Countering Mother Nature

By: John Lounsbury


Multi-talented artist Mark Ballard writes a column for the Macon, Georgia Telegraph. His writings are always meaningful, but one column last year really hit home with me, for it presented beautifully a truth that is particularly relevant for educators.

Read what Mark shared about his grandmother and her love of angel wing begonias and their propagation. I believe you too will quickly identify with it.

The clipped begonias were always in various stages of the rooting process. Some had tiny roots just starting to appear at a joint along a stem. Others were further along. You could easily tell when they were well-rooted and ready for the soil. Below the water level in the glass container was a mass of tiny white roots that were long and woven together like some unkept hair that had not been brushed.

I loved it when we were ready to transplant our new little begonias into small pots of their own. It was like a graduation ceremony of sorts. Some were healthier and showed promise of becoming a big and gorgeous plant while others were less showy. On those particular ones, we had to adopt a wait-and-see attitude as to what would happen when their roots united with soil and met up with sunshine.

Watching them grow and mature was one of my favorite pastimes. ‘Granny, how much longer will it be before this one catches up with that one?’ I would ask while first pointing to the larger one and then the smaller one. ‘They will all grow in their own time and at their own pace.’ my grandmother answered. ‘It is not a race. Just sit back and wait.’

I learned a lot more about life on the back porch of my grandmother's house than just about the rooting and planting of Angel Wing begonias. I learned that all living things come from a larger source, grow, and develop at different levels and become mature when their time is ripe. Among the begonias there is no contest. They are simply becoming what they are supposed to be in their own time.
-Excerpt reprinted with permission from Mark Ballard’s column published in the Sunday, June 3, 2012 edition of The Telegraph (Macon, GA).

Granny’s words and the philosophy behind them hit directly at school practices that insist that every individual must achieve some particular material or skill according to a uniform and man-made schedule. But children, like plants, grow and develop in their own time and at their own pace. They should not be forced to compete with others.

Today, when school improvement is on everybody’s agenda, educators should use every occasion to call into question practices that counter Mother Nature. Start by remembering that learning is inborn, that all individuals want to and do learn. In fact, it is almost impossible for a student not to learn—although not always what we want them to learn or in keeping with our monolithic schedules.

To me, it does not seem right or necessary for schools to test, evaluate, judge, and label children as has been happening at the pre-school and kindergarten levels. Is there really any valid educational justification for making yesterday’s kindergarten into today’s pre-K? What’s the hurry? Give Mother Nature a little time and the needed growth and development will almost always take place.

The many extraneous measures used to get students to learn all through their years of schooling are questionable. Whenever some standard of achievement is out of synch with the realities of human growth and development for some students, educators apply measures that make it appear that the student is deficient—and perhaps that the teacher is at fault. This is particularly common at the middle level as young adolescents undergo extensive changes on widely varying individual schedules.

The fact is, American education has never accepted fully the reality of individual differences and organized education in ways that recognize them. In recent years, practices that conflict with Mother Nature have increased. The provisions of No Child Left Behind, for example, simply fly in the face of what we know about individual differences. Granny’s philosophy should be brought to bear in our efforts to improve education and counter the misplaced eagerness of adults to have children achieve.


John Lounsbury, dean emeritus of the School of Education at Georgia College (now the John H. Lounsbury College of Education) in Milledgeville, Georgia, was the publications editor for AMLE (formerly National Middle School Association) and remains active in middle level education.


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