Farmer versus preschool teacher

peach tree, after the painful pruning

peach tree, after the painful pruning

Wow raising fruit trees is different from raising children, and I had quite a metaphorical reckoning on Friday. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, a long-time fascination of mine has been to learn about human behavior from study and comparisons to animal behavior. Just last week I enjoyed a refresher on the neuroscience research into human and animal play of Stuart Brown, M.D., who sees the foundational role of play in all domains of development. I’ve always contemplated what are the relational advantages humans have over other animals when interacting (in play or otherwise), and what life lessons animals actually teach humans. When do we seem to do better than animals, and when do they seem to have the survival keys?

Animals do compete within their species. In some cases it’s to the death, but most often and especially among the young it’s rough and tumble play in the same way children play, and both advance in their skill at self-regulating the intensity. An outsider adult often lacks the discrimination to see the subtle choreography at play, or to recognize how the children’s sensitivity to one another’s strengths and weaknesses evolves over time (if allowed to). Within the context of equals or near equals playing competitively, an adult can do well to keep from interfering. Maybe see to some pre and post check-ins to see/hear one another’s “safe” cues.

Funny how some adults shrink from the “natural” exhibition of competition in rough and tumble play, not knowing or believing in its value to develop executive functioning. But all the while these same adults may feed into the frenzy of some other “artificial” forms of competition - status-seeking, keeping up with the Joneses on a conveyor belt with over-scheduled structured and adult-led activities. Learning to be a team player is one thing, but when children are only offered sports, how many minutes of beneficial play do the little ones actually engage in? Rough and tumble play doesn’t lose a second of time. A child can’t develop reflexes when you’re the one behind the steering wheel.

OK, so now how do plants compete, in today’s case - peaches on a peach tree? Well as I said at the top of this blog, I had quite a metaphorical reckoning on Friday. It all came about when a lovely pair of parents came to tour our school this week. We walked past our peach tree and I gleefully showed them the little peaches that had just grown from the pink flowers the tree had been laden with last month. “Uh oh,” the father said. “20-30% of these should have been removed when they were flowers and now the peaches will not develop well.” I was crest fallen, having ignorantly mistaken abundance as desirable. He saw my reaction and assured me he was from a farming family and knew what he was talking about. He went on to explain that the tree’s energy is sapped when feeding so many competing fruits on its branches; the peaches cannot grow to their potential and this will be a poor harvest.

So Friday afternoon I went about pruning, well not really pruning but selectively picking off from each branch the smallest and most crowding peaches. Then I developed a couple of techniques such as shaking fruit loose from the branch, and then more effective: a choke-grasp to denude the excess fruit. Nothing could have felt more unnatural. I was saying to myself, “Teachers never do this: Eliminate the weakest children. Sacrifice one child for another.” Here these little fruits were doing their best to grow and I anthropomorphized them, imagining myself a fruit-aborter. Ugh. Look at all the never-to-be baby peaches on the ground beneath :-(

So today’s blog is that real emotional reaction, exhaled into written form. Maybe sometimes you contemplate too, How do we interfere with nature, and when do we think we’re doing the right thing by our fellow humans?