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Out standing in their fields December 22, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, societal commentary, work.
Tags: , , ,

I was very surprised to learn that FrauTech apparently reads the Bismarck Tribune.

I didn’t think anyone outside of North Dakota did that.  (Although I’m guessing this is not a regular occurrence.)

She linked to an opinion piece in the Tribune about how kids who are under 16 may not be allowed to work on farms unless they belong to their parents.  I’ve had very mixed feelings about the whole bill.  While I think that in places like California, these sorts of regulations are needed lest migrant children be put to work instead of going to school, the culture up here is different.  Kids who work on the farm are expected to go to school, as well.  Of course, this is partially because there are still vestiges of family farms up here, and I don’t think such things have existed in California for quite a while.

Contrary to what Frau said, I do have students who come from farms.  A lot of them come from rural schools, and going into engineering is not easy for them.  I was very dismayed to hear that one of my students had taken AP calc in his school, but his class of four students often spent the time doing things that were not related to calc.  The internet has done a lot to make the discrepancies between rural and urban less obvious, but it’s still not completely leveled the playing field.

I tend to agree with the original opinion piece, however.  My husband was a farm boy.  I was didn’t have much experience on a farm, but my dad was expected to spend summers working on his grandfather’s farm.  I’m sure that if things hadn’t gone bust in the 80s, I would’ve been out there once I was old enough, as well.  And I see a lot of very bright kids who grew up on farms.

There really is a very different mindset in rural to semi-rural areas.  Even though I didn’t work on a farm, I got a job when I was 15 because it’s perfectly reasonable to have a job at that age.  Kids seem to be expected to take on responsibility a lot earlier, and I think that leads to a lot of positive life experience…something kids don’t get when all they do is go to school.  (Some of this, I think, accounted for the large amount of culture shock when I went off to college and found out that most of my classmates didn’t have jobs in high school…and I’d already had two.)  I think it also creates a much greater sense of community awareness.  Kids who grow up on farms are out in the community, out working.  They know their neighbors better, they are expected to interact with adults, and they are expected to behave as young adults.  And in the case of most farming communities, they often pitch in to help each other out when someone needs it.  You simply cannot substitute that kind of experience with anything else.

Right now, we’ve already lost a lot of ground.  If you want to know what urban parents who are very closely removed from the farm do, they try to figure out ways to get their kids back onto a farm.  My family lost their farm, and my husband’s family no longer farms…which means we’d really wanted our kids to go spend time with distant relatives or friends if the opportunity presented itself.  These laws would prevent that.  It’s even more frustrating in light of the fact that there are very few places that will hire kids under 16 any more.  Where are kids supposed to learn responsibility as well as what it’s like to be treated like an adult?

But it’s not just responsibility.  Kids do learn a lot of hands-on skills.  Not all kids who are handy will be great engineers, but I’ve observed that background gives a lot of kids an intuitive notion of how to approach problems…at least in the ones that want to sit down and think it through.

Maybe not all farm kids will make great engineers, but I know a few that it helped.  There are a lot of benefits to growing up that way, and it’s too bad more kids aren’t getting the opportunity.  I’m not convinced it’s the only way to get those benefits, but it’s one of the best.



1. FrauTech - December 24, 2011

I’m glad to see your viewpoints on this. And yes I thought of you when reading the story knowing it would be very local to you


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