STUDENTS WOULD BE SCHOLARS and laborers. Thinkers and doers. Skilled in matters of the mind and endeavors of the earth.
This was Davidson College’s approach when it opened in 1837. In addition to classwork, the administration required students to perform three hours of labor each day, usually on a farm.
Students hated it. What began as an experiment in comprehensive education became a class in civil disobedience. Students rebelled against the labor requirement with low productivity and curiously high rates of accidents. Wagons were disassembled and found in the tops of oak trees.
Students even enlisted a pig as an unwitting soldier in the war against manual labor. Each day, a ringing bell called students back to campus from field duties. Students tied the bell to the tail of a pig, fed the pig enough corn to keep it occupied until they made it to the fields, when the pig sauntered off and called students back with each step of a hoof.
Administration gave up.
Davidson’s labor requirement lasted just four years, after which students could pursue academic studies in classrooms like proper scholars, forever free from toiling on a farm.
Or so they thought.