I got the cover today for the new US printing of the Armchair Environmentalist. While I’m not exactly an armchair type and the title wasn’t my idea, I’ve come to like it. I have always wanted to be encouraging and not preachy about going green. Making people feel guilty isn’t very effective, and in any case I wouldn’t be much good as a moral crusader. I think about this a lot now, as Earth Day dawns tomorrow and it seems that almost everyone is ready to get on the climate change bandwagon, in words if not in deeds.
In addition to extensive magazine coverage related to Earth Day, the New York Times had an education supplement yesterday with a long story about the looming closure of Antioch College, “barring any last-minute rescue, soon after next Saturday’s commencement the 156-year-old campus in
I read wondering if they would mention the college’s earlier troubles and its rescue by Arthur Morgan, the iconoclast engineer who later created the Tennessee Valley Authority. I’ve written about Morgan a couple of times and find him tremendously interesting, and far less well-known as he ought to be. He ought to be well-known in part because he is a perfect reminder of how a person can squander his potential and talent, and of how complicated it is to lead social change movements—something else that was unquestionably part of Morgan’s effort in life. But his inability to compromise, and his ego, meant that even with remarkable and well-timed ideas he floundered, and failed to lead. “Morgan, who aimed at more than educational reform, saw his efforts at Antioch as the beginning of the moral regeneration of America.”
A little evidence of the weakness of Wikipedia: compare the article below with the stub in Wikipedia. The problem isn’t just paucity of information, but the lack of coherence, and analysis. And that’s not something that an anonymous, multi-authored work is simply unable to create, so there’s always going to be a lack of answers to the important questions: How? and Why?
By the way, the adult-education campuses mentioned in the New York Times article had a number of faculty members whom I came to know through work on the Encyclopedia of Leadership, so even though I’ve never visited
Morgan, Arthur E.
(1878<N>1975) , American engineer, college president, and social reformer
Arthur E. Morgan was a dynamic and controversial leader in flood control, rural development, and community planning, and saw himself as an innovative social engineer. Widely known as a writer on education and social issues, he served as the first chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a public works project initiated during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Morgan founded towns and intentional communities, wrote prolifically, and started a small organization called Community Service Inc., which is still based at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where Morgan served, during a contentious but financially successful decade, as president. He is still considered by many an inspiring leader and moral reformer, but the story of his life also demonstrates the risks of imposing a moral vision on others.
Morgan was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1878, and raised in northern Minnesota. He had only three years of high school and dropped out of college in 1900, after two attempts to attend classes in Colorado, where he is also thought to have worked as a ranch hand, miner, typesetter, and beekeeper. He returned to Minnesota and began to learn engineering by working with his father, constructing drainage and levee systems for flood controls and preparing plans for the reclamation of peat marshes. By 1910, he owned his own company and was developing a national reputation as a flood control engineer. Although in later life he complained of his health and attributed some of his difficulties to a physiological problem, a kind of brain damage, as a young man he was six foot two inches tall and strikingly vital.
In 1913 he was appointed chief engineer for a new dam project in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton had suffered a historic and devastating flood earlier in the year, in which three hundred people had died, and leading businessmen had raised $2 million to help fund a solution. Morgan set to work with characteristic determination. After extensive research collecting and analyzing data on floods in Europe and the United States, he offered a number of unorthodox flood control solutions, included creating “conservancy districts” and building large earthen “dry dams” (they look like huge Indian mounds) that served as reservoirs in case of emergency and as public parks the rest of the time. Social and Educational Reforms
But Morgan was interested in more than dams. His second wife, Lucy Morgan, whom he married in 1911, was a Quaker and an ardent reformer, who believed in “a proper diet and efficient, moral living” (Talbert 1987, 28). The Morgans committed themselves to the ideal of small town life and organic communities. These ideas had been in vogue during the progressive period and Morgan had also been strongly influenced by the utopian novelist Edward Bellamy. But it was his wife’s interest in social reform, particularly her practical proposals for improving workers’ lives, that influenced him most.
He showed skill, creativity, and an absolute determination in all his projects, and at that stage in his life he was particularly adept at engaging others<M> including those with considerable financial and publicity resources<M>in his efforts. He created model workers’ settlements, schools for children and new immigrants, recreational programs, workers’ insurance schemes, and town meetings. Supported by various Dayton business leaders, he was instrumental in founding the Moraine Park School in 1917. Like the famous educator John Dewey, Morgan believed education should not be separated from real life experience, and Moraine Park stressed student self-governance and participation in teaching. Growing national recognition led to an invitation from the Atlantic Monthly to write an article about his views on education. He was to write for the magazine regularly for the next two decades.
In 1920 he was elected to the board of trustees of Antioch College, a small Ohio school that was in dire financial straits. Morgan devised a plan for saving the college and overhauling its educational program. He became its president in 1921 and was given a free hand to reinvent the college. Lucy Morgan wrote that they planned to “