The Sort of Wildflower That Children Are

I’m a believer in the importance of creativity and honing one’s natural talents, seeing it as a critical part of becoming effective at and finding fulfillment in whatever one does. That creativity can be underdeveloped during education, however, does not mean that it’s appropriate to make it the sole pillar of a schooling strategy, which is what Julia Steiny implies amidst metaphors of flowers and nature:

What with the glories of spring’s awakening the daffodils and scilla, and the stark winter forest suddenly gone, all fuzzy with life quickening on the branches, education had begun to seem a little lifeless. So I indulged myself in a marathon of YouTube lectures on creativity by Sir Ken Robinson. The Queen of England knighted the man for his warrior-like battles against forces that kill imagination, intuition and our innate appetite for solving puzzles. …
… As humans, “we exploited the earth for certain resources and put the whole operation at risk. Now we’re taking bits of children, educating them, but never finding out what they want to be because no one was looking for it.” …
All children will learn when teachers and the public look at them with the same grateful joy we feel when we see new green sprouting out of the winter landscape. Kids are organic. They will bloom and flourish and even ace the silly tests if only we develop nurturing conditions for them.

As a perpetual reminder about priorities in education, this sort of thinking is healthy, but it’s easy to take it too far. The thing about creativity is that it’s kind of shapeless. Just as trees and bushes need pruning and vines do best with lattice and such, children need a framework within which to allow their creativity to flourish. I couldn’t help but think of Steiny as I turned the pages of my Sunday paper and came across this:

A 13-year-old hangs himself in a Johnson County, Texas, barn. An 8-year-old jumps out of a two-story school building in Houston. Nine Massachusetts teenagers face jail time after allegedly harassing a girl so mercilessly that she killed herself. These incidents, all of which took place in one week, reframe the age-old phenomenon of the schoolyard bully.
Students are turning to suicide, experts say, as an escape from taunts that now continue beyond the school day through cyberspace. Such drastic responses, they say, reveal how an action once considered a rite of passage has turned into a public health issue.

I’m not saying that a creative curriculum negates the ability to control bullies, or that all children will be monsters if allowed to grow wild. But every garden has weeds, and even desirable plants can strangle each other if not properly situated and grown.
Metaphors and creativity only take us so far. And at the end of the day, the world doesn’t need three million pop stars, and it can’t function with only two carpenters. Creativity isn’t all, and the right balance is necessary in order to avoid untold misery.

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14 years ago

When I learned my trades, I always kept in mind some wise words I once heard – which had to do with a saying in Bali.
It was this:
“In Bali we have no art – we just do everything the best we can”.
Some might have to think that through as the meaning is fairly deep. What it says is that EVERYTHING is really art, from the efficiency of the trash collector to the writings of the scribe. The important thing is in the grace of the doing.
The bullying thing is quite complex, though, and I’m not sure it is related. You can speak to many adults today who will tell you their life was changed by bullying behavior – which seems to negate that statement about the right of passage. Some things go away, others do not.
It is probably too complex to address here, but there are differences between basic civil “exclusion” which is normal among kids (groups of friends, etc.) and pushing someone into the urinal while yelling at them.
Just as parents spanking their kids is now tied to lower IQ and slower mental development, so does bullying lower the civility of our society.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
14 years ago

As far as schooling goes, I cannot help but believe it is closely tied to what is expected and what the society honors. We do not “honor” erudition, an education is about what it can do for you.
For those interested, it might be interesting to visit “Fred on Everything”. Fred Read is an interesting guy, aside from being a Navy Seal he has a few advanced degrees. He refers to himself as a “vulgarian by choice”, but can quote Archimedes and refer to “big blocks” in the same sentence.He makes interesting and common sense observations. Many of these observations concern education, particularly in South East Asia. There he finds kids sitting on boxes studying by streetlight.
About “bullying”, first let us realize it is nothing new. The phenomenon is an old idea. I have known some people improved by their observation of bullies. They learned to “cowboy up”. I have also known women, who well into their adulthood, could not be comfortable about their appearance or body shape. This because of harassment by other girls. I may have known men with the same problem, men don’t talk about it. I don’t have an answer, it will not go away.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
14 years ago

