Township Rules


The Second Tuesday in December, 1958

Author: Florence Renfrow, published with the permission of family, republishing disallowed except when specific permission allows it.


Three busy farmers stood by the stove in the country schoolhouse that night.

It was terribly cold and the fields and the roads

were covered with snow, deep and white.

Buster Parks came the greatest distance. Emil Bossert was first one there.

Charley Renfrow would chair the meeting

so he pulled out the Teacher's chair.

Otto Laib and Christ Flemmer soon came through the door,

and the School Board Meeting began.

Once every month they took up this task and they followed

the same sort of plan.

There was always some business to deal with,

they honestly, truthfully tried

To do a good job so the patrons of the school would be satisfied.


The Teacher had written a letter to the President of the Board

Saying she thought she should no longer have to haul water in her Ford!

She suggested each family with children take turns, one week at a time,

To bring the water to drink and to wash each day that the school bell

would chime.

The School Board pondered the problem. A decision had to be made,

Traditionally the job was hers. For this, they felt, she was paid.

So they told Buster Parks to write to her and tell her this was the rule:

The School Board voted unanimously that she bring the water to school.


The County Superintendent had said their maps were way out-of-date,

So the School Board agreed on a purchase of new ones to compensate.

They decided on two weeks for Christmas, the same as they had before.

They authorized a load of coal and the School Board Meeting was o'er.

Elemental, you say, and simple? Oh yes, but don't you forget,

This was Government at the Grass-Roots...the best kind of government, yet.

They balanced their Budget precisely. They ruled with general accord.

'Twould be good if our Land could be governed

by an old-fashioned Country School Board!


Government at and by the Grass-Roots

I knew all of the men mentioned in this poem. They are all gone now, but they leave behind a legacy and a lesson for our times.

The size of government is a ongoing preoccupation today. Although the Federal Government gets the most criticism, there are less Federal workers today as a percentage of the total population than there was in 1960. At that time there were 5.345 million Federal Employees for a U.S. population of 160 million. Now there are 4.185 million for a population of 350 million. (From That's a per capita 60% reduction.

A greater criticism is of reach and responsiveness. Although the Feds have been made the bogyman, there is an increasing trend of state governments overriding local government. This is equally as pernicious.

Let's take a look at the makeup of the School Board as described in the poem. In that area, at that time, there were probably 25 families in a rural township. The board members received no stipend and served from a sense of obligation.

The meetings at the one-classroom rural township schoolhouses were not just about the schools themselves, but for road and utility maintenance, farming and other issues of mutual need. This was self-governance at the most basic or “atomic” level. In essence, a township school meeting was a fundamental unit or “atom” of government.

Shared purpose was more important than political differences. Indeed, today, if two individuals who are equal distances in opposite directions from an arbitrary political center were to take an objective look at their political and civic outlook, it is likely that they would have more in common than not.

Looking back again at the rural township system, we would find that most, if not all, of the 25 families participated in that fundamental unit of governance. The technology of the day that enabled ad hoc conversations was the telephone. In fact many phone exchanges were party lines at the time and allowed several persons to participate in a simple phone conference.

Today, special purpose social media apps are being developed for community purposes. They can used as a way of organizing people for self-governance, using similar methods and technology as the organization of election campaigns. This could result in large percentages of participation in small groups. Such participation could be an ongoing conversation.

Furthermore, networking such small groups could lead to successive upper layers that might mean quick transmission of needs and opinions flowing upward to the level best equipped to respond. Big government as a problem could be solved by making it less relevant.

The use of established social media websites would enable the legal owners of such sites to leverage, manipulate, advertise and otherwise take advantage of such grass-roots governance. This can be avoided because current information technology offers something called Open Source.

Open source makes building blocks freely available to the programmer. These building blocks enable a single experienced developer to create a social media application with full proprietary rights that could then be passed on or conferred to anyone else.

Additionally government itself (local, state, federal) could be an obstacle. Non-legislated action from extra-legislative entities would be an end run around such reactions from those who would seek to maintain and retain control.

The greatest negativity occurs when anonymity coarsens interchanges. This tendency is quite obvious when one observes comments on any article of a political topic. People who are previously acquainted tend to be more civil to each other.

I've seen social media environments where the software itself attempts to enforce civility. I don't agree with such methods. They seem too much like social engineering. I believe that a culture of shared purpose, mutual needs and civility can be cultivated in the same way that individuals on a jury rise to the level of the expectations made of them.

Another remedy would be the decades-old procedures used by technical-oreented distributed mail lists that this author has participated in for many years.

The 60% reduction in per capita federal employee numbers between 1960 and 2014 is probably due in part to the use of computers. It is easy and attractive to imagine such streamlining to continue where technology melds with the historic principals of citizen participation and teamwork.

The devil is in the details.