Susan Midlarsky

author • consultant • tutor | inspiring excellence
School reform US Education

Lessons from the Garden: Different Seeds Sprout at Different Times


Like so many others, I am compelled to plant seeds for a garden when spring scents warm the air. This year I will grow a variety of vegetables in a raised bed I plan to construct out of mostly found materials from a nearby beach.

To start the process, I planted some seeds in an eggshell planter. I saved eggshells from breakfast eggs, poked holes in the bottoms, filled them with soil, added seeds, and put them in the egg carton to sprout.

bin with sprouts

In just a few days, a whole group of seeds turned into fast-growing seedlings that had to be transplanted as soon as possible. These are now growing in their temporary planter made from a bin found on the beach.

Other seeds are just now springing up, and yet other eggshells look quite devoid of life for now. The different plants have different timings. Am I worried? Do I fret? Of course not, and if I did, my seed packages would comfort me with messages like, “Days to germinate: 12-28 days.” It’s fine, it’s normal, it’s nothing to worry about. Some seeds are little race cars to the sun, while others are more relaxed, laid back, and “zen” about the whole thing.

egg with sprouteggnogrowth

But what about when it comes to our children? In his recent Differentiation Strategies workshop, Jim Grant said something that stuck in my mind. He said that each child learns to crawl at her own pace, to speak, to walk, to draw, to dance, and everything else. There are developmental milestones, but no fixed criteria. Yet when it comes to school tie, our “standard” for admission is simply five birthday candles on the birthday cake, with very little or no flexibility in timing.

No wonder standardized testing has so many problems. It’s like taking a bunch of seeds from different vegetables and trying to sow and harvest them at exactly the same time. Some will be perfectly ripe, but most will be just flowering or else rotting on the vine.

A good school system would be like a good gardener: able to treat the different children like the different seeds they are, planting them in the correct educational environment (soil) at the right age (season) for that person, and giving them the knowledge and experiences (fertilizer) they need to grow. What we would lose in institutional efficiency in admitting students, we would gain in collective intelligence, confidence and empowerment. Can it happen?

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