Gardening and Teaching

To change a community, you have to change the composition of the soil…
We are the soil.

Ron Finley, The Gangsta Gardener

With nothing more than a hand trowel — and hours of stabbing and digging at the hard earth — my mother turned her front yard into a garden. She planted vegetables and flowers, herbs and climbers. Her neighbor, a tall burly man, liked to tell me, “Your mother, she’s something else. If you gave me a shovel, I still couldn’t do what she does with her own hands.” She’s gangsta alright. Mom negotiated just the right ratio of determination and desperation for mint and squash.

When a form asks what my hobbies are, I write down “cooking, gardening, and traveling.” Cooking requires other people though, I need someone else to enjoy the food with me. By myself, dinner means a bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine. Traveling is a lie — I lack the necessary funds, and I lack even more patience for airports and long flights. But I can garden all day every day. Working the soil with my bare hands is quite luxurious, like kneading dough, only better because you get snow peas and Walla Walla onions. Gardening is so much more than a hobby though. It’s the most generous act — for oneself, others, the planet.

Teaching is not quite a hobby, unless you get to train a dragon, but I believe it’s also the most generous act — for oneself, others, the planet.

We’re all teachers, by the way, because my definition of teaching simply means to share something. There’s value placed on what we share and how we share. I see young children as the most wonderful teachers. They are more direct, more creative, more willing to give you another chance. What’s wondrous about children is while they may not be able to do something, they can tell you how it should be done. A child will squarely critique your cooking of a cheese omelet or your attempt at tying shoelaces, “No, not like that. Like this!” When I’m confronted with such harsh criticism, children are the only species that can transform my thinking, Do it yourself then you little shit, into my saying, I’m so sorry, let me try again. You’re soooo cute! 

Reading to someone is teaching. While the content might belong to another author, but how you read — your intonation, inflection, breath — conveys the nuanced ways that content can be delivered. Playing a game with someone is teaching. It’s a symbiotic dance of what next-moves to make and not to make.

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I got this far on the post, then the next day, watching the video of George Floyd’s horrific suffering that resulted in his senseless death leaves me limp. This “Gardening and Teaching” post becomes stupid, my blog pointless. Zoom is unbearable, even with mic and camera off. A bowl of oatmeal in the morning is all I can manage to make and swallow until I repeat 24 hours later. I was afraid I couldn’t hold it together with the students yesterday because I’ve been weeping steadily like a garden hose left on slow trickle.

If I may wrap up this post to say that to garden is to cultivate: to nurture and to tend. How we sow and cultivate a plant matters in the kind of fruits it bears. How we teach children matters, and it really should be the only thing on this planet that matters.

Teach well. Teach like you’re so very afraid of what will bear if you didn’t.

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