Some of my students at Legacy, in addition to being students here, are also students at a Weekend Thai school that allows them to receive their high school diploma (since high schools, from my knowledge, appear to be rare in the villages of “Lahuland” where the vast majority of our students come from). The exams for one of these schools, where some half a dozen of our students are studying, are coming up this weekend, so being the inquisitive person I am, I asked one of our students what exams he had this weekend (since he has eight of them).
The answers were surprising. Some of the exam topics were obvious—like English. Some were moderately surprising, like religion. But some were extremely surprising: like exams growing rice, raising chickens, and building projects. I was very intrigued by how these subjects came to be required studies, since he further said that the new Thai government had made such subjects mandatory for all students in Thailand. The thought of some city slicker in Bangkok taking an exam on the yield of mountain rice or the proper way to take care of chickens sounded pretty ludicrous to me.
Upon further questioning I found that the students’ explanation for the new subjects was that the King of Thailand wanted citizens to be self-sufficient agriculturally and not be dependent on the government. Maybe some American politicians ought to jump on this bandwagon. A little agricultural knowledge might provide some city and suburban young people with an awareness of where food really comes from—and the answer is not “the supermarket” or “Mcdonald’s.” Even though farming and other related jobs are work I have considered personally undesirable “buffalo work” since childhood, growing up in a farming famly did at least provide me with an appreciation of those who did work on the land or with animals and an awareness of the supply chian of how food got from from to market. That might be enough to make many people more sensitive to food supply and prices, and more inclined to at least engage in a little urban gardening (or maybe even guerrilla gardening) to increase their supply of fresh vegetables and herbs.
That said, the new Thai government’s changes have quadrupled the number of exam that students have to take from 2 to 8. That’s a high price to pay for a little theoretical knowledge in a subject that few Thai students (much less American students) really care about. After all, one of the consistent worldwide trends (including even I myself) over the last couple of centuries has been the flight of ambitious young people from the farms and the drudgery of rural labor to the cities, and to either factories or universities. The same processes that happened in Europe and North America in the 1700’s and 1800’s are happening throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America now. No one wants to do buffalo work on the farm when more respect and money beckon in the city. We would do better to raise people to honor all with a fair wage or price and respect rather than try to force all to learn a subject most people want desperately to avoid. But respect is so easy to demand, and so hard to give others, and so there’s no one here at the farm except us chickens, and the snakes are coming, so even we might not be here for much longer.