“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people”
A few years ago, I attended a screening of Waiting for Superman, the documentary by Davis Guggenheim that chronicles the sorry state of affairs concerning public education. Watching the film, I was left potentially disheartened, because the film shared only a tiny, flickering, glimmer of hope: charter schools that routinely see 10-20 applications for each spot were held up as the solution. It is humbling to think that charter schools are perceived to be such an integral part of the solution, but charter schools, all schools, really, can only be that: a part of the solution. Education must begin in the home and blossom everywhere. As adults, it is our responsibility to inculcate in children a passion for learning everywhere, always.
This crisis has persisted for decades, but I am convinced that we can, will, give our children the kind of education that they need for their futures and that they deserve. We’ll do so, because I believe in children, and I that the men and women who educate them will do everything possible to assist the children in reaching their highest register.
Thinking about solutions for this chronic problem can whelm, but I choose to believe that we can solve it one child at a time. On my bookshelves is an allegory, L’homme qui plantait des arbres, The Man Who Planted Trees, which shares the story of one shepherd’s long and successful effort to reforest a desolate valley in the foothills of the Alps near Provence in the early 20th century. The story opens with the narrator finding himself lost in an arid, barren valley in Provence and nearly suffering from dehydration. He remarks how uninviting and dispiriting the area is, and he notes how angry, self-involved, and cruel the very few people living there are. From a distance he glimpses “a small, black silhouette, upright,” that turns out to be a shepherd tending his flock. The shepherd, quietly, but warmly, welcomes our narrator, provides water, food, shelter, and company. While in the cabin with the shepherd, the narrator observes him setting “aside a large enough pile of good acorns…count[ing] them out by tens…When he had thus selected one hundred perfect acorns he stopped and went to bed.” The following day our nameless narrator watched as the shepherd planted one hundred acorns, silently determined to repopulate the land with life-sustaining trees. The shepherd did this every day for more than three decades, ignoring two devastating wars that occurred during that time and completely reforesting this valley in Provence. His efforts led to the repopulating of the area with young, vibrant, caring people, who worked to make the land better. All that renewal occurred simply because one man, quietly and determinedly, planted seeds daily and believed that they would grow into healthy trees that would better his world.
The allegorical significance is so clear that I am chagrined to write these words, but I think that it is important for us to understand that working with each child, each day is how we will improve education in our world. As we plan for a year, we plant rice, and as we plan for a decade, we plant trees, but we educators, planning for a lifetime, we work hard to educate children. We spend each day working to nurture and challenge the seedlings before us, expecting that the love and care that we share will help the boys and girls grow into global citizens who will be active, caring, mindful members of their chosen communities. Our work is sometimes as solitary as the shepherd’s is, and it is sometimes as exhausting, but it is always worthwhile. One child at a time we will improve our world.