Homeschooling With a Shovel, in a Ditch

My son James has been helping a nearby farmer install drain tile in his field. Thus far, he has worked a couple of full days at the task. Marlene called me at work on the second day. She was a little concerned. “Do you think it’s okay for him to be working like that?”

“What do you mean,” I asked.

“Well he’s only 13 years old. He’s not doing his homeschooling.”

I reassured my wife that it was okay. James was learning things that typical 13-year-old boys in government school do not learn—like how to put in an honest day’s work, in a ditch, with a shovel. His teacher was a farmer, a man who knows what he’s doing. And there was another man helping. Can the government school system provide two teachers for one student?

James was learning about how a laser level works. But more than just learning how the tool works, he was helping to use the tool in a real-life work situation. He was learning about geology, agronomy, physics, and the natural world. He was interacting with men, and doing a man’s work—productive work—work that needed to be done.

Marlene felt the same way. She just wanted me to verify what is perfectly obvious—that being able to help with such work is good, and beneficial, and a blessing. At least to us this is obvious.

But then Marlene mentioned to a family relative that James was helping a farmer with his ditching. The relative expressed concerns that the state Labor Department might not be pleased with a 13-year-old boy doing such work.

The state labor department? Who are they? What do they know about raising children? What business is this of theirs? Does this government agency love my son, as his mother and I do? Have these bureaucrats been entrusted by God Almighty with the responsibility of raising my boy, as I have? The idea that some state agency would find wrong in this matter and possibly think they would be doing the right thing by interfering is enough to make me angry.

There was a time, not so long ago, when it was common for boys to work with men on farms, doing the hard tasks of farming. In fact, government schools originally were in session only when there was no planting, growing, and harvesting work to be done on the farm. Children were once important economic assets to their families and their communities. Of course, the modern mind looks back at that and sees children being exploited. And therein we have yet another example of how warped modern thinking is.

I suppose the state Labor Department would rather that 13-year-old boys didn't work at all. But if they did work, it should be easier, safer, and less strenuous, like emptying the dishwasher, or taking out the garbage, or... walking the dog. Oh yeah. Now that’s the kind of work that builds character, confidence, self-esteem , and self-reliance in a young boy! And then when they’re all tuckered out with that “work” they can stare into a computer screen for hours while playing violent, aggressive video games.

We live in a culture that doesn’t want young boys to grow up and become men (and many of them never do become men). I reject that kind of social engineering. Young boys have increasing testosterone levels, they are getting physically strong, and they have mind-boggling energy levels. They need productive work to do. Organized sports is not productive work and it is a poor substitute. Boys need to begin to integrate into the world of work. There is no better way to do this than on a farm. I don’t have a farm but, thankfully, I have neighbors who are farmers.

Picking rocks, doing chores on a dairy farm, bringing in the hay in the summer, loading hay trucks out of the barn throughout the year, and helping to lay drainage tile in a ditch with a shovel are all good jobs my sons have been able to help several neighboring farmers with.

My son wants to do this work. He is an eager worker because he enjoys helping with significant work. Besides that, he wants to earn enough money to buy himself a newer bicycle. As his father, I couldn’t be more pleased, and he knows it.

So, to the people from the Labor Department, I say: Relax. All of this is nothing more than a homeschool field trip.


One afternoon, when I got home from work, and I learned James was working in the field, I headed out to see for myself. I found him in a ditch, up to his chest. A backhoe was digging away about 30 feet from him. James and another man were laying plastic drain pipe in the bottom of the ditch and shoveling dirt over it to hold it in place. I took several pictures with the intention of sharing them with you here.

But with this talk of the state Labor Department I’ve decided it would not be wise to post the pictures. I don’t want to provide any incriminating evidence that we might be committing a “crime.”

