BEEF Senior Editor Burt Rutherford with some of the kids and adults involved with a career fair

BEEF Senior Editor Burt Rutherford with some of the kids and adults involved with a career fair

Why I disagree (sort of) with Troy Marshall

In a recent commentary, BEEF contributing editor Troy Marshall commented on the state of America as reflected by its educational system. I agree with Troy, but I get a different perspective being the husband of an elementary school principal who runs a very large campus (almost  600 students), many of whom are from low socioeconomic status (SES) households.

Yes, our educational system has its challenges, and yes, it’s different than when Troy and I were youngsters. Back then, schools didn’t need locked front doors and security cameras to protect us from mental deviants who want to shoot the place to pieces.

But instead of dwelling on that, let me tell you about a couple of experiences that put me face-to-face with our educational system. I came away from those experiences blessed and heartened.

Last week, my wife’s school hosted a career day for its students. For the sixth year, I got the opportunity to talk about cattle, beef and writing, and why what they learn in school is important when they become adults. I don’t know if any of that sunk in, but the kids found it very interesting when I told them that the process their teachers have them go through when they write a paper is very close to the same process I go through when I write a paper. Maybe what they learn inside the walls of the schoolhouse does have some relevance later in life.

The purpose of the career fair is not so much to have the kids decide on a career—they’re much too young for that—but to show them that education is important no matter what they do with their lives. It’s to encourage them to keep learning and ultimately to set their sights on college or some other post-secondary education.

In short, its purpose is to show those kids that they can and should set their sights high, both in school and in life.

That’s a message we all need to hear. And if those kids don’t hear it from their parents, as Troy points out, then they need to hear it from their teachers. And from me. And you.

This week, the Kiwanis Club I am part of had its weekly meeting at our adopt-a-school, also a large campus from a low SES neighborhood. We were entertained by a singing group comprised of kids who audition for a place in the group, then commit to staying after school to rehearse.

Watching those kids, looking at their faces as they sang, was truly a blessing. Same with talking with the kids at the career fair—seeing their curiosity, the promise behind their smiles and their boundless energy.

I agree with Troy that much of what was part and parcel of elementary school when he and I were there has been lost. However, it’s not because the teachers and administrators aren’t trying. But teachers can’t be teachers as well as mamas and daddies.  

And maybe not all of what was part and parcel to elementary school when Troy and I were youngsters has been lost.  During the career fair, we all said the Pledge of Allegiance as a student read it over the loudspeaker, and of pencils I brought to give away, those with the flag theme went first.

As in past years, I can’t claim an epiphany from my experiences. But I came away from them heartened and renewed in the promise in these youngsters. I also came away knowing that their teachers can’t do it alone.

So if you get a chance to talk to a group of school kids, whether by inviting them to visit your ranch or by being invited to their school, jump on it. I think you’ll come away from the experience with a reaction similar to mine.

Those opportunities are out there. Take advantage of them. It’s the least we can do for the kids. And for ourselves.

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