I have been trying for a while to get a half decent picture of the Anglo-Saxon (and later) farming patterns that sit alongside the Bradwell brook in a number of places between Wolverton and Loughton – a photo that would actually show the relief of the field patterns whilst remaining resolutely green. The patterns are found all over Milton Keynes, wherever there are water courses, but photographing them so you can see the patterns requires a better camera than I possess.
On Sunday afternoon, however, it all came clear, when in Bancroft Park the buttercups had bloomed across the ridges of the stints and the cow parsley lay in the troughs between them. Probably (now) to do with drainage, but it also is about the effect of cultivation over the centuries before enclosure did for these little fields and they were left as grazing or the lower parts of fields that were left to flood, as the Bradwell Brook regularly did (and still does).
It is a metaphor, or picture if you will, of the effect of sustained cultivation. We have not the first clue what the effect of our teaching and leading of children will be in the future. We take them by the hand and lead them into a “best guess future”, knowing only that the cultivation of their lives is a duty of parents and shared (by the good graces of community or state) with teachers who come alongside parents to cultivate these lives. If there has been good cultivation going on in the home, then the seeds sown by the school will be fruitful and effective, of course. If a child’s inner life has not been cultivated, then we are all in trouble, and schools end up getting the task of both cultivating the child ready for education as well as doing the educating. Part of our duty and role as teachers in a society that is trying to build lives that will flourish, is watchfulness and mindfulness, observing children at play and at work and waiting for the moment or the day when the words we have to speak are going to be effective and bear fruit.
A final observation from AS Neill, the founder of Summerhill: “No one,” he wrote, “is wise enough or good enough to mould the character of any child.” I disagree with the finality of this statement, and with its direction – but it is a key observation for humility. We cannot mould children into our image, whether parents or teachers, but the work we do, if watched for, then well placed, will be a foundation for their futures.