Monday, September 14, 2020

Steve: Part 2- Farm Based Education

Many of our Customers have been homeschooling for years. In 2020 many more are schooling from home for various reasons. Steve got his schooling right here at the farm. He was forced to. Well, he wasn't actually forced, it was a suggestion. It breaks my heart to type this, but this is how I heard it. Sometime around the second grade, the principal (or someone in administration) noticed that Steve had missed several days of school and was not doing well academically. The course of action we would deem appropriate today would be tutoring, parent conference, home-visit, testing/accommodations, truancy enforcement, etc... But remember, this was the south sometime around 1960-ish. The brutal sad truth is that a poor black kid that didn't want to go to school, didn't really have to. That's exactly what the school administrator told Steve. "If you don't want to come back, you don't have to." So he didn't. He took the choice that most 8 year old boys would take if given the option. I know my own, almost 8 year old, son would make the same choice. The difference is my son doesn't have a choice. He has a family that will make sure he gets the academic opportunities he needs. Steve didn't have that. Steve did have a family, a large and loving one. Steve has 2 brothers and 3 sisters. They all lived in a small house on a dirt road. I have memories of their interactions, and it was evident that there was a lot of love for each other. There just wasn't anybody to speak on Steve's behalf about academic opportunities. Steve's family either didn't see the value in education or just weren't very interested in education themselves, as they also had very little, if any schooling. From my observation, they were busy meeting the most basic needs of human survival, food, and shelter. 

Sometime in the next year or so, after Steve's school career had come to an abrupt and early end, he started hanging around the dairy. This is when his farm-based education started. We build, repair, and fabricate a lot of things at the dairy farm. Most dairy farmers do. There is simply no time to wait for a part or even a repairman. Cows have to be milked, so we typically repair things our self. As such, the shop and tools are a central part of any dairy farm. Steve was drawn to the mechanical nature of things. From crawling under machines to "see how they work" to making simple repairs, Steve's education was very hands on. As he got older he learned to operate and repair almost all of the equipment on the farm. He learned to care for animals, and how to harvest hay, and corn silage. In the summer my granny (a teacher) would cook "lunch" that we called dinner. The meal that came later in the evening was supper. While we were home for dinner granny would work with Steve on identifying numbers and writing his name after we had ALL sat around the table for the mid-day meal (dinner). Looking back, everyone had a part in Steve's on farm education. If I know my grandfather, I think he probably saw his role as teaching Steve how to be a man. Mostly by example, but I'm sure a conversation here and there. He taught Steve (and all of us) about honesty, integrity, and compassion. I even remember having the opportunity to help Steve study for his driver's license test. I was 15, and by that time Steve was in his mid 30's. We got our license at approximately the same time, so we studied together. I guess it truly does take a village. It's a village that I'm proud to be a part of, and one that I'm glad Steve is a part of. 
I'm not sure if we did everything right when it came to our role in Steve's raising, but I believe everybody did the best they could. We all have a responsibility as humans to help others when they stand in need. The content of our character can be measured based on if and how we respond when we see those needs. Hearing about and watching my grandparents and parents open their houses and hearts to a young black man that needed a hand, probably shaped me as much as it did Steve.