Gardeners and the Sacred Child

As human beings, we all live in two worlds. There is the world that exists whether or not you exist. It was there before you came into it, and will be there when you have gone. This is the world of objects, events, and other people; it is the world around you. There is another world that exists only because you exist: the private world of your own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, the world within you. We only know the world around us through the world within us, through the senses by which we perceive it and the ideas by which we make sense of it…Our lives are formed by the constant interactions between these two worlds, each affecting how we see and act in the other.” – Sir Ken Robinson, Creative Schools

Sir Ken Robinson, of blessed memory, one of the most influential educational thinkers of our time has had a significant impact on my thinking as an educator and parent. In his book, Creative Schools, He wrote about the “sacred” worlds we live in.

The first time I read the above quote from Creative Schools, I was so moved. It felt familiar, Jewish, and spiritual.  I have referred back to it many times, as I think it is the essence of what we must always focus on when raising and teaching children – for both worlds are essential for a child to securely grow, explore, question and become.

There is no doubt that Sir Robinson’s message to us educators and parents is to remember and hold sacred that each child is a unique soul – a unique individual, and that insight must inform our approach to each child.

I often connect his words to the words of our rabbis found in the Talmud, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” (Mishnah 4:5; Yerushalmi Talmud 4:9)

The inner world of the child is the child’s world, influenced by the outer world. The two worlds merge through life experiences, interactions with others, and the child’s engagement in the physical sphere. 

In order to truly nurture each child’s soul, parenting and often teaching, need a reset in this country. Alison Gopnik, a psychology and philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in her book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, writes about two types of parents, the carpenter and the gardener. The “carpenter” thinks that their child can be molded. “The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you’re going to be able to shape your child into a particular kind of adult,” she says. The “gardener,” on the other hand, is less concerned about controlling who the child will become and instead provides a protected space to explore. The style is all about “creating a rich, nurturant but also variable, diverse, dynamic ecosystem.”

Alison Gopnik spent decades researching children’s development, and found that too many parents are carpenters who often focus too much on who their children will be as adults. The harm in that approach, she says, is that parents and their offspring may become anxious, tense or unhappy. And many do.

For much of the past half-century, children, adolescents, and young adults in the U.S. have been saying they feel as though their lives are increasingly out of their control. At the same time, rates of anxiety and depression have risen steadily. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the age of 10 and 34.

Carpenter parents, or whatever other term you want to use – helicopter, snowplow, etc. — are driven by fear, recognized or not! These parents are also driven by competition and pressure, not by science or reality. Not only are parents feeling undue pressure, but our children are, too. 

We compare one child to another, even before they start school. Academic benchmarks are being pushed earlier and earlier based on the mistaken assumption that starting earlier means that kids will do better later.  The stark reality, however, is that while expectations have changed, children haven’t. Today’s five-year-olds are no more advanced than their peers were in 1929, 1959, 1989.

Give your children the time and space they need to grow and develop. Every brain and every child’s inner world is different, and will develop and progress a little differently than the next child. There are ranges of development and those ranges are usually pretty wide. Enjoy their childhood with them. It is not a race or a competition with other parents!

Schechter is working hard to create a stimulating learning environment – a rich, diverse garden for learning. We have made great strides, but there is still much work to be done. It is incumbent upon us to help each child expand their worlds in ways that nurtures who they are and can become. Like the gardener who cannot make a plant grow or bloom but can set the conditions for optimal growth – the same applies to the child and their learning. 

Let’s all become “gardeners,” and love our children enough to let them become their best selves in their inner and outer worlds!   


  • Eva Holzer - October 21, 2021

    What you say is true, however children of environments who have no stimulation at home, may have trouble with language and social skills.
    On the other hand children who fend for themselves may grow up believing in themselves and may be smart, but may be bored in school, unless challenged.

    • Steve Freedman - October 21, 2021

      Yes! That is why it is crucial that we look at each child as a unique individual and provide them with what they need to grow and flourish. There is no “one size fits all” in helping children to learn and socially and emotionally develop. It is not a linear process. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  • Ian Schorr - October 21, 2021

    Chanoch l’naar al pi darko, gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenu” – Train the youth according to his way, so that even when he ages he will not deviate from it. (Mishlei 22:6)

  • Hal Messer - October 21, 2021

    These posts are insulting to the parent body. I would love to read something inspiring or about student accomplishments. Instead you are insinuating that we are bad parents and it is the school’s responsibility to teach our children how to be good citizens of the world.

    My fourth grader has yet to have one secular homework assignment nor has he had a single test. He comes home without any text or library books and says that he is bored and has nothing to do.

    Perhaps he should take up gardening in the spring…

    • Steve Freedman - October 22, 2021

      Thanks for your comment. Sorry you found the blog insulting. That certainly was not the intent. What I write is based on years of research and experience. The blog is not meant to be critical, rather encouraging and supportive to allow each child to grow at his pace and to discover her talents while learning. Schools are changing and rejecting old assumptions as we learn more about the science of learning and how the brain works. We can hold on to what makes us feel comfortable or we can embrace approaches that we know work better for children.

      Tests and homework are not reflections of learning. They are tools and certainly have their place and, in fact, the students are getting homework and will get more as the year progresses. Homework will be appropriate and advance the learning.

      If your child is bored you should be reaching out to his point person so that can be explored and addressed. We can’t help if we don’t know.

      Our teachers assess regularly to see where the students are, what they know, and what they need. These assessments guide the learning. We are actually focused on learning and not just doing “school.” They will learn to take tests, as they will need this skill. No 8th grader graduates Schechter without this skill.

      Please understand that we know what the students need to learn, what skills they need to master, and we will make sure each child gets what he needs. We follow national standards.

      If you are not coming to the “sneak peek” a comprehensive letter is being sent this afternoon summarizing the program to help parents better understand the Kehillah approach and I encourage you to read it.

      I hope you know we can have respectful conversations and correspondence as we are on the same team – we both want what is best.

      Finally, we believe we have a wonderful parent body who are true partners, who are supportive and aligned with the school’s values. Never did I suggest we have “bad parents.” The quotes were from research and not meant to degrade. Rather, they are meant to instruct that we need to be aware of the high level of emotional stress our kids are facing and we need to create a climate for learning that also lowers the stress.

      I look forward to our continued conversations and our partnership!


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