The article presents an overview of the Chautauqua Movement which provided one of the foundations for adult education as we know it today. The movement began in 1874 with a summer assembly to train Sunday-school teachers at Chautauqua Lake, NY. The success of the first summer program indicated a greater demand for the Chautauqua's type of instruction. The article describes lessons from the Chautauqua movement that may be relevant for current adult and continuing education programs.
Keywords Adult Education; Book Club; Chautauqua Movement; Chautauqua Institution; Chautauqua Literary & Scientific Circle; Continuing Education Unit; Correspondence Course; Modern Chautauqua; University Extension Education
The Roots of Adult Education
The Chautauqua movement began in 1874 with a summer assembly to train Sunday-school teachers at Chautauqua Lake, NY. Founded on the premise that adults of either sex are capable of learning, that intellectual opportunities should comprise of more than just formal education, and that adult education should examine current social issues, the movement symbolizes “one of the first attempts to deliver a national culture, as it brought its programs to rural and urban, east and west, north” and south areas of the U.S. The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle was responsible for the first book club and correspondence course (Johnson, 2001, p. 54). As radio and motion pictures began to provide alternative means for entertainment and teaching and were offered throughout the year, Chautauqua programs became less desirable. The last Chautauqua associated with the original concept was held in 1931. Renewed interest in Chautauqua-type events came about in the 1970s and continues throughout the U.S. today. The Chautauqua Institute, on the original NY site, offers programming each summer for participants to benefit from the enjoyments of a scientifically, politically, and culturally rewarding summer break.
The Chautauqua Movement provided the foundation for “what we know today as adult education. Institutions such as libraries, museums, universities, arts programs, and university extension programs” have resulted from the movement. Many other aspects of 20th century American life, “such as theater, art and music appreciation were greatly influenced by the Chautauqua Movement” (Maxwell, 2000, p. 11).
Chautauqua began when John Vincent, a Methodist minister, and Lewis Miller, a successful businessman, organized a summer training gathering for Sunday-school teachers at Chautauqua Lake, NY. The Chautauqua Sunday School Assembly, as it was called, took place during a time when religious camps and revival meetings were common. The founders, desiring their program to be different from these other gatherings, united daily study with healthful recreation at the Chautauqua site (where the Chautauqua Institution remains today).
The success of the first summer program in 1874 indicated a greater demand for the Chautauqua's type of instruction. The assembly underwent a transformation over the next several years. In 1876, the program was lengthened from two weeks to eight weeks and all denominations were invited to participate. Miller and Vincent recognized that the demand for education was not limited to Sunday school teachers and decided to extend its reach beyond the Chautauqua site (Howell & McGinn, 2006). Vincent's premise was that
• Mature men and women are able to learn,
• Educational opportunities should extend beyond formal schooling,
• Life is education, and
• Adult education should examine current social issues (Scott, 1999, as cited in Howell & McGinn, 2006, p. 2-3).
In 1878, the institution began to change to meet the needs of participants in every walk of life. The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) was formed, beginning as a book club and correspondence course. The creation of the CLSC was the first major step in secularizing Chautauqua, moving the focus from providing religious instruction to teachers to providing a broader education to all who wanted (Howell & McGinn, 2006).
The creation of independent Chautauquas (also called "daughter" Chautauquas and later "tent" or "circuit" Chautauquas) “represents one of the first attempts to deliver a truly national culture, linking rural and urban, east and west, north and south” throughout the U.S. As a spin-off from the "mother" Chautuaqua in NY, but without official affiliation, “towns organized local committees which took on the responsibilities for arranging the Chautauqua, from engaging talent to selling tickets and doing whatever else was necessary” (Johnson, 2001, p. 54). A program typically extends for five to seven days and usually takes place in the town's largest auditorium or in a large tent. According to Johnson, “Morning sessions were usually devoted to Bible study. The remainder of the program consisted of lecturers, musical acts, debates, dramatic readers, bird callers, bell ringers, and-in the later years-radio and motion picture presentations” (Johnson, 2001, p. 54).
Johnson (2001) continues to explain that early Chautauqua observers were fatigued, lonely men and women leading hard lives in rural America. For husbands and wives, the Chautauqua provided a great relief from their monotonous existence. The Chautauqua circuit not only ended isolation and built a culture for the country, but it also brought other enhancements to rural towns and small cities. The first benefit concerned education. “The short length of the assemblies prevented any kind of intensive education, but Chautauqua events stimulated its audiences to think. Chautauqua circuit organizers also cited an increase in community spirit and togetherness as another benefit. Most of the year, communities were divided into religious, political, and social groups, but at a Chautauqua these divisions were forgotten” since signatures of people from all creeds were needed to bring a Chautauqua to their community (Johnson, 2001, p. 58).
Instruction as Entertainment
In the years after World War I, Chautauquas became increasingly focused on entertainment. The early 1920s brought radio and motion pictures as a competitive way of introducing a national culture to sections of the country that were extremely secluded. Most Chautauqua organizers recognized “that radio could more efficiently perform the same task as Chautauqua, namely the entertainment and instruction of millions simultaneously. Not only did radio provide a more convenient way for performers to reach an audience, audiences also found it more convenient to stay in the comfort of their homes to be entertained, safe from mosquitoes, hard benches, and rain. Radio audiences could also be part of events that Chautauqua could never bring them, events as diverse as presidential elections, inaugurals,...
(The entire section is 3057 words.)