Last spring, inspired by a neighbor and perhaps in response to my persistent but thus far unsuccessful pursuit of a hobby to call my own, I constructed a square-foot garden in my front yard. Nothing too ambitious: some basil, a few pepper plants, a cucumber or two, and some tomatoes. Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, my care seemed to affect this particular patch much the way the gloveless Elsa from the Disney animated film “Frozen” affected her kingdom; things just didn’t grow. The occasional tomato I did manage to bring to near fruition was plucked by a squirrel, sampled, deemed inedible, and left on my doorstep, as if to say, “You may want to find a new hobby.”
My failings as a gardner, however, have not dampened my enthusiasm for harvesting garden imagery as an apt metaphor for the work we do as parents and teachers. In her recent book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, Alison Gopnik posits that there are two predominant parenting styles in modern America. The “carpenter,” she argues, sees the child as a collection of raw materials available for construction, to be molded into an outcome or product. That parent approaches his work as he might the task of assembling a piece of Ikea furniture. The "gardener," on the other hand, is less concerned about controlling who the child will become and instead focuses her efforts on the soil in which the child takes root and grows. I believe our children come into our families and into our schools with unique temperaments and that it is the parent’s job, and the teacher’s job, to identify that temperament and shape and leverage it without resisting or changing it.
In sending your child to Falmouth Academy, you are planting her or him in soil that is rich with the kind of curriculum, community, challenge, and caring that nurture growth. We believe that children want to learn; intuitively, they lean toward light, drink in water, soak up nutrients from the soil. There are occasions when a little carpentry is in order; children do appreciate structure; clean lines and direct instruction can be comforting. But we should also remind ourselves that children do not readily lend themselves to being assembled or fixed and that they rarely come out like the picture on the box (and isn’t that the fun part about parenting?).
I love that in addition to math, science, history, English, and language, Falmouth Academy offers electives in both carpentry and gardening (not to mention beekeeping, coding, graphic design, yoga, and even curling!). And I admire the architects who envisioned a campus that blurs the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces. I am excited to look for ways to partner with our greater community, which has so much to offer. And I am grateful for the opportunity to partner with all of you to help your children grow into the best versions of themselves. Maybe together we can also watch out for squirrels.