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The best laid plans: Remote learning from the farm office

Kim Baldwin

When I was in high school, I was introduced to John Steinbeck’s work. As a high schooler, I devoured “The Grapes of Wrath” while on a road trip across west Texas and made an extreme effort to go see a production of “Of Mice and Men.”

Perhaps it was because I had been exposed to black and white images of my grandfather as a small boy during the Great Depression, or because I was interested in the agriculture represented in his works, or perhaps it was because Steinbeck’s words became vivid images in my mind. I embraced Steinbeck’s characters, his themes and the lessons presented. By the time I left home for college I had declared Steinbeck as one of my favorite authors.

Like many families, we have converted to conducting our day-to-day operations from home these days. The kids and I are both completing our learning and working from home as my husband prepares to begin our spring planting. While the majority of my husband’s days are generally spent in isolation in a tractor cab, my days are spent in our farm office with our two children attempting to be as productive as possible with both work and school.

As we prepared for the kids to begin their continuous learning plan from home because of COVID-19, many well-meaning people began sharing a colorful, detailed schedule on Facebook for parents to implement and children to follow to keep order and organization during our days at home.


I know how important routines are. I was a public school teacher for 16 years and know the value of good routines. However, I’ve also learned over the years that sometimes things don’t go as planned.

Aside from getting lost within his stories, Steinbeck served as a gateway to other literary works. “Of Mice and Men” is a prime example of this. The title of this work by Steinbeck references the poem “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns.

The poem is about all of the hard work a small mouse has done to prepare its nest for winter, only to have the nest destroyed by Burns as he plowed a field. In the original Scots-language poem, Burns reflects that oftentimes “the best-laid schemes o’mice an’ men Gang aft agley.” Translated it means that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

As the kids and I have transitioned to remote learning and working, Burns and Steinbeck have popped into my mind many times. In fact, I have told myself on more than one occasion, “Gang aft agley,” as a reminder that I need to approach each day with flexibility.

Did I anticipate my daughter would use a Sharpie marker on my dry erase board one hour into our new learning environment? No.

Did I plan that the online platform my son’s teacher is using to communicate with her students would crash the first day we started our new schooling? No.

Did I expect Rosie our farm dog to come into the office during lunch and steal my daughter’s sandwich on our first day of school from home? Nope.

Did I think my children would forget they’ve been raised as civilized individuals and skip using the toilet in our house and instead “go” outside on the first day of our new home schooling? Absolutely not. Yet, here we are.

As we continue day by day, I am reminded — thanks to Steinbeck and Burns — that my best laid plans can be affected by outside factors, and the plan has to be modified.

May we all remember that a mix of grace, flexibility and humor will go a long way as we move forward into this new, temporary normal. And may we remind ourselves there still are blessings to be found even if our best laid plans have gone awry. ❖

— Baldwin is a farmer and Farm Bureau member in Kansas. She is a past president of her county Farm Bureau (McPherson) and current board member. This column was originally published as a Kansas Farm Bureau Insight column.




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