Metaphor Teaching Story
The Corn Story
by Silvia Hartmann
When I was small, at school it was deemed
necessary for us to torture sweetcorn in order to learn about science. We were
each given ten sweetcorn seeds and ten plastic drinking cups and some soil and
told to plant them.
Then, the sweetcorn was put into various 'environments' ' some were kept in the
cold, some in the dark, some weren't given any water and some weren't given any
I didn't like it much because I've always had this thing where I go round asking
myself, how would I like that?
And in truth, the ones that were kept in the dark cold fridge without water gave
me nightmares and sleepless nights.
Still, you have to do as you're told and I did, best I could.
When the time was up, we got them all out and lined them up on our desks to
I remember looking at them and thinking, if I was a visitor from outer space,
I'd never believe they were the same kind of plant, I'd make them all into
different categories. Some were so small and fragile, like tiny grass blades;
others pale and translucent as though they were made of glass. There were in
between sizes and then the real big one, bright green, thick stem, three big
When we had done measuring, the teacher passed black rubbish bags out to throw
them into and I sat and stared as the rubbish bag got ever closer' I couldn't
believe they were now just all going to be thrown away. It is a silly thing, a
childlike thing, but I must have hoped somewhere that once the experiment was
over, they would all receive the light, nutrients and warmth they so obviously
When the bag arrived, I couldn't put them in and asked the teacher if I could
take them home instead. He was a little surprised but couldn't find a reason to
refuse me; so I got a black bag all of my own so I could carry them the three
mile journey back to my house.
I cleared a small patch from weeds and planted them near the old sandpit in the
back garden and watered them every day. It was summer holidays by now, August,
Two of the sweetcorn died. I guess the shock from the cold to the warmth and
everything was too much for them.
But the other eight lived. They grew and the weirdest thing was that after four
weeks, you couldn't tell anymore which one had been which because they were more
or less of a height, and of course, now they were all green. I used to sit and
look at them and wonder about that and get my nose burned Rudolf red under the
hot summers sun.
It was not until years and years later that I actually realised that my views on
genetics and nurturing were entirely formed that summer.
The science class had shown us how easy it was to make cripples with just the
right kind of withholding, with the right kind of neglect.
It was a shame really that out of all the kids there, by fortune or by accident,
I might have been the only one who got to also find out that nurturing can undo
it so profoundly, in the end.
© Silvia Hartmann 1999