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Take Note: Digging for a lesson; That voodoo that you do

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Some students might think a three-week October break is to die for. But for many in rural Maine, it's enough to make school seem like a vacation.

Youngsters there play an important role in the annual potato harvest--ditching school for some good old-fashioned manual labor come rain, sleet, or shine.

More than 1,000 elementary, middle, and high school students every year are given leave to work on Maine's 650 or so potato farms, most of them inAroostook County, an area about the size of Connecticut.

Some schools shut down altogether come harvest time, leading some to question the wisdom of interrupting the learning process.

But Rodney McCrum, the president of Northland Packers and Growers Inc. and a fourth-generation farmer who has worked the fields since he was 4, thinks it's an excellent educational experience. "It shows some good work ethics and trains them for life later on," he said.

Most students start digging for potatoes at dawn and work 12 or more hours. And they may not enjoy every moment of it, but the potato harvest means money for college, clothes, cars, and stereos. Younger pickers may earn a few hundred dollars over the harvest, and teenagers can rake in more than a grand.

But with fewer farms and more mechanized ways of harvesting spuds, the tradition is a dying one. "I'm going to be sad when it's gone," said Terry Chalou, a teacher in the Easton schools whose 11-year-old son works the fields. Children "learn a lot through the harvest that they can't learn in school."

A federal judge in Louisiana had brewed for himself a rather festive Halloween.

On Oct. 31, while others would be tricking and treating, U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Carr was scheduled to begin a trial on the St. Tammany school board's removal of a book dealing with voodoo from school libraries.

The book contained recipes for doing evil and good and included concoctions of animal organs and human excretions.

The school board banned the book after a parent got spooked. But the American Civil Liberties Union then took the board to court, claiming that the book ban was unconstitutional.

But Judge Carr will not have as festive a holiday as he thought. In the end, the case was dismissed.

--Laura Miller

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