The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was one of the most popular and first of FDR's programs during the Great Depression. The depression was, after all, ecological as well as economic. These things almost always intersect. The Dust Bowl was perhaps the worse ecological crisis since the Year Without a Summer. After the Great Plow Up, an increase in wheat production during World War I, American farms were susceptible to drought. Farm lands need non-farm living ecologies nearby to survive. During the Great Depression, as a tree farmer, FDR recognized the ecological nature of the economic crisis in a way many economists might not. The CCC focused on three types of projects: alleviating soil erosion, creating and maintaining lakes, and reforestation. Were these projects perfect with what we know today? No. Today we know that damming up rivers and creeks has an ecological cost as well as benefits (FDR overestimated how much free energy hydro plants would produce), and the nonnative tree species FDR used caused problems; but ultimately the CCC was an ecological success, leading to the U.S. economic boom of the 1950s. Fix the ecology, and the economy follows.
This week I read a short article about UConn's Climate Corps. Inspired by Roosevelt's CCC, University of Connecticut enlists students to help Connecticut communities prepare for and respond to climate change, today's most distinctive ecological challenge. Students learn how to conduct vulnerability assessments, how to develop community strategies, and how to navigate local political processes. This type of service learning parallels what happened with the CCC, but the CCC was open to all "men" (there were separate CCC groups for African Americans, and one of these corps built Penn Roosevelt State Park near where I live in Central, PA). The fact that UConn's program is university-based, and doesn't have the government support the depression era CCC had means the UConn program won't help our young adult unemployment rate of 9.2%. But what if we did have a truly new CCC. We'd have to have politicians that admit our role in climate change, and recognize that we needed to do something. This unemployed 9.2% could be put to work, learning 21st Century, employable skills while designing and implementing projects that helps communities prepare to survive the effects of climate change.
Of interest to music educators, The 20th Century History Songbook webpage includes a page of songs of the CCC. Songs include the 1938 song, CCC Blues, Boys in Green, and The C.C.C. The CCC had two goals, relieving unemployment, and helping the deteriorating natural environment. One important part of teaching music for ecological literacy, of course, can and should be teaching our environmental history through songs. The Library of Congress has further information about songs of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era, Zinn Education Project has information on Woody Guthrie, and PBS's page (on Ken Burns's documentary, The Dust Bowl) mentions many of Guthrie's dust bowl era songs like "Do Re Mi," "I Ain't Got No Home," and "Talking Dust Bowl."