Philosophy, Teacher Training
Comments 3

The Patient Gardener by Jennifer Spencer

No metaphor can capture all truth, but I think you will enjoy and understand the message of this one.

Once upon a time, there were two farmers.  The first farmer had many acres planted in rows and rows of corn as far as the eye could see.  In the springtime, enormous machines would plow the fields, making long, straight lines in the soil.  Then other enormous machines would drop in the seeds so that they were all just the right distance apart. The young plants were fertilized in order to grow a tremendous number of the largest, most robust ears of corn you could ever see.  Later, large airplanes would dust the corn with poison to kill the insects that might be lurking, waiting to harm the crop.  Finally, a tractor would come and cut down the corn while many workers moved quickly to get the harvest loaded onto huge trucks.  The farmer was very proud of himself.  “This corn will travel all around the world.  Look how much man can accomplish in just one season!” he said.
The second farmer did not have many acres planted in rows as far as the eye could see.  He only had a small plot in his back yard that was full of all sorts of growing things.  He had tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, okra, pumpkins, herbs and flowers, and even a peach tree!  This farmer plowed his field himself, so sometimes his furrows were squiggly instead of straight.  He planted the seeds himself, so sometimes they were too close together and he had to thin them. When the young plants sprouted, he carefully pulled out any weeds that threatened them.  He kept a sharp eye out for harmful insects so that he could prevent infestation.  He watered the plants deeply every day, and soon this thriving garden became a joy to his life.  At harvest time the farmer made a simple soup and sat down to eat with his family.  “Thank you, Father, for what you can accomplish in the fullness of time,” he said.
Educators today face enormous pressure to be like the first farmer.  They are to produce results as quickly and efficiently as possible.  At the beginning of each school year, they are presented with curriculum standards and scope-and-sequence charts.  In many instances they are expected to cover a lesson per day, regardless of whether or not their students have mastered the material.  Then, at the end of the year, one test (usually multiple-choice) will tell them, their principals, the students’ parents, and the media how well they did their job.  One of the many problems with this all-too-common industrial model of education is that teaching the learner has been overlooked in favor of teaching a curriculum.  Let us not forget that education is not a product which can be put together on an assembly line.  In the words of Mason, it is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.
Even though the first farmer had the ability to manipulate nature, I do not think anyone reading this blog would argue that food that has been processed or spent weeks ripening on a truck is of better quality than what you grow in your own back yard or pick up at the local farmer’s market.  (As a southern girl, I can tell you that the best tomatoes you will ever eat have been left on the vine to ripen in the sun!  Yum!)  Children, too, are living organisms who will grow on their own time table.  Yes, there are things you can do as a teacher to speed things along, but meddle too much and the harvest will not be as sweet.  As Mason said, let us allow our students to take from a reading what they are ready to digest.  Let them explore their world freely.  Let them make connections on their own.  Prepare the ground with a loving environment, carefully pull out the weeds by helping with habit formation, let them drink deeply from God’s word, and then leave the rest to the fullness of time.

This entry was posted in: Philosophy, Teacher Training


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. jsmph48 says

    That was a beautiful story, Jennifer.

    Thank you for reminding us not to settle for only what man can accomplish, but to wait patiently on the Lord to accomplish all He has ordained in the fullness of His time!


    “Education would be much more effective if its purpose was to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.” ~Sir William Haley

  2. Jennifer, I love this metaphor because it reminds me of the different between how children with autism are treated with behaviorism versus relationship development. . . .

  3. My son David and I read this today in our Old Testament reading and my thoughts flew back to your parable and what Charlotte Mason wrote about ideas under “Education Is a Life” in Chapter 6 of Volume 6:

    Isaiah 28:23-29 Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say. When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cummin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field? His God instructs him and teaches him the right way. Caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor is a cartwheel rolled over cummin; caraway is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a stick. Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever. Though he drives the wheels of his threshing cart over it, his horses do not grind it. All this also comes from the Lord Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.

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