Boys Run to Seed

I hate to admit it, but being a city girl who never met a farmer until she went to college, I had to look up the idiom "run to seed" or "gone to seed".  I mean, I knew what it meant in general, but I just wanted to get my facts straight.  I wanted to understand this quote from Towards a Philosophy of Education where Mason states, "But Mr. Paterson condemns the schools for the rapidity with which their best boys run to seed." So, now that I live in rural Minnesota and have lots of farming friends, I just called a few of them.

The etymology of this phrase is pretty straight forward.  It's an agricultural idiom referring to plants that have grown well past their flowering stage and are left to produce seeds and die.  In the above quote, he's lamenting that the best students have neglected something and are now in a state of decline. What was Mr. Paterson referring to?  What sort of education would make these boys run to seed, especially 100 years ago?  Who in the world is Mr. Paterson?

Alec Paterson was the author of Across the Bridges, a ground-breaking work that brought to light the awful conditions in some areas of London.  He  was a charismatic and inspiring leader in the areas of prison reform, youth work and helping the impoverished.  Mason thought very highly of him and quotes him extensively in Volume 6, Chapter 7.  Here is a list of the education he's decrying:

-high standards of neatness and accuracy
-sound and practical knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic (taking up more than half of the total instruction  time)
-grounding in English, geography and history
-flawless grammar and spelling

Obviously, since that sounds like a decent education, there must be more to it. Here's what else he observes:

-"the teacher...works too hard while the boy's share in the struggle is too light." (p. 119)
-"rarely left to himself with the book in his hands" (p. 119)
-"... a knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic is no education and no training but merely the elementary condition of further knowledge." (p. 119)
-"the powers of voluntary thought and reason, of spontaneous enquiry and imagination have not been stirred." (p. 120)

He goes on to say that, when these boys move on and graduate, they haven't learned how to love learning and be well-rounded men - the best boys in these classrooms have run to seed.  "Of the majority of boys only half their ability is ever used in the work they find to do on leaving school, the other half curls up and sleeps forever." (p. 120).  Ouch.

Now here comes Charlotte with her wisdom -
 Their implicit contention is, given a well-educated man with cultivated imagination, trained judgment, wide interests, and he is prepared to master the intricacies of any profession; while he knows at the same time how to make use of himself, of the powers with which nature and education have endowed him for his own happiness; the delightful employment of his leisure; for the increased happiness of his neighbours and the well-being of the community; that is, such a man is able, not only to earn his living, but to live. Vol. 6 p.121
I think I've got a better grip on "run to seed" now, although the idiom doesn't work well if you dig too deeply, say some of my farming friends.   I'll sign off with Proverbs 12:11 (ESV) " Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense."



  1. Wonderfully deconstructed. And amazing CM quote (you've got to love Miss Mason's foresight and insight).

  2. Thanks for bringing such 'sage' advice from the great thinkers of the past to us. Excellent pearls of wisdom.

  3. Nancy, you made me ;-) now in the who and why (former why we hs page), and contact, I've uploaded a couple of pics were I'm not blurred. I just did it because I also enjoy putting a face to a blog.

  4. Very good point. It is SO important to take advantage of the younger years to impress and stoke the LOVE of learning, to then guide them to master the basics and to encourage them in their own acquisition of ideas as they begin to flesh them out for themselves! ...all before they go to seed :)

    I loved this little thought.
    amy in peru

  5. Wonderful thoughts here. I love your blog!
    Thanks for visiting mine!

    Peace and Laughter,

  6. Someone ( I can't remember which author) once noted that at the end of the day, the students burst forth from the school with boundless energy to spare, while the teacher drag themselves exhausted to their cars to go home. That this surely must be backwards and indicative of a style of teaching where not enough is required of the students.

    What a wonderful article. It makes me think I need to be sure I am requiring enough from my son, and not letting him passively skate by. :)

  7. Love that CM is just as relevant for us and our children today!

  8. What a beautiful inspiring blog post! I would like to re-post the link on my site this morning - it is a topic I have been talking to friends about - but hard to articulate. Thank you for the post!

  9. As the mother of 4 boys, this was an enlightening post for me. Thank you!

  10. Enlightening! Thanks for a great post. :)

  11. I think I have a better grip on 'run to seed', now, as well. Thanks! There is another place within her volumes where 'run to seed' is mentioned...Volume 2, page 176.

  12. Agreed. What a waste it would be to have 1/2 of one's ability asleep.

    I haven't made it to Vol. 6 yet, other than looking things up for reference. I'd like to read "Across the Bridges" now, too.

  13. hi just found your blog haven't had time to read it yet just this post hope you still get comments to run to seed means to grow to seeding stage to fast some people call it bolting summer crops are the most common so a hot spell causes them to bolt -or go to seed when this happens and I think this is the point your author was making THEY MISS A WHOLE STAGE OF GROWING. Using a lettuce for example it's growing along nicely and to much heat comes and instead of 'hearting' it goes straight to seed and never provides any nourishment a sad pisture of so much of our society that has no heart for the good thoings of life. thanks grace