Tractor Mentality

When I was 12 years old I was growing up in a semi-rural, semi-farming community, and one of the classes they insisted we take in school was agriculture. I vaguely remember having to identify various breeds of cow, and planting trees as a community project. It was the 70’s. Times were simpler. And Florida schools were, if anything, even worse than they are now. That’s really saying something.

Times were also a lot more dangerous. You could still buy lawn darts. Kids were a lot more free-ranging. They still went outside to play, and no one had heard of a bike helmet.

Apparently people were a lot less litigious as well, because child safety, both in and out of school, seemed to be a mere afterthought. It’s amazing that any of us survived to adulthood. I, for one, am surprised that I survived agriculture class.

One afternoon, beneath the blazing Florida sun, our teacher led us down to the football field, and there, right on the 50 yard line, stood a full sized, honest-to-God tractor. In front of the tractor was a maze of traffic cones. “Pop quiz, kids! We’re going to drive this tractor through those cones, and your grade for this endeavor will go down slightly for every cone you knock over. Who wants to go first?”

Well, these farm kids didn’t even bat an eyelash. They’d probably been driving tractors since they were 8 years old. But I had never been behind the wheel of anything, let alone a tractor with a bucket on the front and a manual transmission. I was just supposed to know what I was doing. I freaked out.

I was the last to go. Everyone else had done fine. I felt sick. I shyly whispered to the teacher, “But… I don’t know how to d–” “Nonsense! Hop on up there! You’ll do fine!”

So there I was on this huge machine that had tires taller than I was, and its engine was roaring. I lurched across the field, knocking over every cone in sight. I could barely hear my teacher shouting for me to stop, but he hadn’t told me how to stop. He had barely explained how to go. He wound up running beside me, and as he leaped up onto the tractor he was shouting at me.

Seriously. HE was shouting at ME. I was just a kid, so I felt stupid and humiliated, but from an adult perspective, he shouldn’t have put me in that situation. I’d have been justified in knocking his block off. I wish I had. A scene like that wouldn’t happen in a junior high school in 2015. Too much potential for lawsuits and Facebook publicity.

Every once in a while I have a nightmare where I’m rolling down a hill on a tractor and the brakes don’t work. It’s funny the way school can scar a person for life. Luckily all my scars are “only” emotional.



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