But later on, as I was in my house I heard James coming down the road on his brother’s 4-wheeler. I looked out the window and saw him, with his shovel tied on the back, pull into the driveway, and I grabbed my camera. I met him at the door, shook his hand to congratulate him for doing a good day’s work, and snapped this picture (he is tolerating my enthusiasm).


We can’t have muddy boots in the house, so he took them off outside, and I saw another photo opportunity:


See those socks? Well they were white when he put them on that morning. His boots were full of mud. I love to see my sons soiled from doing the hard work of farming. Such a sight brings joy to this father’s heart.

But if you're from the state Labor Department I say: "Gee whiz, look at that mud. A boy sure can get dirty catching pollywogs in the creek."


sharpy said...

This post strikes a chord with me. We homeschool our daughters, and I left a 10 year career in government schools (day orphanages) to become a self employed remodeler. We love the independent spirit you possess combined with the humble reliance on the Lord.

We sometimes despair of finding husbands for our daughters who are real men when we look around at the boys and the way they are being raised or shaped by society. Thank you for being a father who intentionally is raising Godly men, and for being an example to other fathers of how to do that.

Should we obey God or men? Keep pressing on and don't worry about those government agencies.

Marci said...

The powers that be would love to come down fast and hard on you. However, they are the very ones who complain about the lack of worth ethic in todays world. Hmmmm..... I wonder if there is any connection.

My son also did apprenticeship type work as part of his schooling. He is now 24, has his own remodeling business and is established enough that he is getting married this year.

Berryman said...

Do those boys travel to Nortwest Georgia?

Andy said...

As manager of a modern family dairy farm, I must confess that we made the hard decision several years ago to completely cease all hiring of anyone under 16 years old and seriously scrutinze anyone under 18 years old for two reasons, both related to well intentioned but poorly informed government:

FIRST - One read through the restrictions on young laborers is enough to scare any honest employer.

SECOND - As mandatory minimum wage (both federal and state) increases, the cost of the young, inexperienced labor quickly exceeds its productive ability.

In the "good old days," our family farm trained many young men and women how to put in an honest days labor, work with animals, and care for the land - including myself, my siblings, my cousins, numerous local youth from the church and the community, and even the children of several local pastors as well!

Today, I am not even sure how I will provide this real life training to my own children. Because I am not the sole owner of our farm (rather our farm is an LLC partnership consisting of various family members) even my own children fall under the labor law restrictions. I may be the last generation of my family to be permitted to learn about life through work on the farm.

Dreamer said...

You are doing a good job raising your boys. A hard day's work is good for all that boundless energy and raging hormones.

You should have seen the work (manual labor) my parents had me doing...and I was a girl. Gasp!

mark said...

Boy, my Dad must have violated every goverment rule about below age work. We did everything from building houses, to remodeling, to tearing them down and recycling the materials, etc. But, I sure learned how to make, and repair things. He had grown up on a farm , and after all, wasn't that the way every one had done it? I one time had to build a 6' wall around our yard from blocks. Well, lets just say the wall undulated a little. But I did it! We have a whole generation of people growing up, who think the epitome of genius, is that they can program their own web site. But cannot do a thing for themselves. Mud on your boots, while working, has great nobility, and dignity.

Anonymous said...

Laughter doeth good like a medicine! Your post had me rolling on the floor. Thanks, Herrick, for the insights and pictures.

My son and daughter often time didn't think much of the homeschooling I provided. However, when my daughter went to apply to go to college she got the highest score on the entrance exams that any applicant had gotten in over five years. When they asked her where she had gone to high school, she ashamedly said that she had been "homeschooled." They responded with, "well then, I guess everybody should be homeschooled."

Blessings, and I hope to get to know you better,

Jeffrey Alan Klute
Rayville, Missouri

LadiesoftheHouse said...

