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What Schools Can Learn from Tomatoes

July 04, 2012
The following story in the June 28, 2012 New York Times immediately caught my eye:

"A gene mutation that makes a tomato uniformly red also stifles genes that contribute to its taste, researchers say."

It seems that in the desire to create a perfectly red fruit, tomato growers inadvertently embedded a gene that also makes tomatoes tasteless and mushy. 

It took a while to figure this out. Scientists had speculated that perfect, modern tomatoes were tasteless and mushy as a result of when they were picked, how far they traveled, or how they were refrigerated. But it turns out that it’s been bred into them -- an unintended byproduct of the search for the perfect-looking tomato. We created lots and lots of bad tomatoes. Generations of them.

Which immediately made me think of schools!  

Schools today are under tremendous pressure to be perfect, shiny, and showy, with nary a blemish in sight.  It's easy to fall into the trap of “marketing” ourselves exclusively through externals – buildings, programs, fields, facilities, school placement lists.

But like the modern tomato, an exclusive or excessive focus on externals may in fact increase the likelihood of mediocrity simply because we stop paying attention to the inside, to what lasts: the flavor, texture, and sustenance that the flesh of the tomato provides. 

Our challenge is to keep our attention on the inside of what we do -- what really makes a school a great school and what really makes an Episcopal school a great Episcopal school --  lest we, too, go the way of the modern tomato.

A great tomato is one of summer's great fruits of the earth, a gift and a blessing that feeds the body and soul. Our schools can and should be the same.


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