Growth paranoia

2009 December 15
by Evan Lenz

I was reading in a devotional classic this morning and came across some analogies for the spiritual life that I think work equally well for education. Given some basic nurture, sunshine, and rain, a plant grows without any special effort or help. We can try to help it along by adding supports and scaffolding, but it will grow regardless—sometimes in spite of our interventions. We may even deceive ourselves into thinking that our special efforts were essential—that, had we not intervened, the plant would have collapsed and died. Similarly, for a child to grow taller requires no special effort.

There is no effort in the growing of a child or of a lily. They do not toil nor spin, they do not stretch nor strain, they do not make any effort of any kind to grow; they are not conscious even that they are growing; but by an inward life principle, and through the nurturing care of God’s providence, and the fostering of caretaker or gardener, by the heat of the sun and the falling of the rain, they grow and grow.

To act in ignorance of this truth would, of course, look pretty funny:

Imagine a child possessed of the monomania that he would not grow unless he made some personal effort after it, and who should insist upon a combination of rope and pulleys whereby to stretch himself up to the desired height. He might, it is true, spend his days and years in a weary strain, but after all there would be no change in the inexorable fact, “No man by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature”; and his years of labor would be only wasted, if they did not really hinder the longed-for end.

Imagine a lily trying to clothe itself in beautiful colors and graceful lines, stretching its leaves and stems to make them grow, and seeking to manage the clouds and the sunshine, that its needs might be all judiciously supplied!

I think this perfectly describes how silly we as a culture look in our preoccupation with beefing up our efforts at educating children—more standards, more tests, more money. It wouldn’t be so silly if our efforts were focused on providing the basics of a nurturing environment in which kids could grow. But the drive is for much more than that. We as a society possess the “monomania” that children won’t learn anything unless we do something. And thus we have the “combination of rope and pulleys” that makes up our school system, and we debate endlessly about which ropes and which pulleys are best suited to the task. Few question whether the ropes and pulleys are necessary.

This widespread paranoia would be amusing if it didn’t exact itself so acutely on our children, each of whom must resultantly “spend his days and years in a weary strain.”

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