Education and Gardening: Two Plant Metaphors for Learning and Teaching

Hippocrates of Cos, Law 3

“Learning about medicine is a bit like the development of plants in the earth. For our native skill is like the land; the beliefs of our teachers are like seeds. Childhood learning is similar to when seeds are planted in the field. And the place where learning happens is like the nourishment that comes to plants from the sky around them. Hard work is like the working of the field. Time brings strength to all these things so that they grow to completion.”

III. Ὁκοίη γὰρ τῶν ἐν γῇ φυομένων θεωρίη, τοιήδε καὶ τῆς ἰητρικῆς ἡ μάθησις. ἡ μὲν γὰρ φύσις ἡμέων ὁκοῖον ἡ χώρη· τὰ δὲ δόγματα τῶν διδασκόντων ὁκοῖον τὰ σπέρματα· ἡ δὲ παιδομαθίη, τὸ καθ᾿ ὥρην αὐτὰ πεσεῖν ἐς τὴν ἄρουραν· ὁ δὲ τόπος ἐν ᾧ ἡ μάθησις, ὁκοῖον ἡ ἐκ τοῦ περιέχοντος ἠέρος τροφὴ γιγνομένη τοῖσι φυομένοισιν· ἡ δὲ φιλοπονίη, ἐργασίη· ὁ δὲ χρόνος ταῦτα ἐνισχύει πάντα, † ὡς τραφῆναι τελέως.


Plutarch, On the Education of Children 4c-d

“I am now going to consider one of the most significant and influential things I have said. For we must select teachers for our students who are also free of slander in their own lives, whose habits cannot be criticized and who are best in regards to experience. For obtaining a proper education is the spring and root of goodness. Just as a farmer helps straighten young plants, so too may good teachers guide students with precepts and advice so that their characters may grow correctly. These days there are certain fathers one might condemn because, before considering the people who will teach their children, entrust them to inexperienced or unworthy teachers, either because of ignorance or naivete.”

Τὸ δὲ πάντων μέγιστον καὶ κυριώτατον τῶν εἰρημένων ἔρχομαι φράσων. διδασκάλους γὰρ ζητητέον τοῖς τέκνοις, οἳ καὶ τοῖς βίοις εἰσὶν ἀδιάβλητοι καὶ τοῖς τρόποις ἀνεπίληπτοι καὶ ταῖς ἐμπειρίαις ἄριστοι· πηγὴ γὰρ καὶ ῥίζα καλοκαγαθίας τὸ νομίμου τυχεῖν παιδείας. καὶ καθάπερ τὰς χάρακας οἱ γεωργοὶ τοῖς φυτοῖς παρατιθέασιν, οὕτως οἱ νόμιμοι τῶν διδασκάλων ἐμμελεῖς τὰς ὑποθήκας καὶ παραινέσεις παραπηγνύουσι τοῖς νέοις, ἵν᾿ ὀρθὰ τούτων βλαστάνῃ τὰ ἤθη. νῦν δέ τις κἂν καταπτύσειε τῶν πατέρων ἐνίων, οἵτινες πρὶν δοκιμάσαι τοὺς μέλλοντας διδάσκειν, δι᾿ ἄγνοιαν, ἔσθ᾿ ὅτε καὶ δι᾿ ἀπειρίαν, ἀνθρώποις ἀδοκίμοις καὶ παρασήμοις ἐγχειρίζουσι τοὺς παῖδας.

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher had us sing this song all the time. I did not realize it at the time that we were engaged in an ultra meta-educative reflection. Do you like to grow ideas in the garden of your mind?