By Mike McGuffee
My mother always had a garden. To be precise, she had lots of gardens. Our yard was dotted with plants that were given the prospect of a good life from my mother’s hands. Through the backyard of my childhood, I grew alongside Black Diamond Watermelons and Paper Shell Pecan Trees. I believe my mother was devoted to us all.
Looking back, I see the imprint of my mother’s passion to till soil, plant seeds and cultivate crops. Remarkably, today I have only a vague idea of how to grow the plants she knew by heart. Nevertheless, through her gardening, she taught me valuable language that today shapes the landscape of my work.
When poet laureate Stanley Kunitz was asked for advice on how to write great poetry, he replied, “Grow a garden, it will help you with your metaphors.” I suspect he might have shared the same advice if he had been asked any question regarding teaching and learning.
Those of who dedicate our lives to the field of education should understand the powerful influence that metaphors have on our society. For example, if our underlying metaphor for teaching and learning is based on a factory model, we might view our children moving down an assembly line — vessels to be filled. One of the greatest challenges with this worldview is that it tends to overemphasize short-term outputs.
On the other hand, if we view young learners thriving beside us, as plants growing side-by-side in a garden, our actions and expectations change dramatically. We are much more likely to value longer-term outcomes, such as growing lifelong readers. Just like plants, avid readers grow best from a foundation rich in materials that are particularly suited to their needs, which brings us to books.
I like the metaphor of book gardens. As the CEO of Unite for Literacy, my mission is to create book gardens where there currently are book deserts and to nurture a spirit of lifelong reading throughout the world. Unite for Literacy’s online library is the primary way we plant book gardens, but we also produce and share printed books that go hand in hand with our digital collection.
Seeds, and books, are packed with potential; planting them carries an inherent message of hope. Our hope is that one day all families will cultivate book gardens within their homes and their children will grow to become lifelong readers.
I encourage you to garden with us. There is nothing more powerful than a caring adult sharing a favorite book with a young reader.
Mike McGuffee is CEO of Unite for Literacy