A famous archer traveled the countryside looking for another who had acneived his level of expertise. He defeated opponent after opponent and one day happened upon a barn with multiple targets. Each target had an arrow in the dead-center of the bulls-eye. Eager to meet the archer who had achieved such a feat, he knocked on the farmhouse door. Upon asking to meet the archer, a young girl came out. The archer was astonished.
The archer spoke.“Young lady, tell me the secret of your success. Never have I seen such accuracy in all my days.”
The girl replied, “It’s really quite easy. I take my bow and a quiver of arrows and I shoot each one into the barn wall. Then I go up to each arrow and draw a target around it.”
This marvelous tale, told to me by storyteller Angela Lloyd, speaks volumes about what good education might be. The way things are, innocent young children walk into the first day of school and are handed a bow and a quiver of arrows. They’re then shown multiple targets called math, language, history, science, music, art, P.E., etc. and told to hit a bulls-eye every time. If they’re lucky, some of their teachers actually teach them good technique— how to string the bow, how to aim, how to fire, how to practice to improve. If they’re not, they have to figure it out on their own.
The maddening thing is that every target is different and requires a different way of shooting. And every teacher has different advice. Every few months, their score is totaled up and sent home. If they fail to hit 100% bulls-eyes, they’re either told they’re not trying hard enough or have no talent or have attention issues that will require drugs and therapy or any number of strategies to fix what’s broken.
In short, the child simply has to mold him or herself to the demands of the school. They may find out they’re good at the game and go through twelve relatively painless years with an Honor Roll bumper sticker on the parents’ car. Or they may discover, as did Charles Dickens, Albert Einstein, Ella Fitzgerald, John Lennon, Steve Jobs and many others, that the game doesn’t suit them and have to develop survival strategies before arriving at the work that changes the world and makes them rich and famous.
Now imagine instead that the kids entering school shoot the arrows into the barn wall of each subject and the teacher builds curricular targets around each, with the arrow in the dead center of the bulls-eye. What a difference that would make! Instead of the child having to rise to the demands of the teacher, the teacher levels down to the needs, interests, talents and procilivities of each child. School culture is built around the way children really are instead of the adult fantasy targets of how we’d like them to be.
On one level, the image speaks for itself and requires no elaboration. But because I’m a teacher myself and by necessity practical, I know that teachers will object to the impossibility of creating a personalized curriculum for each child, will question the suggestion that children shouldn’t rise to accomplish key targets, will criticize the inference that this is an either/or proposition. And they’re right. Good education will include both the child’s stretch towards the bulls-eye of each subject’s key targets and the teacher’s flexibility to keep drawing targets around the child’s particular genius.
And we should keep a particular eye out for the characters like the one in the story. She may have been a lousy archer, but she was a brilliant problem-solver. I can see her hanging out in the company of Charles, Albert, Ella, John and Steve. And just maybe if I’m nice to her in my class, she may buy me that summer home down the road when she’s rich and famous.
Or at least a set of bow and arrows.