I had professors in college and graduate school (despite evidence to the contrary, I was exposed to higher learning) who talked about the magic “teachable moment,” an opportunity that appeared as if by divine intervention to allow instructors to insert something useful into our heads.
These moments occurred about as often as the appearance of Haley's Comet. Some of us were less teachable than others, but a rare epiphany occasionally appeared to even the most thickheaded of us (a category in which I list myself).
I recall one such moment of illumination in graduate school. We were discussing the merits of William Wordsworth's poem, “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey.” I found merits for Wordsworthian poetry extremely difficult to discern. He was a bit too flowery for my taste. But this one line caught my attention and I've never forgotten it. It goes something like this: “That best portion of a good man's life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”
That today is referred to as “random acts of kindness,” people doing right just because it's right, not for rewards (here or in the hereafter). It's the way I'd like to live my life but usually fail in the execution of good intentions.
Anyway, that was a teachable moment, which my professor didn't miss, and I've since had a better appreciation of Wordsworth, flowery language and all.
The point to this (and there is always a point, right?) is that I recently missed a rare teachable moment. A reader pointed out that the commentary in the March 14 issue (the one about my misadventures as a tractor driver) should have included one last paragraph, or at least one more line, a disclaimer admonishing children, and adults: “Do not try this at home.”
I missed an opportunity to point out that tractors can be dangerous, especially for youngsters. I should have noted that riding around with a four-year old in your lap is extremely unwise and that entrusting operation of farm machinery to a child is never a good idea. And jumping off a moving vehicle, especially one attached to anything that will cut, chop, gouge or flail makes no sense, even with hornets buzzing around your head.
Kids on farms grow up fast and are eager to assume responsibility, including, perhaps mostly, driving tractors and combines and cotton strippers. As I recall, riding a tractor beat the stew out of hoeing watermelons. But of the two, wielding a hoe is much safer than bouncing around on a tractor. Unless one hoes barefooted — never a good plan, since briars, stones, scorpions, bumblebees and hot soil, to say nothing of a misaimed hoe, might cause extreme discomfort or missing toes — sunburn, blisters and aching backs pose the worst safety hazards.
Farm kids, like kids everywhere else, I think, should be encouraged to take on responsibility as early as possible. But it's also a good idea to provide ample supervision and assure safety.
Machinery today is safer than it was 40 odd years ago. Cabs, rollover protection devices, and automatic cut-off switches should make accidents the exception, not the rule. But, even with the most foolproof machinery, mishaps occur. Luck saved my rear end three times, at least. Perhaps divine providence stepped in to provide the world a shining example of what not to do.
The other point: stay safe and look for teachable moments to show your kids how to stay safe too.
Finally, at last, I'd like to note that offers of part-time employment as a tractor driver have been less than encouraging.