Poppleton the Pig, that venerable hero of Cynthia Rylant’s picture book, Poppleton in Spring, spends a night camping in a tent. The story reports that “sometimes he was reading, sometimes he was thinking, sometimes he was just paying attention.” Luckily for him, he was not a student at an Aurora, IL middle school, whose motto on the sign outside their building reads: “Educating Students to be Quality Producers.” Although Poppleton enjoys the chirping of the crickets and the other musical sounds of the summer night (which he notices by “paying attention”), it appears that he subsequently fails to “produce” anything that might justify such a use of his time. What a waste.
The word “producer” works best in the context of biology, economics, or industry. It is not a word for boys and girls, nor for those who educate them. Our business, rather, is helping children explore God’s world and discover their place in it. We cannot measure our success in this endeavor with standardized test scores (although they are useful in a limited sort of way), nor by percentages of words spelled correctly on a quiz (although they may tell us how better to teach spelling), nor by any overzealous attempt to evaluate the hearts, minds and spirits of our children. We are daily dealing with the hidden things of the soul – desires, thoughts, ideas, and wills. We want to equip students to follow God’s high calling in their lives; we just don’t know yet exactly what those callings may be! So we are careful to teach every child to the best of our abilities, so that each may have capable tools at the ready: reading, writing, speaking, estimating, calculating, imagining, discussing, analyzing, serving.
Gardeners know that some plants spring up overnight, verdant and vibrant, while many others crouch under the moist earth, waiting. They’re filling up, they’re developing, and at the right time, they too will poke themselves up out of the mulch and into the sunshine. Of those plants, some are certainly “quality producers,” (beans, for example, and zucchini!), while many others “produce” nothing at all, except, perhaps, sweet fragrance, bright color, or a cooling shade.
Let’s not educate students merely to be “quality producers.” Let’s help one another remember that “production” is not the goal. What a countercultural idea! Let’s pray, rather, that our work in children’s lives will bear much fruit – quality fruit! – fragrant, colorful, wonderful fruit, created in them by Christ Jesus.