I have received about ten emails from people who are outraged that the Obama administration is proposing that kids be banned from doing farm work.
People who grew up on farms are posting comments all over the Internet about their farm nostalgia. And I get it. I understand that kids run wild on a farm in a way that city kids could never dream of. But the flip side to that is that kids die too often on farms. From machinery.
A nine-year-old boy in my town just got crushed under an ATV that he was driving himself. And, three days later, a neighbor asked if his four-year-old could drive his ATV on our land so he could go faster.
“Yeah. He has great body control.”
Seriously. This is the mentality we’re dealing with in rural America where kids are doing farm chores.
Kids are exposed to machinery on farms in the ways that kids were exposed to machinery in factories during the Industrial Revolution.
So I think the Obama administration is on the right track. Unlike 30 years ago, today’s farms are industrial. Our farm included: that picture up top is my husband. You can’t make enough money milking cows or planting corn without using huge machinery. Most people don’t traverse their land on horse because there’s too much land and horses aren’t fast enough. Which means families are riding on ATVs and jeeps – both of which kids are driving way before they have a license. Kids are planting and harvesting. Kids are milking. Kids are going into industrial chicken coops.
None of these jobs is the stuff of a Norman Rockwell painting. This is the farm industry, and Lewis Hine showed us, 100 years ago, that it’s no place for kids.
Our national denial about how disgusting our food supply is is the same denial we use to say that kids should be able to do chores the same way they did when family farms were really family farms.
But the Obama administration could go further. We still treat kids like they are in factories when they are in school: They are managed by bells like they punch a clock, they specialize in narrow, unrelated subjects like assembly line workers, and they are educated in batches like a manufacturing plant.
If treating kids like industrial age workers on a farm is no good, then it’s no good for schools, either.