As a young kid i was weakened by polio at age 7 and spent a few years taking physical therapy to rebuild my strength.Fortunately I had the non-paralytic version,so no iron lung.Those scared me when I saw them at St.Giles Clinic in Brooklyn
One kid on my block made my life miserable.He beat the crap out of me and took whatever I had.He had two big,tough older brothers who made it easy for him to get away with this kind of thing.
I waited it out.I didn’t care about his older brothers because neither of them would want to deal with my cousin Gene,who was a violent psychopath who spent half his life in prison.
So,a few years of this,and I’d had it.I didn’t kill myself.I waited until this guy was vulnerable,namely rllerskating down the street and I ambushed him with a stickball bat(kind of a real thick mopstick)and laid into his head about three or four times and threw him down a flight of steps into a cellar.He never came near me again all through the end of high school. This occured when I was about 10 or 11.
His brothers never annoyed me.they liked breathing and walking.My cousin kinda looked out for me and he truly didn’t give a damn what he did to anyone.The world was better off when he died a few years ago.
I actually had to put him in jail when we were adults-I was a court officer and the judge gave him a year when he came in for sentencing.I comped him a pack of cigarettes and there were no hard feelings.
Bullies need comeuppance.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
14 years ago

“Nine Massachusetts teenagers face jail time after allegedly harassing a girl so mercilessly that she killed herself.”
I think this is a news story crafted for the times. I am not sure what penalty awaits someone who harasses someone. Without physical blows, or bodily harm, I suspect it is a misdemeanor. I think this case is being set up to introduce new law. In one news report I saw, one of the nine boys has been chareged with statutory rape. That puts a different color on the story for me. Was she pregnant?
About Joe’s story above. I think it is, or was, a commonplace that each family had one “tough kid” who looked out for the others. Maybe part of our problem is that we now have smaller families.
I had incidents such a Joe describes. While they didn’t end as dramatically, I did learn something from it.
Interestingly there are public colleges, VMI and the Citadel among others, where what would be called bullying is officially condoned. At the same time “seeking preferment” can get you in serious trouble. Actual cheating or stealing gets you expelled, actually you are “drummed out” in a rather Victorian ceremony. What is the moral? VMI, with a relatively small alumni, has the largest “per capita” endowment of any public college in the nation. It is not that far behind Harvard, when you consider the relative numbers of alumni. Maybe it is just something only us “red necks” understand.

14 years ago

Nah, having went to some military school, I can understand it.
At Valley Forge they let kids beat other kids. If you were well adjusted, you understood what was happening and were able to cope. If you were not…and many were not….I would suppose it becomes a heavy cost to society.
I was never beaten or tortured myself, although I was there as a plebe. However, my roommate was beaten to a pulp by a German looking 6 foot 2 “officer” who was 4 grades ahead of him.
I honestly doubt my room mate ever made it far in life – although I never kept in touch.
Yes, Faust, is we “select” who can make it through all the right tests and situations, they are likely to be the superhumans like Hitler dreamed about. However, the REAL measure of a civil society is how the LESSER among us are treated.
As to the VMI and Citadel graduates, I’d have to know a LOT more before declaring an opinion about their money. Maybe some of them became large defense contractors? Who knows?

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
14 years ago

Stuart, think what you will of military schools. I think I repeat myself here, but here are two instances from delivering my daughter into the hands of the Ivy League (Dartmouth). On her door was a sign reading “Keep door locked, high theft rate”. At the Institute there had never been a lock until the admission of women required it.
It was a rainy day and I sought shelter in the building where computers were “passed out”. I was seized by two faculty members who attempted to physically remove me. It was not until I took one of them in hand that I received an explanation. That was they thought I was attempting to steal one of their Mac’s. I am a businessman, what would I do with a Mac?
At the Institute, if two faculty members seized a parent and accused him of attempted theft, without evidence, those faculty members would have created an “incident of dishonor”. They would be subject to immediate dismissal.
At the time, Dartmouth had not only Black Dorms, but 18 separate dorms for “affinity housing”. Unthinkable.
Granted there was a time that the Institute did not accept black cadets. At that time it was standard for all colleges to request a photograph of the applicant, what did people imagine that was for?

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