There’s a lovely children’s book by Robert Kraus (1971) called, Leo the late bloomer. Leo is a small tiger who can’t seem to do anything that his other animal friends can do. He can’t read, write, draw, eat neatly, or talk. His father, looking at his son in light of the other animals, begins to get quite concerned about the lack of progress evident in Leo. Leo’s mother, on the other hand, soothes the father’s concerns by encouraging him to be patient because Leo is just a late bloomer, and “watched bloomers don’t bloom.” I was reminded of this story when I was talking with some of my students about differentiating curriculum. Sometimes we make differentiation a very complex and overwhelming task. Sometimes we forget that we already have gifts/resources to give that can help students naturally learn and grow. Sometimes they do just need more time – along with a caregiver who is patient, who sees the child in light of who they are meant to be rather than in comparison to other children.
Schools establish quite arbitrary time systems that aren’t always informed by good research or even good logic and can seem incredibly inflexible to students, parents and teachers. But maybe they aren’t as inflexible as we think. The gift of time is possible and not hard to give – even at the university level (if we’re willing to give up our own agenda). It’s amazing to me that we’re still using the factory model in schools and our students are the ones punching the time clocks. Maybe that’s one of the reasons so many parents are choosing to home-school their children. Maybe that’s one of the reasons teachers get discouraged – because teachers usually are like Leo’s mother, but feel the pressure of performance that Leo’s father seems to feel.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t intervene when you see a child struggling, I’m just saying that sometimes we intervene too quickly – for our own reasons, instead of the child’s best interest. Sometimes our help doesn’t help. It seems that reverence for the learner would require us to be discerning about this.
I’m not saying that structure and time requirements are wrong either. Schools need them to function, students sometimes need them to learn to manage their time well and to be able to move onto something new. I am just saying that you can push back on institutional demands a little when necessary. Wise educational leaders know this and support it.
We are all late bloomers in some way or another, all in need of the gift of time and a patient caregiver. The gift of time often brings peace, and peace is the best environment for blooming.