it was from this conversation with the old man whose flower-bed had been ruined, that a long-cherished idea of founding a

farm-school for city boys became crys­tallized. The development of the farm-school and Micky Callahan's subse­quent history belong together.

This ragged little Irish urchin, the old man told Mr. Horchem, had for some time past been the terror of "Dublin," as the south end of Dubuque is locally called. His mother was an invalid and his father idle and shift­less. But thirteen years of age, the boy possessed a strong influence over his youthful associates, even those older than himself. They had grown more and more daring in their deviltry, and it was only a question of time, the narrator suggested, when the lad would find his way to the reformatory.

"It isn't so bad when the rascals are in school, but in vacation time they do play the mischief. If Micky was only away they'd stop all this. I'd give fifty dollars to keep him out of the neighborhood."

As he listened to the tale of vandal­ism the idea so long nebulous in Mr. Horchem's mind all at once seemed to take on concrete form. "If you really mean that I'll undertake it," he said. "At least I'll guarantee that after this year the boys don't do any more dam­age or money refunded."

And the old man, after a moment of intense scrutiny, said he would send the money the next day, and he did.

North of the city lay a small, aban­doned, partly worn-out truck farm, of some several acres, with its dilapidated dwelling and barn. This Mr. Horchem learned could be purchased for almost a song, seven hundred and fifty dol­lars, as the owner was very desirous of immediate disposal of the property.

Beginning the work of clearing a weed patch
Mr. Horchem did not have the ready money himself, but he went to a num­ber of prominent citizens, telling them the story of Micky Callahan, and ex­plaining his project, in part. For a way beyond his immediate purpose of giv­ing the boys something definite, healthful, and useful to interest them during the summer, a much larger project loomed. But this larger project would require more capital than he cared to solicit at this time.

The first man approached wrote a check for one hundred dollars. "If it's for boys, I'm with you," he declared heartily. "I know you have a reputa­tion for managing boys and doing them much good."

And, indeed, Mr. Horchem is a born manager of youngsters. He seems thoroughly to understand the psychology of the boy mind. In his school, which is in the north end of the city, remote from "Dublin," he established several years ago a debating society. Every Friday night, the boys, as many who have finished school as those still attending, assemble during the winter months, and the room is invariably crowded. He secures results partly by working on the imagination of the boys, partly by a mixture of play and fun with their more serious endeavors, partly by helping the boys to under­take things of their own accord, thus fostering their sense of pride and inde­pendence, and partly by a personal magnetism that is as incapable of analysis as it is compelling.

Nothing was done with the boys that summer, but during the fall and winter a man was hired to do some work in the way of repairing fences, spreading fertilizer, etc.

Then in the spring, Mr. Horchem got together some of the boys of his own school, and on Saturdays and after hours sallied forth to till the little plantation. As yet he did not call upon Micky and his cohorts for service.

In furtherance of the idea of partial self-government, which Mr. Horchem has found so invaluable in controlling boys, officers of their own choice were elected, these consisting of a president, manager, secretary, and treasurer.

With his organization complete, the initiator of all this made it a point to meet Micky Callahan in an apparently casual way. And almost before Micky knew it he had promised to bring his "gang" the next Saturday for a grand carry-all ride to the farm.

That day Mr. Horchem kept his "own boys" at home, not wishing to take any chances of arousing sectional antagonism. And Micky played square. He laid aside his mischievous spirit and with thirteen of his companions, actually went seriously to work.

As the little party rode homeward in the evening, Micky said impulsively, but gravely, too, "We've had a bully time today!"

So by middle summer the grounds, barn and house had been put in fairly good shape. The crops which had been planted were flourishing, the dwelling had been improved by the addition of a porch, and a suitable roadway leading up to it had been undertaken and put through.

About July a curious thing, almost incredible to the good people of "Dub­lin," was reported. Micky Callahan had not only ceased molesting the neighbors' gardens but was actually cultivating a flower bed of his own!

At the close of the summer one of the boy officers made a report as to the success of the season. Extracts from it speak more to the purpose than any secondary account can do:

"Our first taste of farm life was hoeing. Some of us hardly knew how to hoe, but now we consider ourselves experts. Then we cultivated onions. Of course we cut quite a few off, but we would not do such a thing now. . . . Then came market days, when we took our produce to market. The first time the rig was driven to market it contained the general manager and treasurer. These two officers went in their wide-brimmed rustic straw hats, upon which was showered a great deal of ridicule. Their first experience at marketing was not very pleasant. . . . After that we took turns in going to market, always taking care that we did not have our straw hats on. We hired a stand at the market, and there we could be found, selling our peas, beans, carrots, cabbages, beets, and other vegetables. . . .

. . . "We did not work every day, sometimes three times a week, and sometimes only twice. In sum­mer during the hottest part of some days we played in the shade or rehearsed our band composed of such instruments as we could get together. We had many discussions concerning our work, novels we had read, or topics concerning the welfare of the country. . . .

. . . "There were many other boys that wanted to join, but we felt that there were no accommodations for so many."

This report covers the first summer of the enterprise. The past summer a new location was secured on the bluffs just north of Dubuque, overlooking the Mississippi River. And this Mr. Horchem hopes to make the per­manent site of his farm school. Tents were pitched on the side of the hills farthest from the river, as there were no permanent buildings, and the pos­sibilities of camping out were united with the other ideas of the movement.

In the new location the beginnings of an orchard were laid out, together with such varieties of trees as the eucalyptus and soft maple. Also rasp­berry, blackberry and similar small fruits were planted.

Private individuals continue to sub­scribe to this work, and trustees of that part of the Russell Sage estate, which his wife has laid aside for edu­cational purposes, have investigated Mr. Horchem's plans, and while mak­ing no promises of pecuniary assist­ance for the Dubuque project, they did encourage him by their enthusiastic praise of the new ideas they had ob­tained to take back to their work in the slum districts of the large cities.

So far Mr. Horchem has given his time and energy without pay. At present the project is practically a private one supported by private sub­scription. His ultimate plan is the union of his farm plan with the more essential features of modern educa­tional methods, in the public schools. He would have schools in the suburbs, and have the children as much in the open air as possible. It is not his purpose to make farmers of city boys, as some of his townspeople have erro­neously interpreted his work. Nor does he wish to abolish the three good old "R's," "reading, 'riting, and 'rith­metic." At the same time, however, he wishes to show the city-boy that there are other careers open to him beside the factory, the shop, or the office. He believes that by making school work natural and free thousands of just such boys as Micky Callahan can be reclaimed.

 He seeks to establish an institution where he can teach his theories of farm school work. He believes that teachers throughout the whole upper Mississippi Valley would .be attracted toward such an enterprise. The site is ideal, overlooking as it does the broad bosom of the Mississippi, with the view extending into the states of Wis­consin and Illinois for over twenty miles. From such an institution he believes his ideas could be dissem­inated as have the kindergarten idea, manual training and other similar modern movements in education.

Technical World Magazine.  July 1910.

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