The Planted Row: Preparing the next generation

Farm Forum

This week, my children left the house for their first day of the new school year. As we do every year, we took a photo to remember the moment. I looked at the photo as my son headed off to his first day in the seventh grade. In the photo he looks so tall — he’ll be taller than me by next year, I’m sure. Now he’s an even-tempered, responsible boy whom I can trust with many tasks around the house, including looking out for his sister when my wife and I aren’t around. I couldn’t be prouder.

It suddenly struck me that I only have six more years of him living at home. That’s a frightening thought and reminder than we don’t have much time left to prepare him for the world.

He came home after his first day of school and informed me that in this year’s industrial technology class, he’ll be cutting metal, welding, and disassembling and reassembling a lawnmower engine. The news brought back a flash of memories from my own industrial arts class in junior high in which I performed all the tasks he mentioned and much more. (His class only lasts for nine weeks while mine lasted the entire school year.) I warned my son not to earn the nickname “Welding Rod” the same way I had: burning my face on a hot welding rod and wearing the mark on my cheek for weeks.

My son quickly moved on to other topics about his day, but I’ve been stuck on his shop class. I learned so much in the shop class offered to me when I was his age. I learned how to wire electrical outlets, switches, and lights. I learned how to use just about every tool in a wood shop. I learned every single part of a lawnmower engine and how to replace each one.

My father could show me the basics of each of these areas, but he didn’t have time on the farm to give me the patient guidance that it actually takes to become proficient in some of these skills. Tractor driving he had time for. Letting me create something out of metal just so I could learn to use an arc welder… not so much.

So I’m a little disappointed the school district has decided my son’s industrial technology class will only last nine weeks instead of a full year or, at the very least, a full semester. I understand that in high school, my son could potentially take more advanced technology courses at the A-Tec Academy. However, I’m worried that he won’t have time then because I will want his focus at that point to be on college-prep courses.

Ever since coming back from his time on our family’s farm in Mississippi this summer, my son has been talking about attending Mississippi State University and helping out on the farm on weekends and summers. While I hope he is able to attend a more competitive school than my alma mater, I don’t want to discourage him from his desire to be involved with farm work. If things turn out that way, I’d like to send my son down to Mississippi with the same skillset my school provided me, but I wonder how likely that is.

I also wonder why there’s no ag program in the Aberdeen School District. This is completely surprising to me because the headquarters for the state’s largest cooperative is in Aberdeen, and the headquarters for the second largest co-op is not far away. I have personally heard representatives from one of those companies say that finding qualified applicants can be a difficult challenge. There are also numerous other ag services businesses in the area who could use a pool of qualified applicants, as well.

I’m glad that Roncalli has recently added an ag program, but that’s a private school, and I don’t think parents should have to pay a private school’s tuition in order for their children to be prepared for the workforce.

With the ag industry offering good job security across numerous areas of study, I have to wonder why the public school district in the state’s third largest city doesn’t have a program to prepare students for work in the state’s largest industry.