The Miner and The Gardener: My Favorite Educational Analogies

I think the homechooling conference really got my educational philosophy juices flowing. So my posts this week are rather education-heavy. Hope you don’t mind. I have so many thoughts I’m trying to gel, and writing helps me do that.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of analogies for educating kids. Some have been more fitting than others. My dad brought up a good one yesterday, which is that education is like mining gems, an idea reflected in the Baha’i teaching, “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.” 

In the mining analogy, a teacher’s role is to help identify a child’s innate gifts, talents, and virtues, gently unearth them, and gradually polish them into pristine brilliance. If you’ve ever seen a gem in its rough state, you may agree that finding these gems is the most challenging part of that process. Parents, as the first teachers, are often the first to spot them. Gifted teachers can also recognize them, partly (I believe) from intuition and partly from knowledge and experience. The polishing part requires diligence, patience, and consistent effort. It also requires a balance of firmness and gentleness. I think this analogy is perfect for helping kids develop their unique gifts and reach their full potential.

For the raising and education of children in general, I love the analogy of growing a garden. A botany enthusiast brought this up some time ago on a Baha’i homeschooling list I’m on, and it really spoke to me. If we see children as seeds and saplings, and a teacher as a gardener, then it’s easy to see where many of our educational habits and practices have gone wrong. Let’s take a look at this analogy more closely:

What do plants need to grow to their full potential? There are a few things all plants need, of course: sun, water, and a nutritious place to anchor (soil, most often). In the lives of children, those necessities might be love/attention, physical/spiritual nourishment, and physical/emotional security. Besides that, what each plant needs for optimal growth is going to differ widely. Some seeds need lots of water and shade, while some need full sun and just enough water. Some plants need hot days and cold nights. Some seeds sprout immediately, while others take the slow and steady path. Some delicate seeds and saplings need to be sheltered until they’re strong enough to withstand the elements. Other seeds have to go through fire or the digestive tract of an animal before they can germinate.

All seeds have different requirements to thrive. Treating all plants as if they need the same care would result in some thriving, some doing OK, some failing to reach their potential, and some not sprouting at all.

Hmm…sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

So what is the role of a gardener? Clearly a gardener can’t force, coerce, bribe, or demand a seed to grow differently than its nature. She (or he – I’ll just use “she” for simplicity) can try, but it’s more than likely she’ll destroy the plant in the process.

A gardener must first examine the seed to see what she’ll be tending (since this is an analogy, and kids don’t come in labeled packages). She must plant it in the environment that she knows (or believes) to be best for that particular seed, and then watch it as it sprouts and grows to make sure it’s thriving. She must continually remove weeds, rocks, and other obstacles to the plant’s growth. And she must give the plant room to spread, adjusting the environment to allow for its ideal growth, sometimes transplanting it to a new plot if necessary.

So to sum up, a gardener’s role is to:
– strive to understand the needs of the seeds under her (or his) care
– recognize that all plants thrive under different circumstances
– provide the most conducive environment for each plant to grow
– continually monitor each plant to make sure it’s healthy and thriving
– adjust the environment if a plant seems to be struggling
– remove weeds, rocks, and other major obstacles to growth
– trim and prune only as much as necessary for ideal growth
– provide supports such as trellises and stakes for plants that need them
– appreciate the diversity of the garden, and honor each plant’s individual contribution to its beauty

A gardener’s role is NOT:
– to force a plant to grow
– to try to make a lettuce seed grow into an apple tree
– to expect all plants to thrive under the same conditions
– to expect all plants to grow at the same rate
– to expect all plants to produce the same fruits
– to neglect plants that are growing faster than the others
– to put a big, bright label on plants that are growing slower than the others
– to blame the plant for not trying hard enough to grow past the rocks and weeds in its way
– to put a full-sun plant in the shade half the day because someone decided that all plants need an equal amount of sun and shade
– to decide on a set of criteria that all plants must meet at set intervals of time, and judge the beauty of the garden and the gardener’s skills based on whether or not they meet that criteria

I’m sure you can see what I’m getting at here. Our job as educators is to create an optimal environment for learning and growth, and to recognize that that environment is going to be different for each child in our care. We can’t expect all kids to meet some arbitrary standard – our goal should be that they are learning, thriving, and growing toward their own potential, according to their own nature. And if they aren’t, then something in the environment needs to be changed, whether it’s weeding out obstacles, pruning unnecessary expectations, or providing different nutrients to encourage growth.

I’m feeling a post about the ideal school coming soon. It’s still stewing.

Am I the only one who loves to discuss education this much?

 If you enjoyed this post, please pass it along. You can follow Motherhood and More on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 5

  1. The gardener must be patient ,considerate, appreciate and adapt efforts that lead not only to succes but to progress towards human potential

  2. “She must plant it in the environment that she knows (or believes) to be best for that particular seed, and then watch it as it sprouts and grows to make sure it’s thriving. “


    Beautiful post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *