The Sad Tale of The Child in The Garden (or: What Went Wrong With Schools?)

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“She must have been born in a garden” – that’s what everyone said.

She nurtured her plants and delighted in them. From the earliest of days they had brushed against her and sung out to her. She collected them, watered them, pressed them and planted them. Their bells, their fronds, the shade and the barbs. She pushed her warm hands into their cool beds and picked out the snares that might smother them. She knew them as bluebells, as peonies, as cowslips and foxgloves. Their combinations filled her with magic. She tried them all.  Each new discovery scooped out a breath and dropped her to ground level. Looking and looking.

She filled her pinafore pocket with a thousand curly marigold seeds and scattered them across the earth. There were sweet whispery flutes of nectar from honeysuckle, and wild garlic which filled the cool wood with the smell of her kitchen at evening.

She knew the seasons, she knew the cycles. She knew their faces and sang their song. She laughed through the brave early primrose clumps and cowered from the booming fearful gunnera. She knew about these things. No child in her family had known more.

But there came a time when a woman came to her garden and saw that she knew so many things. The woman made a mark in her file and talked to her family about the potential. “She could do so well. We have high expectations.”

The measure was made. A path had been cut out.  The girl was given a list of Latin names. Betula papyrifera, bellis perennis, Ilex verticillata, argyreia nervosa. “This is not how I know them”, she said “I don’t understand this.”

But the woman was going to come back. There were tests to be done. “We need to show how well you can do things. The best way is like this. You need a percentage. I need to show the progress. Keep learning the names. We are adding value.”

She tried for a while. Her parents worked to make it fun. Little cards and matching games. But the Latin names were not the names she knew and she couldn’t remember how to find the strange words in the right rooms in her head. “She’s not doing as well as we had hoped”, the woman said, “other children born in the same month are scoring more points on the list.” And her parents worried, because she had started to look sad and they believed the woman, they trusted her. She had the file.

They got her some extra help with the list. More remembering after the usual hours of remembering. But strangely, the more she tried to lock the unfamiliar words into her head, even though she was told that they were the right things to know about the world she had loved, the more she felt drawn away from her garden. She now knew all that she didn’t know. She knew that she was slower on the path than the others. She felt tired. She didn’t want to look at things so much anymore.

The woman told her family that there were some resources to help anxiety and low self-esteem, but so many children seemed to need them now; there would be a wait.

And the gunnera still boomed to try to see her spin. The primroses speared the frosty bank and searched for her in spring. But the girl had learned that she needed to stop simply playing with things. That could never be measured, and what can’t be measured shouldn’t be invested in.

So, she turned to the list again.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Sarah Weller says:

    Alice, what a beautiful piece of prose with a powerful message. Beautifully crafted. It made me cry . I remembered The Secret Garden but also The Handmaids Tale!
    This for me is your best post I’ve read. I hope it gets picked up and published widely.

    1. Gosh, Sarah thanks. I keep writing, keep sharing and I never seem to break through and get anyone really interested in picking up a post. A few things go around and people share them, which makes me incredibly excited and proud, but it fizzles out after a day or two. How I would love to write for a living. An absolute dream. But it’s an INCREDIBLY tough gig and there are so many people, doing so much, that we are overloaded with articles to look at now. Thanks so much for all your kind words. And if you ever have a party full of editors looking for writers, drop me a line, I’ll dust off my dress.

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