Black & White

I grew up in a black-and-white world (literally), surrounded by Holstein cows, on our family farm.  The motto on the sign in front of our dairy – Home of the Working Cow – was fodder for the mean kids who routinely asked if the Working Cow was my sister or me.  We got up early to milk the cows and went to bed late after milking them again. Twice a day, every day.  We didn’t get many vacations and we didn’t enjoy luxuries like TV time or play time. Our playground was our milking parlor.

That's me, milking cows, 40 years ago!
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining.  Look at how happy I am in this picture.  I actually acquired a really good work ethic by doing chores and being so responsible. What I'm pondering today is my black-and-white world (figuratively). And I'm not just talking monochromatic photographs. You see, I was brought up looking at things through a black-and-white lens.  There wasn’t much, if any, gray area.  Not much was left to interpretation and rarely was anything up for negotiation. Parents said what they meant and meant what they said.  Yes meant yes and no meant no and adults were always right.  So were teachers and school administrators. (Bad things would happen if the school had to call home!)  Your aunts and uncles were pretty much always right, too, as were your grandparents.  Even the neighbors? Absolutely. They were allowed, encouraged even, to step in and correct us if they saw us straying too far off of the right path.  'It takes a village to raise a child' certainly rang true in our black-and-white world.

Goofy was one of my favorites!
I won the blue ribbon in Showmanship with Goofy that day in this picture at the Brown County Fair, but not everything about my black-and-white world was positive. Under authoritarian rule, we heard mantras like, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” And “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”  There's absolutely NO wiggle room in either of those mission statements.  Only. Black. And. White!  I got my fair share of spankings, so no worries about us being spoiled, that’s for sure. But what would it have hurt to give us a small voice?  I'm sure we could have come up with something valuable to say. . .

Over the years, we've gotten more and more comfortable with shades of gray.  Kids today do have a voice and corporal punishment isn’t quite as commonplace as it was back on the farm. It seems the proverbial pendulum has swung the other way.  But I'm wondering about that black-and-white thing where values are concerned.  A handshake meant something, it was your word and honesty was more than a policy, it was a way of life. I like to think that in today's world, right is still right and wrong is still wrong. And yet, in a nearby town when some 200 seniors were caught cheating on an AP English IV test at the end of last semester, they were allowed to retake the test. Does that seem like a little too much gray to anyone? 

And that village concept is more important now than ever before, but how many aunts or uncles step in to help out in today’s day and age?  I hope a lot, but that’s not necessarily the trend I’m observing despite research that strongly suggests that kids who are connected to mentors (like an extended family member or neighbor!) are less likely to get into trouble and more likely to find success in life. Can't get much more black-and-white than that. Still, I know that today's families often struggle to keep track of their own kids, much less watch out for the neighbor’s herd.  How are we doing in our village?  Would we exceed expectations on the state assessment in that area?

This counselor is all for giving kids a voice and listening to our future leaders, encouraging them to reach for the stars and empowering them with the tools to do just that, second chances even; at the same time, this farmer’s daughter likes it when the pendulum comes back to some timeless non-negotiables:
Tell the truth. Keep your promises. Respect one another. Mind your manners. Be courteous. Take care of your stuff. Show up and be on time. Give your best effort. Forgive mistakes. Do the right thing. Obey the rules. Apologize. Work hard. Play Fair. Be kind. 
Look out for one another. Help those in need. 
Treat others like you want to be treated.

Those are the things that my elders drilled home in my black-and-white world way back when that still hold true for our techno-color world today.


  1. I couldn't agree more. Sometimes I wish we could go back to those times. Great post! Thanks for making us think about this.
    ❀Beth Ann❀
    Taming My Flock of Firsties

  2. Beautifully written. I could NOT agree more. I had a similar upbringing. (minus the cows and insert the 80's) I had amazing parents and they were always right as well as all my neighbors, aunts, uncles, teachers, and even the mailman. We were kids and it wasn't our concern to challenge the adults in our lives with extending bedtimes, what to eat for dinner, or how to run the household...and life was pretty black and white. Except for the krimpt hair and the neon clothes of course. :) I know my family was much more strict than those of my neighbors, but the crazy neighborhood boys that I played with still respected adults too. Thanks for the reflection time. I love reading your posts Barbara! Have a wonderful Sunday.

  3. Barb, thanks for the trip down memory lane, especially the two photos. Your words ring true for me as I remember growing up on the farm with you. Luckily you and my other older siblings had mom and dad broken in by the time I arrived so I had it a bit easier, only a bit.

    We were raised with an excellent work ethic and for that I am grateful. I could have used more play time, but what kid wouldn't yearn for more of that?

    One thing your readers should realize is your early love of photography and your penchant for climbing silos for the sole purpose of taking photos from a higher vantage point. So when you talk about looking through a B/W lens, you know whereof you speak.

    I love you sis.

  4. Wow! This is SO true. I was raised exactly the same way. Sad commentary on the gray we have with our children now; OK, not all of us and not all children, but many of them. The gray area for cheating is certainly overlooked here too. It has made for a difficult time for my black and white daughter!
    Great blog, wonderful insight, as always.

  5. Hello, Barbara:
    I AGREE with your post--and the comments!
    Last week I had a conference where a student rolled his eyes, shook his head, looked disgusted, and argued every point. And his parents said nothing... except to agree with him, of course.
    My greatest sadness is that so many students are given a "voice" (which I facilitate), and then they use that voice to be disrespectful, rude, and cruel.
    Boy! I better go read some Caring Community passages or I am going to be crabby tomorrow morning!
    Thanks for giving me something to think about...

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  6. What a great post! My hubby and I were just talking about this very thing. I see the world in black & white and struggle with gray! I want people to say what they mean and mean what they say. I think kids should be allowed to have a voice but it must be respectful. I don't think anyone learns anything when one gets caught cheating and only has to redo the test. Every time we allow the pendulum to swing the other way, the world becomes a scary place. What will happen in the future when the kids who have seen so much gray are our leaders?

    I just responded to your question on my blog.

    Think, Wonder, & Teach

  7. Awesome post! That was the world I grew up in and I honestly didn't feel the impact of how much it had changed until I entered the world of teaching. Totally different world out there. Thanks for write this. It was a reminder of how things use to be.

    First Grade Delight


I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!