Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Volunteer seedlings

My garden is overrun with chamomile and strawberries. I could pretend that this has something to do with my hours upon hours in the garden, but my time there is mostly spent staring at bugs, chasing snakes, and reading bad novels.

I planted a few strawberry plants a long time ago, and over the years they have wandered to the patches best suited for them, thumbing their runners at me the few times I tried to change their minds.

A couple of years ago I carefully nurtured a couple of chamomile plants, intending to harvest some leaves for tea. One survived despite my care and now I have a backyard full of lacy seedlings, and every one of them germinated without my help.


Now and again I'll stumble on a high school kid who knows what she likes. They're rare. Knowing what you truly love requires a lot of faith at any age.

Words mold us--we are social critters, and folks trying to make a buck depend on this.

A child today has access to all kinds of music and words and pictures and thoughts. Still, most of them follow a narrow, shared path, steered by the words of strangers.

I am not talking about the children striving to be obvious, to be seen, the child who changes hats every few weeks.

Among the children are a few, often quiet, who put their time in the school building while creating interesting lives outside pursuing what they love. Interesting children become interesting adults, despite what I do to them in the classroom.

I became a better gardener when I learned to let the plants tell me what worked best. I might do well to consider doing the same in the classroom.


John Spencer said...

I used to try and change kids. I tried real hard to make a difference. The kids hated becoming projects. When I began to listen to them and let them be themselves, almost paradoxically, I had more of an influence.

The worlds greatest teachers used garden metaphors. I realize it was an agrarian age back then, but there are times in a staff meeting when I want to talk about growth and cultivation and dirt and life and death and work and rest and sabbaticals.

We need less of the building metaphors (structures, construction, housing) and less of the business metaphors (meetings, committees, goals, objectives) and less of the pseudo-science factory metaphors (processing, procedures, data).

Kate said...

Say amen! I think the garden metaphor is perfect for teaching. Some things are just not meant to grow in certain parts of my garden. Some students will also not do well in parts of my curriculum. But there is a corner of the dirt for every plant.

I am overrun with garlic chives (I have a hard time being philosophical about them), reverted hybrid tomatoes and squash (my compost pile is not hot enough to make them non-viable). I let them come up, and then move them to a better location. I call it "editing" the garden. And it's always a surprise to see what emerges? (except the tomatoes - reverted hybrids are usually cherries).

So in the "best of all possible worlds," "let us cultivate our garden.” - Voltaire

Kathryn J said...

"Bloom where you are planted" - maybe that's what we need to teach the kids! Nice metaphor.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I'm still learning.

Language affects us--the metaphors we choose do change how we see the world.

We may no longer be an agrarian culture, but as you know we're still tied to the land, and will be so long as we breathe.

And I'm still getting used to you without the spikes.

Dear Kate,

My compost pile never gets hot enough--I could package my compost as instant gardens--toss some on a patch of pavement and watch what grows.

And you're right, we're editors!

Dear Kathryn,

All this talk of metaphors reminds me of one of my favorite jokes.

What are metaphors?

Sean Nash said...

This is perhaps one of the best introductions for a discussion of constructivist learning theory that I have read.

This "see what is happening... give it its due respect... and if it seems good, foster it's growth and development" is not only a fantastic way to run a garden (especially if you cringe at boxwood hedges) but the only real way to educate a child.

If we were only better at recognizing value to start with when we see it. Only then could we even hope to do what it takes to fertilize this human hope in any systematic way.

If your blog does nothing outside the world of "allowing personal reflection and conservation," I think it serves as a beacon begging for others to help swing the pendulum away from accountable minutiae... and back toward something meaningful.


doyle said...

Um, first a confession--I mangled my joke.

What's a metaphor?
To keep cows in....
Dear Sean,

Thanks for the warm words-- introducing a discussion of constructivist learning theory sounds a lot better than dawdling around the garden.

I got a bit frustrated tonight working on lesson plans--it's near the end of the year, we're trying some new things (a good thing) but I am wrestling with time, trying to get everything squeezed in despite knowing that any time squeezing is involved, learning suffers.

Recognizing value matters, and gets to the heart of education. I keep hoping that encouraging students to think for themselves will enable them to better recognize value in whatever they pursue--not sure everyone would be thrilled with the consequences.