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Extraordinary education

By Tim Middleton

A picture tells a thousand words and a story using words paints a picture. The following very old legendary story certainly and vividly speaks volumes to us in the present day about education.

“An ageing king woke up one day to the realisation that should he drop dead, there would be no male in the royal family to take his place. He was the last male in the royal family in a culture where only a male child could be heir. Sensing that he did not have much time left, he decided that if he could not give birth to a male, he would adopt a son who then could take his place. Only one thing. Such an adopted son must be extraordinary in every sense of the word. So he launched a competition in his kingdom, open to all boys, no matter their background. Ten boys made it to the very top. There was little to separate these boys in terms of intelligence, physical attributes and capabilities.

The king said to them, “I have one last test and whoever comes top will become my adopted son and heir to my throne. This kingdom depends solely on agriculture. The king must, therefore, know how to cultivate plants. Here is a seed of corn for each of you. Take it home, plant and nurture it for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, whoever has done the best job of cultivating the seed will be my heir-apparent.”

The boys took their seeds and hurried home. They each got a flower pot and planted the seed as soon as they got home. There was much excitement in the kingdom as the people waited with bated breath to see who was destined to be their next king.

In one home, the boy and his parents were almost heartbroken when after days of intense care, the seed failed to sprout. They had no idea what had gone wrong. He had selected the soil carefully, and had applied the right quantity and type of fertiliser. He had very dutifully watered it at the right intervals and had even prayed over it day and night. Yet his seed had turned out to be unproductive.

Some of his friends advised him to go and buy a seed from the market and plant that. “After all,” they said, “how can anyone tell one seed of corn from another?” But his parents who had always taught him the value of integrity reminded him that if the king wanted them to plant just any corn, he would have asked them to go for their own seed. “If you plant anything different from what the king gave you that would be dishonesty. Maybe you are not destined for the throne. If so, let it be, but never be found to have deceived the king,” they told him.

The D-Day came and all 10 boys returned to the palace with nine of them proudly exhibiting a very fine corn seedling each. It was obvious that the other nine boys had had great success with their seeds. As the king made his way down the line of eager boys, he asked each of them, “Is this what came out of the seed I gave you?” Each of the nine boys responded, “Yes, your majesty.” The king would nod and move down the line. The king finally got to the last boy in the line-up. The boy was shaking with fear. He knew that the king was going to have him thrown into prison for wasting his seed. “What did you do with the seed I gave you?” the king asked.

“I planted it and cared for it diligently, your majesty, but alas it failed to sprout,” the boy said tearfully.

Suddenly, the king raised his hands and signalled for silence. Then he said, “My people, behold your next king.” The people were confused. “Why that one?” many asked. “How can he be the right choice?” The king took his place on his throne with the boy by his side and said, “I gave these boys boiled seeds. This test was not for cultivating corn. It was the test of character; a test of integrity. It was the ultimate test. If a king must have one quality, it must be that he should be above dishonesty. Only this boy passed the test. A boiled seed cannot sprout.”

People may currently look at the “intelligence, physical attributes and capabilities” of our children but we are foolish to assess youngsters on that basis. What, then, are we as educators (teachers and parents) developing in our children? What seeds are we sowing in their lives? What character are we growing? What leaders are we raising up? Will we wake up in time? In apparent failure we may in truth find success. Let our education be extraordinary; the truth will out.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. 
  • email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw
  • website: www.atschisz

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