Carol Ann Tomlinson used St. Exupery’s book The Little Prince to explain a metaphor that both grounds and extends thinking about differentiation or responsive teaching in the classroom. This metaphor guides thinking about differentiation throughout her book, Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom: Strategies and Tools for Responsive Teaching (2003).
Honestly, it has been a while since I read this book. So, finding it was a treat! I love how she explains how building relationships with our students should be at the heart of everything that we do as educators and that our student success depends on this skill! I am very curious to hear what others think about Tomlinson’s ideas and her use of this metaphor. Please share your thoughts with me.
I did not write what follows. But I love it and wanted to share it with you. However, I encourage you to read the whole book.
The following passages is taken from Tomlinson’s book pages 6-9.
Taming the Fox
The Little Prince, a young boy who is in many ways representative of all of us, goes on a pilgrimage to make sense of life. In particular, he needs to understand what love means in the scope of his existence. Along the way, he meets and learns from a varied lot of folks-both wise and foolish. Near the end of his journey, he encounters a fox and asks the fox to play with him. The fox responds that he cannot play with the Little Prince because he-the fox-is not tame. The Little Prince is puzzled and asked what it means to be tamed. The fox observes:
To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a thousands other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world….
My life is very monotonous…And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. (p. 80, 83)
But the Little Prince is skeptical. He is very busy, he explains. He has so many thinks to do-so many things to understand. The fox gives a simple reply: “One only understands the things one tames” (p. 83). The Little Prince agrees to tame the fox.
The fox explains that taming takes time, patience, and listening. Words, he notes, are often the source of misunderstanding. In time, the Little Prince tames the fox, who shares with his new friend two important truths:
“What is essential is invisible to the eye” (p. 87) and
“You become responsible forever for what you have tamed.” (p. 88)
In the end, the fox and the Little Prince must part ways, of course. There is great sadness in the parting, but there is happiness born of fulfillment as well. The two will be joined forever by the small memories the made together-the times they share. Children spend the majority of their waking hours in schools and classrooms. They are dependent on the adults who shape the experience in those schools and classrooms for the quality of each day spent there.
When they enter the classroom, the teacher says to them, “Come play with me”; “Come do the work I have for you here”; “Make my agenda your agenda.” It is likely that each child says to us in his or her own way, “I can’t do that until you have tamed me. I can’t give myself to this place, to this work, to you until I believe in you. I can’t believe in you until I know that you believe in me.” In 30 different ways, students in a class of 30 say to the teacher, like the fox, “ Tame me, please.” They want to feel a personal connection to those who share the classroom with them. They want to be affirmed there.
Like the Little Prince, teachers are skeptical. We have so many things to do, so many things to understand, too many mandates, too many students, too little time in the day that evaporate time. But if we take the risk to “tame” each child who came our way, the uniqueness of every individual emerges. It happens because we show up each day with patience, with the intent to listen. We make time to “see the invisible.”
In the process, we begin to understand what make a creative child unique, what a child with cognitive limitations needs from the classroom to grow, how the culture of a child is shaped by experiences both like and unlike our own, what the very bright child needs to feed both intellect and a sense of belonging, how a student’s particular interest represents that child’s dreams, and so on. We begin to understand what is essential about each learner.