Oh don't get me started. We homeschool our daughters and expect them to learn all aspects of real life. Both kids drive our backhoe to help my husband--they have been since they were 10 years old. We have our own home repair business and they can help with any aspect of that as well. My 17 year old has an excellent job that she walks a mile to and my 11 year old can make pancakes from scratch by herself for crying out loud. Both girls excel at schoolwork and are grades ahead of where they should be. My older daughter just tested for her orange belt in Tae Kwon Do tonight and my younger daughter is a ballerina and plays the clarinet and piano.

Would you believe we had a neighbor come over e and inform me that she knows that she can call CPS anonymously if she thinks my children are not being kept up in their school work.

Then she had to go home because her public school daughter was expelled from school and couldn't be trusted to be home alone for very long.

Of course, this is the same neighbor that refused my offer of a dozen home grown eggs because she just couldn't stand the idea of eating something that the store hadn't cleaned. God help us.

Home Built said...

I use to take a very hard approach with all government agencies that deal with family issues, but what an open minded realist approach has taught me is that, Most, not all, but most people in the child welfare arena really do love families and traditional family values. I worked from the time I was old enough to understand the value of a task done right (around age 8) in my families operation. One day when I was about your sons age a busy-body neighbor called family social services on my parents because some of the tasks I was performing “shouldn’t be performed by child”. With in minutes of arriving at our operation the social service worker was asking if she could bring her son out some weekend to experience rural life. It’s sad fact but there is a need for social welfare in our society today, there are many, many people and operations that would gladly exploit your children for any number of reasons. I think it’s dangerous to assume the worst in people, I am sure that most people (social services/child welfare included) would look at your son being productive in a task where he is learning a skill and say well done. Oh by the way, I’m not a social worker… I used the skills my Dad taught me to become a master carpenter, and a mentor to other skilled professionals, and laymen.

Michael said...

When I was just ten my father had me delivering milk with him. On Saturday's he would wake me at 2:30 to get dressed and I would hide in the back of the car while he loaded the truck. the milk was all letter coded and I learned quickly to memorize each one so that I could be a better helper. i probably could recite each one forty 4 years later. what it taught was what it took to make it. althought I was not able to break my own that early they have worked with me as soon as the law allowed. keep up the good work.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Everyone,

I sure do appreciate all the great feedback to this post...

You are concerned about finding MEN for your daughters to one day marry, and I am concerned that my sons will find godly young women that desire to be mothers, and helpmeets to their husbands. How old are your girls? :-)

Hi Marci,
Having spent 20+ years in the building trades, doing mostly residential remodeling work, I can relate to the work your son does. It was hard work and satisfying work and it supported my family. I miss it but I can't imagine getting back into it at 50 yrs old. Congratulations on gaining a new daughter in law.

Thanks for asking. That's funny. A boy willing to do hard work in the country should have no problem finding work of all kinds to do. That has certainly been our experience. But my boys have friends who would never stick to a job and work like they do.

That is a sorry state of affairs and a very sad commentary.

Well then, you were blessed to have such work to do. :-)

It is wonderful that you and your dad were able to do all those things together. I do not have such memories. You were blessed too!

Hi Jeffrey-
As I'm sure you know, homeschooling is the "original" schooling. It is the way God intended for children to be taught. As is often the case, our children do not have the perspective we do on this subject and sometimes think they have missed out on something by not getting educated by the government system. They just don't know what's best for them. That's why they have parents like us. :-)

Your daughters can operate backhoes? Wow. That is great. Sorry to know you have a "difficult" neighbor like that.

Thanks for the input. I hope you are right about social service workers.

I appreciate your comment. You too were blessed as a boy to be able to work with your father. That is so rare these days but it is the way it is supposed to be.

Anonymous said...


The only comment I can make is to encourage your son in the strongest possible terms to be careful in that ditch. Even shallow trenches collapse, and you don't have to be completely buried in one to have severe injuries.


Phil Crome

sharpy said...

We had a good laugh at your reply. My daughters are 11, 10, and 7. We should stay in touch. :) I'd better run or we'll be late for church.

Doug Sharp