The CCC Education Program

From Dr. Chet Nolte

     One of the most distinctive features of camp life in the CCCs was its intensive educational program. Because no military instruction was permitted, any instruction to be offered had to be tailored to the job and life needs of the enrollees themselves. In general, there were two educational problems. Most of the men had had no experience working with tools, so they needed on the job training to perform the tasks assigned to them. Furthermore, it was discovered early on that a large number of enrollees both functional and actual illiterates, while the majority had not gone beyond the 8th grade in school. When in December 1933, this situation was pointed out to the President, he readily authorized the establishment of a practical vocational academic program in all the camps under the supervision of the Office of Education.

     The guidelines were straightforward. First the program was to be entirely voluntary ( later it was made mandatory for illiterates). Second, it was to be of a practical nature directed toward the employability of the enrollees. And third, in order to offset a negative attitude toward formal schooling held by the enrollees, the program was to be offered "in an unstructured environment". Teaching was to be done in "the open classroom" - in the field, on the job, around the caamp, within the environment. Men were to learn by doing. "will this subject assist the enrollee to make an honest living when he leaves the CCC?" was the criterion. In all things, simplicity was the rule. "Keep It Simple" became the motto of the program. In education, as in life, there is a marvelous quality in simplicity. This direct approach to learning - its very simplicity - became in time its greatest asset.

     In each camp, the key person was the Educational Advisor (EA). Chosen from the ranks of teachers, his responsibility was to marshal and coordinate all elements of the camp and community into a unified educational program. With few resources and little money to operate, this was a formidable task. Nonetheless, where it was skillfully done, and in most instances it was, and particularly where the EA had the full support of the Commanding Officer the results were spectacular. By June 1937, some 35,000 men had been taught to read and write, more than a thousand had received the equivalent of a high school education, and 39 received college degrees. Although voluntary, enrollee participation rose steadily from 37 to 57 percent in the early days of the program, and many camps had full 100 percent participation by enrollees.

     Men had to be encouraged to join up. A newly-appointed EA, Charles Bull tells how he interested enrollees in forming a letter writing class. At his first meeting with the company, he asked how many had written home that month, and how many had not received letters during the month. Then he issued an invitation to anyone who would like his help in this regard to meet with him and his assistant, an enrollee, in the Education Center after chow. That evening, 40 young men showed up. "Men", he said, "it is clear that you could stand some help in writing letters. How about a 'Reading and Writing Letter Course'? How many would join up for such a course?" Needless to say, he got an immediate response - not one or two but three courses were formed then and there. All courses were free, they met two times a week, and men on detail were excused from detail work on class nights. The rest is history.

     Many of these men also took advantage of the educational program in the Armed forces. Bull enlisted as an Educational Advisor there, too, serving from 1951 to 1973 in Germany, Korea and Vietnam. He met some of the men he had known in the CCC's. Many said, "You know, Charlie, I got most of my education while in the CCC's and the Army." He offered this as proof positive that these two programs did meet the needs of the men who participated.

     There were practical immediate advantages too. Those who applied themselves found it was possible to gain promotion to Assistant Leader ( at $36 a month v. $30 a month for enrollee) , or to Leader (at $45). Many men testified that the basic skills they learned in the CCC's stood them in good stead in later life in earning a living and making a life.

     The several hundred thousand men and the wide scope of the offering made it possible by 1942 to raise the general education level by an estimated two grade levels. Any program that does that - subscribes to the great American dream of job, family, and future - can only be characterized as an unqualified success. Let historians take note and record this fact in the pages of our history books for all to read.

    As to the mechanics of how the process worked at the Company level, there was only one Educational Advisor (EA) to each camp. He set up the courses and got the instructors lined up. No semesters, no grades, no discipline was the rule. NEED was the criterion, do we need this, and how many want it? He was assigned by the Area HQ and most had the support of the commanding officer ( a military man). In my camp the CO ordered that everybody had to take at least one course so we had no problem getting classes. We had a building like the other barracks buildings which was the Education building. It had a wood shop, sometimes mechanical drawing, seats or desks and all the blackboard you needed. Classes met after work and after chow. Usually they met for 2 hours until lights out. Men were tired from working outdoors all day and easy to teach, they appreciated it. In some camps arrangements were made with the local school district to let the men meet in the local high school and credit issued accordingly. This applies also to the local junior colleges, any kind of arrangement the EA could whomp up.

     In Company 769 we formed a band with instruments rented from a local music store. The CO paid half the rent, the enrollees the other half. Every EA had an enrollee "assistant" who did the leg work, etc. And every camp was required to hold first aid classes. With a full belly and a feeling of peace after working all day, most enrollees were very thankful for the program.

     Instructors did not have to be certified. Some men taught others, especially if you were an assistant leader or a leader. Blue print reading was popular since they used it on the project.

     On the job they learned stone mason skills, wood working, truck driving, cooking (KP was common for infractions) and any other skills learned best on the job.

     Although this list is only an example of the sort of classes taught to the enrollees, these are the classes we offered at Company 769; Surveying, Auto Mechanics, Letter Writing, Reading, Remedial Arithmetic, Algebra, Mechanical Drawing, Wood Shop, Furniture Repair, Band, Chorus, Basketball, Printing, Photography, Tools, Truck Driving, First Aid, Swimming Lessons, History, Typing, Book keeping, and any course to which ten men signed up.

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