The Parable of the Apple

The Parable of the Apple

Apples are one of the most popular, flavorful, and healthy fruits grown in the world. Forty to fifty percent of apples are grown in Washington, at a value of over $7.5 billion per year. If all the handpick apples in Washington were set side-by-side each year, they would circle the earth 29 times. How should you study apples? Consider this parable.

Imagine that you love apples. You think apples are the most amazing fruit in nature. You think they are beautiful; they taste good; and you think they are healthy. You are just wild about apples. You want to wave the flag for apples in the world—a modern John Chapman (aka, Johnny Appleseed). You want everyone to appreciate apples the way you do. You know the difference between the 2,500 varieties of apples: between Gala, Jazz, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and McIntosh. You’re an apple connoisseur. Because you are such as strong advocate of apples, you want to learn everything possible about them. So you enroll in a course in pomology.

So you study them, you study the flesh. You study the meat. You dissect them. You look at the skin and the seeds; you look at the structure of the apple and its shape. You do x-rays of them and analyze their sugar content. But it never occurs to you for a single moment that the apple is connected to a stem... that is connected to a branch... that is connected to a tree... that the tree is part of a larger orchard planted in soils that are nourished by nutrients subject to the environment of its surroundings. The orchard has a certain amount of light, a certain amount of rainfall, and a certain elevation. At times the rainfall may be acid rain. But it doesn’t occur to you to think about anything beyond the apple itself.

This is a precise description of the fallacy in the dominant model of understanding the moral nature of the child.

You care about the child and you care about the moral nature of the child. But it never occurs to you that the child is embedded in a family, which is embedded in a community—actually embedded in all sorts of relationships, including peers, schools, youth organizations, and popular culture. Moreover, there are other forces at this particular historical moment that are defined by very powerful institutions like markets, states, and technologies. It would seem strange to talk about the moral formation of the child today and not consider the role of the Smartphone or Internet. What psychology has done is to lift the moral agency of the child outside of all of these relationships.

It seems to the Institute that the only way for us to meaningfully come alongside the child is to understand the child within the particularities of its setting. You can never understand a child until you understand the child in his or her context. So we need to study the child less like a grocery store consumer and more like the farm extension agent in Yakima County Washington

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