Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Crops and Classrooms

The newsletter for my alma mater came in the mail today. The first page is usually a brag sheet of the latest accomplishments of the College of Agriculture at the University of Arizona. This time, I was impressed. UofA’s College of Agriculture, so the newsletter reports, is ranked first in the nation for their agronomy and crop science programs for research universities, second in entomology, and tenth in nutritional science.

But when I shared this exciting news with my husband, he laughed. “How perverse!” he said. "Of all the colleges in the US that are surrounded by rich farmland, who is ranked first in the nation for crop science? A school out in the middle of the desert!”

It made sense to me in a quirky way. We do research to find out more about a subject, to discover new ways to accomplish tasks, and to overcome the challenges of, at first turn of the dirt, an unsolvable problem. Rich farm land in Illinois provides no challenge for the scientist – unless they need to study ways to get rid of weeds and bugs and extra water. In the days before Arizona was flooded with exponential population growth, farming was a major industry. Arizona farmers built their reputation on their success with irrigation and other methods. In spite of the harsh conditions, Pima cotton is highly valued, the peaches in Wilcox are like none other, and don’t even get me started on the pleasures of Arizona citrus. The arid conditions have provided a challenge for farmer and scientist alike and they have excelled.

“Ah,” my husband said when I explained all of this. “The struggle makes us strong.” You got it, buddy.

That’s true of your students as well. As you look at the children inside your classroom, you may see some who come from harsh and arid home situations. You may see some children overwhelmed by the flood waters of abuse, addiction and bad relationships surrounding them on all sides. Your heart may break over children who are bugged by disabilities and intellectual roadblocks. You may be tempted to think, “Just think of what they could accomplish if they didn’t have all of this to overcome.” Nope. Just think of what they can become and how sweet the accomplishment will be when they do succeed. As a teacher, you can give them the tools and resources to help them discover how to excel over the challenges they face.

The struggle will make them strong.

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