Education Opinion

A Tale of Two Trees

By Tamara Fisher — August 04, 2010 2 min read
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These two cute little trees are in my front yard. They were a birthday gift about a decade ago from my aunt & uncle soon after I built (with significant help from Dad & Mom) and moved into my house. At the time, they were each about 18 inches tall, with the one on the right being a tad bit shorter. That’s why I planted it on the slightly-uphill side, thinking (of course mistakenly) that the slope would give an evened-out appearance to the trees over time.

It didn’t take long before the tree on the right started growing in an unexpected way - faster and at a marked angle. In my efforts to take control of the situation - and to assertively guide the tree’s development in what I thought should be its proper direction - I tied the little tree to a stake so as to pull it back on a straight and narrow path.

...And I left it tied up like that for about three years too many...

(My thumbs are more brown than green, as it turns out.)

I “rescued” it one day after I noticed in horror that its little trunk had arched and curved, trying its best to grow to its fullest heights despite the shackles I had blindly and absentmindedly placed upon it.

A kind soul reassured me that it would straighten itself out over time, that it would be just fine on its own. But now, years later, its trunk is still warped.

Another kind soul recently reassured me that “it’s still the tallest and most robust of the two trees” (despite my impediments to its growth).

But just imagine what it could have been... I thought. Sure, it’s still healthy, it still “stands out” compared to its nearby peer, it does do just fine on its own (even in spite of the now-removed shackles). But the restraint I placed on its natural growth is still clearly evident, too.

“Confine plant forms to a container and you will know exactly the dimensions they shall reach. Confine your teachers to your restricting curricula and your paperwork and you will know exactly the dimensions they shall reach. And each budding branch and each extending child shall not extend far beyond the perimeters of their confinement. Space determines the shape of all living things.” ~ Bob Stanish ~

A new school year is almost upon us. In your classroom will be students who will “grow” (i.e. learn) in unexpected ways - faster and markedly different. Some guidance, as with all students, is necessary. But beware the shackles that can come with that guiding direction. What might be appropriate assistance and management for some becomes a tight leash, or even noose, for others. Cut them loose! Let them surprise and amaze you with how tall they can grow.

Closing the achievement gap by putting a lid on the top only results in harm to the top. We can’t always “see” that harm as we can with my little trees, but it is there nonetheless. I love how Helen Schinske said it: “Closing the achievement gap by pushing down the top is like fostering fitness by outlawing marathons.” The gifted and advanced learners in your classroom should be able to learn and grow to their potential, too. Let them find what that potential actually is!

The opinions expressed in Unwrapping the Gifted are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.