A parable for learners and teachers

An old man-ancient China incarnate- was hobbling across the gravel train yard trying to catch a train about to leave. He was limping and out of breath and carrying a big, awkward box with both hands. Suddenly he stumbled, the box went flying and and out onto the tracks spilled 20 tiny yellow chicks scurrying off in every direction. A caring Christian and take-action American wanted to rush over and help him gather up the lost chicks.

The old man was wiser. He calmly reached into his pocket, pulled out a handful of chicken feed, sprinkled it on the ground, waited a moment for the chicks to hurry back for the feed and then bent over, scooped them all up in his box and boarded the train for home.


What is it about the modern world that has caused us to take one of fundamental human instincts — learning so that we think it must forced on a child. Children do nothing but learn until the joy is squeezed out of them. Here is one of the secrets that I would like to share with every young teacher. No one can teach anyone anything. You most certainly can destroy the love of learning and growth that children are born with naturally. And, you can present information to them, but you can’t teach them anything that will last. What we forget is the phrase “I want to be like mommy” or “I want to be like daddy”. Brilliant teachers know they only thing they can really do is to show how much you as a scholar love learning. Brilliant teachers know that they are not so much working in a trade with a body of techniques as working in an art that attracts with beauty and interest. How have we forgotten that the most wonderful scientists, artists, technical trade workers and — well, you name it — worked out their fields themselves. I never learned anything from a person I did not like. I never learned anything from a person who I found boring and pedantic. I, honestly, only learned from the finest musicians and scholars in fields who managed to show me the fire they felt for their field. I came to them because they had something I wanted. They had the seed I wanted to acquire, just as those chicks came to the wise old man who had the food I wanted.

If someone has ever been stupid enough to try to chase chickens back in a chicken yard you understand this fully. My grandmother lived on a farm. She died many years ago. Lately, I have thought so much about how she and my wonderful mother managed to teach me almost everything I know about life. Once, I had the same problem. I let every chicken out of the chicken yard by leaving the gate open. About an hour later I looked to see the chickens all over the fields and the farm yard. I panicked and started to chase them. I tried to “force” them back into the yard. As my failure increased I became more upset convinced I had lost every one of my grandmothers chickens.

In a few minutes my grandmother came out. She called me over to her. She gave me a hug. All that precious woman did was tell me it was going to be alright and that she loved me. Then she said “watch what I do”. Right then I noticed the chicken pellets she had wrapped up in her apron. She stood up calling to the chickens. “Here chick, chick, chick; here chick, chick chick”. All the while she sprinkled the chicken pellets behind her. Soon she was standing in the chicken yard with every single chicken around her picking up the pellets off the ground. I closed the gate for her. She called me over to her. She told me that you have to have the sweetness that attracts any living thing.

It’s the same with kids. At a recent meeting of teachers I heard children basically say these things to the assembled teachers. They talked about building relationships. They talked about making the subject interesting. They talked about caring. Not one kid asked that someone be more harsh, or more demanding, or push more. They all talked about humanity.

From time to time birdwatchers will see eagles hovering over nests flapping their wings. Some have interpreted this to mean that the parent eagles are “pushing” their chicks out of the nest. Nothing could be further from the truth. What the eagles are doing is creating airflow that will help their babies develop lift under their wings. Eagles do not force their babies out of the nest. But they will fly past the nest majestically making the babies want to be able to do the same thing. And they will offer food to a reluctant chick to tempt it into flying.

So, here is the kernel of truth I want to offer to every young teacher. I also want to offer it to every home schooling parent.

Hold out something beautiful to your kids. Make your love for your subject so apparent with a warmth that cannot be resisted. Attract your kids to success. You cannot force them. Nor can you push them into being successful. But you can attract them.

Don’t be fooled by the pedantic bores who will tell you that it is just your technique or the design of your lesson plan or your “push” that will cause kids to be successful. You can’t do that under any circumstances. No, it is you – your personality – your joy — your enthusiasm for your subject and for the success of your kids that will attract them to you.

Just throw the food to them, they will come to you.


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Filed under cognitive science, home school, independent learning, nontraditional learning, parenting, practices

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