A Gardener’s Approach to Learning

(cc) image from WikiCommons by Persiatj

I often write about the need for a new type of textbook, one that is digital, interactive, social, open, and a product that actually results from student learning as much as student learning results from the product.

I frequently get comments of agreement, stating the need for digital text books with video and audio and interactive objects — and I agree whole-heartedly with these observations.  I think that this is exactly the direction we need to be going in, and these are things that need to be said again and again.  But I think that our ultimate goal need to go way beyond just interactive glow and motion. 

This is fast food for learning!

Now don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with fast food in moderation.  It solves problems.  Often I am thankful for a MacDonalds sandwich, with two hours to go on the interstate — hold the fries please.  And it’s too often that I get to my hotel room at 8:30, been speaking and then traveling all day, not had anything but a mini bag of prezel’ets on the plane since breakfast — and I’m thankful that Papa Johns is just a phone call away — an extra thing of garlic sauce, please.

But my preference is fresh food prepared in a real kitchen.  I grew up in a small town in western North Carolina.  Even though it was a small town (three stoplights), I was a townie.  You could tell townies from country kids, because they wore flannel shirts and bluejeans and you never saw them at “The Pool.”  We wore cloths from Belks downtown (or for us it was Sears in Shelby).

Townies didn’t have gardens.  Real townies wouldn’t have a garden.  The only townies with gardens were parents who grew up on the farm.  We never had a garden in our yard (my mother’s dad worked at a train station and my father’s was a shop keeper).  The folks across the street had a garden, and we thought it was an eye sore (never mind the huge bold spots in my parents front yard for first, second, and third bases, home plate and the pitchers mound (where there’s a Pin Oak tree now.)

My wife grew up in Charlotte (the Big City), but both her parent grew up on farms and they had a garden.  Brenda tried for years to get me interested in growing a garden but to no avail — until the hot spring afternoon when she marked off the space that I would no long have to mow, if we had a garden there.  I became a lover of gardening that day.

My daughter in the garden NOT fertilizing it.

In the following months I learned the joys of planning, digging, building, and planting a garden.  We decide up front to go organic (we were wearing flannel and jeans then, calling it “grunge”), and I discovered the thrilling challenges of cultivating what was essential a small ecosystem, where plants could be arranged to protect each other, rotated to leave nitrogen, not just absorb it, added to draw insect eating birds and bugs, and I learned to enjoy the brand new flavors of fresh produce — much of which never made it to the kitchen.

When I grew up, my mom got here produce from the hyper-organized, standards-driven grocery stores, where the food was arranged in straight rows, and packaged for easy storage and consumption.  We ate exclusively canned and frozen vegetables — and I never learned the true taste of asparagus, until I had it right out of the garden, steamed just a bit with a pat of real butter melted over it.

This is the kind of learning that I am engaged in right now, a learning style that requires me to understand and treat my information environment like an ecosystem, where I cultivate the information, directing it to interact with other information in ways that bring me the ideas that I need to keep doing my job.  Sometimes I have to look it up.  And not being an especially strong reader, video and audio come in hand — and I love the art of a well executed data visulation.  The fast food solves problems.  But learning in a time of rapid change requires us to become information gardeners.

Sounds like the beginning of a new book 😉

Powered by ScribeFire.

17 thoughts on “A Gardener’s Approach to Learning”

  1. I agree with your idea of gathering your information. However I wonder about the fast food analogy. If we are learning in a time of rapid change that sounds like fast food. Yet you are using the slow food movement as the way you learn. Is there a conflict here? The learning will be deeper, as your cultivation of the garden, but will it keep up with the rate of change. How do we teach our students who have not enjoyed slow food to love slow food? I agree with the idea it is the execution that I am hazy on.


    1. I’m glad you asked about this, Leonard. It gives me a chance to further define my meaning. When I talk about fast food, I’m not referring to the fast vs slow. I’m thinking about the seductive appeal of fast food with its excess of sugar, salt, and fat. It’s made to appeal in the same way that we often talk about the appeal of video and animation — “..it’s where the kids are.”

      I disagree that gardened food means less fast. There is nothing faster than being able to pick a mess of string beans in the backyard, drop’m in a steamer, and enjoy the crisp flavor of lightly salted and buttered freshness a half hour later.

      When we are cultivating our personal learning network, we are growing and pruning it based on rapid change. We are able to adapt to our current questions and goals and the changing conditions, and do it flexibly — because we are in control, and we are able to connect to people based not on proximity, but on ideas.

  2. Love the last paragraph – what a great analogy! We seem to do a lot of “fast food” gathering in our classrooms – particularly for one of my favorites…the “research project!” I would love to see teachers embed research strategies into science and social studies so that students learn to gather the information themselves to answer questions rather than just collecting it from the teacher. Thanks for this post which will keep me thinking for a long while.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *