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General Lee’s New Ideas in Education

Thursday, October 20, 2016 18:43
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An astute man.

The other General Lee, and not kin to the more famous one, Stephen Dill Lee was a veteran of the early Virginia campaigns, Vicksburg, the Atlanta Campaign, and ended the war with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina. After 1865 Lee was deeply involved in reviving his own plantation, and later dedicated his life, as Robert E. Lee did earlier, to educating young Southern men who faced the challenge of rebuilding their devastated country. In late April 1906, he delivered a speech in New Orleans to the sons of the men he led in battle. In his remarks he said:

“To you, sons of Confederate veterans, we will commit the vindication of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldiers’ good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com   The Great American Political Divide

General Lee’s New Ideas in Education

“In 1880 General Lee became the first president of the Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College, now Mississippi State University. [The father] of industrial education in the South, no other citizen had such a far-reaching and penetrating influence upon the agricultural and industrial development of the Southern States.

Lee advanced in his day a new thought to Southern-bred collegians. He believed that education and manual labor should go together.

In making his first report to his Board of Trustees, he said: “All students are required to work from two to three hours a day . . . on the farm, among the stock, in the garden . . . shops or grounds . . . Our experience shows that students who work . . . stand highest in their classes and enjoy better health. It also inculcates and retains habits of industry at that period of life when education is being obtained . . . It makes labor honorable and demonstrates that labor and a high standard of liberal and scientific education are not incompatible, and go hand-in-hand with the struggle of life, and in developing our industries and resources . . .”

Lee warned the South that unless its farmers learned the science of modern agriculture their lands would be owned by strangers. “Knowledge is power,” he said, “in every department of life – as important to the farmer as the professional man.”

He foresaw that electricity would play in the industrialization of the South, and in his report of 1893 he wrote:

“I deem it most important that the boys of Mississippi be instructed in an electrical laboratory to fit them for industrial pursuits now just ahead.” That same year he began a crusade for an appropriation to equip such a laboratory and provide electric lights for the college grounds and dormitories.

At times combatting an unsympathetic legislature and the hosts of ignorance, “Old Steve,” as he was affectionately called, pioneered with new methods of instruction and introduced departments in the mechanical arts and engineering.

Experiments at the college revealed the surprising fact that cotton seed, which had been a waste and a liability, had a feed and food value, and a new industry emerged from the soil. The first creamery in the Gulf States was established at the college and the foundation laid for a more diversified agricultural development.

Under Lee’s leadership the advantages of diversified agriculture and drainage were fully demonstrated and the value of scientific farming definitely proved among a people whose methods were comparatively primitive.

The cultivation of better grasses and the introduction of improved herds changed the agricultural complexion of the “Magnolia State” [and] graduates went forth with a new faith in farming. The development of this new idea in education spread to other States and created a demand for students to fill positions as teachers, managers of farms and creameries, and professors and instructors in other agricultural colleges and at agricultural experiment stations.

Stephen Dill Lee died in 1908. In the devastation that followed in the wake of Appomattox, with a social order disrupted, an economic system destroyed, and the flower of Southern manhood killed or maimed, Lee the soldier became a builder.”

(Sons of the South, Clayton Rand, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961, pg. 160)

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