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"Love without logic is insanity. And vice versa." Silvia Hartmann 

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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 minerals.

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 measure them.

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 lance leaves.

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 needed.

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, hot.

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

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