The Truth of Who We Are
Connecting our Stories to our Learning
When my son was a little boy, he was slow to talk. I always worried about him. He had surgery when he was a baby and was given morphine to manage the pain and although I was told that it was the best painkiller for a baby, I always wondered if it hurt his development in some way. Max drew before he talked. He made these beautiful drawings that were representations of the spaces he was in on any given day. He saw his world through images and shared it back to us through the images he created — not his words.
Fastforward thirteen and half years and…
As he considers which high schools to apply to for next year, I find myself thinking back to him as a younger learner — before his confidence was shaken and his talents were questioned — before he thought school was “useless”. I have my children’s art tucked away in various folders and drawers. As I check my nostalgia by going through old art pieces, I came across a piece of his art that he made when he was younger. When I saw it, I knew it was Max’s even though there was no name on it. It is his style. At least, it used to be. He doesn’t draw anymore. He was told too many times that he wasn’t doing it right. He wasn’t one to follow directions you see. When we would paint or draw together, I would watch him get lost in his creation — focused in the act of creating.
I have written about his art before in my blog, Should We Measure Creativity? I miss the time when he would express himself freely. My daughter says that he has been hurt one too many times and doesn’t want to risk it again. He doesn’t want to experience rejection.
I am struck in this moment that we either help a child bloom — understand themselves; follow their passions; listen to the voice inside them that calls to them to create…
Or…we help to create fog — blur the lines and the understanding of who they are; send them into a sea of fear and doubt; make them self-consious rather than open and receiving. As an educator and a parent, I believe it is my duty to help the children in my care see themselves and understand themselves — create conditions for them to bloom.
This week, I read a blog by Katie Martin, an educator who has been co-hosting George Couros’s #IMMOOC course in response to an idea shared in the course connected to George’s book, The Innovator’s Mindset. Each week, participants are provided blog prompts and other challenges to engage in until the next week when we go even deeper in our understanding. This week, the blog prompt was the quote, “compliance does not foster innovation. In fact, demanding conformity does quite the opposite.” (George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset).
Katie’s blog, The Risk of Prioritizing Compliance Over Creation, resonated with me. It drew me back to my son. Katie shares a story of her own children, specifically her daughter who LOVED science experiments at home and even included a video of her children at ages 4 and 5 making soap with their daddy. The children are both incredibly articulate and the engagement is palpable.
The interesting twist to the story is that Katie went with her husband to a parent/teacher interview and found out that her daughter was struggling in science. How could this be when her daughter was a self-proclaimed scientist? (You really have to listen to her talk about making soap…) Upon investigation, Katie found out that her daughter had not completed copying some content for the science assignment and that was why she was “struggling”. What does this have to do with science? (See my blogs: Do we do what we think we do? and What are you really measuring?).
Katie makes it clear that this isn’t about this one teacher but really about the culture of compliance over creation that is fuelled by the incessant testing that happens in the US education system. Although we don’t have the same level of testing in Ontario, a culture of accountability still infiltrates our system and acts as a barrier to innovation and creativity in classrooms.
So I am back to my original thought…do we fertilize the blooming or do we create a fog? Do we make it difficult for our children to know themselves for all of their potential and do we serve them up a big plate of doubt, insecurity and a fear of taking risks or do we nurture their talents, interests, strengths and create the conditions for them to grow into themselves?
On one of my many long drives to and from work this week, I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons. This episode was called, Magic Lessons Ep. 204: “Who Gets To Decide Whether You’re A Legitimate Artist?” featuring Mark Nepo. The story is about a young woman who has always thought of herself as a poet and after being rejected from numerous Masters of Fine Arts programs, she decides she can’t possibly be a poet. Mark Nepo is the guest artist who invited to respond to this woman’s creative dilemma and he shares two poems for her. The first is Walt Whitman’s, Song of Myself and the second is one of his own poems, Breaking Surface:
Let no one keep you from your journey,
no rabbi or priest, no mother
who wants you to dig for treasures
she misplaced, no father
who won’t let one life be enough,
no lover who measures their worth
by what you might give up,
no voice that tells you in the night
it can’t be done.
Let nothing dissuade you
from seeing what you see
or feeling the winds that make you
want to dance alone
or go where no one
has yet to go.
You are the only explorer.
Your heart, the unreadable compass.
Your soul, the shore of a promise
too great to be ignored.
When I heard him read this poem, all my worries for my son dissipated for a moment…he begs the reader to let no one, not even a “mother/who wants you to dig for treasures/she misplaced” deter the reader from exploring his or her own “soul/the shore of a promise”. So even in our best of intentions, this journey of discovery and creation is deeply personal.
I called Max then and I asked him to make a list of all the things that make him happy — all the things that bring him joy. Instead of asking him what he wants to do, to study, to be, I asked him what brings him joy. His list was amazing.
That evening, we went to his junior high school where they were having a secondary school information night. Feeling desperate for information about where he should go and which schools to apply to I suddenly remembered his list. I whispered to him to show me his list. This list tells me that he loves building things, using computers, playing and creating games and math. He also loves hockey, his friends, family and camp. He is obsessed with shoes and could buy a new pair every week if we let him (which we don’t let him do). And, of course, he loves his food…specifically anything Asian. There is a lot to go on here.
So this is where we will start. What brings him joy must always stay at the forefront. We will figure this out. That is my job…not to guide him towards my own treasures but to constantly remind him to find his own.
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Published in Higher Education Revolution