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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 6; Issue 2; March 04

Short Article

The Farmer and the Teacher
An Allegory

Henk van Oort, the Netherlands

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(After a heated debate among teachers about the influence of national legislation on the actual quality of teaching and on the quality of the teaching profession the following parable saw the light of day.)

The other day I heard a story about an old farmer who, on entering his cowshed one morning, was alerted through all his senses that something was wrong. He had a good look around and walked up to a particular cow. His sense of smell had been his main guide. And there he stood, the farmer, watching one of his many cows carefully. This cow was not in a perfect state of health. The farmer had spotted the problem immediately. The way the cow leant against the wall, the way in which she looked, the way in which she slowly moved her head, the unusual smell and the unusual sounds that were heard convinced the farmer that a vet should be sent for straightaway.

After all these years the farmer had built up a close bond with his livestock. He exactly knew what the animals needed, be it food, water, space, fresh air, a compliment, or a hug. He spoke to them as if they were human beings. The whole farm seemed to be a kind of closed circle. In unison the living beings, cows and humans alike, did their work.

But life has its endings and the farmer died.

His son continued the farm. The young farmer changed many things, he simply had to, because state-of-the-art technology cannot be ignored on a modern farm. Through the day the young farmer watched his computer screen carefully. Input, output, quantity, quality, had become words in the forefront of his mind. Although the farm was successful and the farmer earned a decent living, he had the feeling that something was missing. Especially in the evenings when he sat in his chair near the fire he couldn't help thinking about his father. And when he remembered his father's love for his livestock, he had the overwhelming feeling that his own powers had been curtailed in some kind of way. His wings had been clipped. All the splendid equipment he had installed in his farm had come between himself and his cattle. Then he took the decision to get rid of a great number of newly acquired gadgets. The output dropped, it is true, but as if by magic, he had more time to watch his cows and to really get in touch with the living beings he was in charge of. And the milk tasted twice as good. This had an effect not only upon his cows, but also upon his self-image. As soon as he had decided to really commit himself to his livestock, to look these creatures straight in the eyes, to get in tune with them, he felt he started to grow from a psychological point of view. And that process was not likely to stop. It went on and on as he lived his happy life as a farmer.

When after some years this young farmer took his children to school for the first time he met a teacher. The farmer wanted to know what kind of teacher he was entrusting his children to. The teacher then told him the story you have just finished reading!

Henk van Oort
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