One weekend not too long ago, I went to a cheesemaking course. The course was facilitated by a farmer,Debra Amrein-Boyes. The milk she uses to demonstrate the process is from her own farm. As she is stirring the milk and explaining important factors in making the cheese, there is a reverence in how she is treating the milk. It is noticeable in how she captures every last kernel of the curds, or in the using of as much of the whey as she can, to make the ricotta.
As she is stirring and checking the temperature, she talks about the quota system in Canada for milk and the rules and regulations that guide what you are allowed to call ‘milk’ or ‘cream’ or ‘cheese’. The conversation quickly turns to the standards and farming regulations and practices in the USA and how they impact and differ from those in Canada. She talks about the Canadian Dairy farmers estimated yearly 7% loss in dairy product sales from the US market. She talks about how the quota system is there to protect and stabilize the milk price which is about protecting the Canadian farmers and the dairy industry.
Then she talks about the bovine growth hormone owned by Monsanto. American farmers are allowed to inject BGH to their milking cows. This enables cows to produce much more milk, but at a great cost to the cow. Cows last as little as two years before they are sold to slaughter. Farmers are forced to give these shots to their cows everyday. BGH artificially increases milk production and harms the cow in the process. What is that doing to my body?
She talks about having her milking cows for ten to twelve years.
Her words had a huge impact on me. I know about BGH and I knew that milking cows in the US were given this hormone but I still bought milk from the American Costco. It wasn’t until I heard and saw a farmer, whose reverence for her animals and the milk they produced was clear, share her story, that I changed my practice.
I told my husband and we both agreed that we would no longer purchase dairy products produced from BGH injected cows. This might be a small step in supporting clean food sources. Learning to make cheese and gaining a greater appreciation of how important clean quality milk is for the process is another way.
So what does this have to do with education? My point in this story is this:
My practice did not change with information. I had the information. I knew about the BGH and in fact had a unit on it in my planning 10. Knowing about and teaching it changed my practice only somewhat. Hearing how it impacted a farmer, and even the cheese making process – this changed me. I am still thinking about it, I am still talking about it.
Personal contact, stories, being in the room, physical experiences with beings – these impact me more than information. I am one of those people, for all of my time with technology, social media and hybrid teaching/learning practices that thrive, understand and learn, from human contact and connection. It is my primary way of learning and it is what influences my practice.
And more and more, I am thinking I am not that special. Most of the students I come into contact with operate the same way. Success happens in the doing not in the telling. Teaching the “right thing” does not ensure our students “do the right thing”.
We have to find ways to continue to tell the stories, however they might show up. Impacting moral practice, somewhere along the line, needs to engage the physical practice along with the story. Telling people what to do, watching videos about what we should do or even researching information about what we should do, does not change out practice.
What this reminds me to do in my teaching and "leading" is to always consider my own practice and my own story as well as the story of other. Ultimately these are the factors that influence behavior and make positive changes possible.