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Serving: IN

What kids are missing in ‘virtual world’

Tom J. Bechman 2019-20 Indiana FFA State Officer team
RETURN TO REALITY: Let’s hope the 2020-21 Indiana FFA state officer team can conduct a convention live in June 2021. The 2019-20 team (pictured) began their tenure on stage in June 2019.
Let’s think things through before getting lured in by the benefits of an all-virtual world.

Hats off to the Indiana FFA 2019-20 state officers and the Indiana FFA Association crew for pulling off a virtual state convention. Only the state officers who were involved in a session were live inside Purdue University’s Hall of Music. The rest of each session was prerecorded.

Initial reports indicate more people saw the event than a “live” convention. One veteran ag teacher even said, “Heck, let’s do virtual every year. It saved our chapter thousands of dollars, we didn’t have early morning or late-night commutes, and kids weren’t either sleeping through a session or distracting others.”

Whoa! Before anyone thinks we should have virtual FFA conventions and virtual 4-H fairs forever, let me put a pitch in for reality. Here are three things kids missed because the convention was virtual. I’m basing them on my experiences as an FFA member, parent and advisor.

1. Handling embarrassing situations. Ever been locked inside a bathroom in a hotel? I have — at an FFA state convention. I don’t remember a lot about my trips to convention, but I vividly remember the panic I felt when I pulled on the bathroom doorknob from the inside, having locked myself in for privacy, and the knob came off in my hand. The door was still locked, and my fellow FFA members laughed hysterically before deciding to seek help. It’s hard to duplicate virtual panic!

2. Learning about etiquette. Many years later, I accompanied an FFA team at a national competition to the awards banquet. Three of the four had never attended a formal banquet at a “fancy” hotel. None of the three knew the salad fork from the dinner fork. One member poured salad dressing from the typical boat-shaped container holding salad dressing onto his mashed potatoes. He thought it was gravy! You don’t learn that online either.

3. Accepting disappointment. Our daughter Allison ran for a state FFA office but wasn’t slated or elected. Was she disappointed? You bet! She went through the normal emotions anyone would go through after not achieving something they had strived for. But she learned — by interacting with those around her, by seeing how they reacted, and by letting time change her perspective. Eventually, she realized God was in control.

She went on to Purdue University instead, studying food science. Once she realized they should call it “science of food,” because it’s all about chemistry and more chemistry, she was glad she didn’t take a year away from her studies.

Later, our son, Daniel, served as a state officer. He grew from the experience, but he learned which types of situations made him nervous, and how to handle those feelings. In both cases, for Allison and Daniel, these were real-life, growing-up experiences; the kind that makes FFA what it is — a great training ground for young people.

You can send me pictures of projects and ask me to judge them in a virtual fair if you want. It works. I did it this year. But tell me one lesson that young person learned from loading a picture of a photo exhibit onto a computer that will help him or her later in life.

There will be things we can take away from the pandemic experience that can improve efficiency. Let’s just be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Comments? Email [email protected].

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