What about the kids who color outside the lines?

As an artist, creative thinker, and arts educator, I’m in and out of classrooms and varying educational settings all the time. I love working closely with teachers and students both in and out of the classroom as we explore and expand methods of creatively pushing education outside of old practices, and beyond seemingly inflexible boundaries. While I’m in and out of those classrooms, I have a chance to observe and learn, and often what I see in more traditional or conventional schools varies greatly depending on the resources of a school or community, the teacher in that classroom, and many other factors I don’t always get to see first-hand. However, no matter what school I visit, there is always a few students that I notice slouched over (half asleep) in the corner, present or absent depending on the day, or not participating, maybe sketching or daydreaming at their desk, seemingly unengaged or disinterested.

I remember growing up identifying as a “creative” kid straddled between surviving the social dynamic of school, mild success as a young athlete, and pursuing my growing interests in the arts. I remember I often felt desperately out of place in many of the social realms I seemed to belong to. When I’m in schools working with teachers and their students, I not only observe “that kid”, the kid whose expressions, energy, attitude, or demeanor resonates inside of me, but also so many other young people living outside the regulated lines of broken (socio-economic) systems, hanging on by a mere thread in an educational system often not equipped to meet even the basic needs of so many of its students educationally, socially, economically, wholly. But this is not breaking news. What I wonder is, as educators, artists, parents, voters, citizens, what are we doing about it?

After reading Creative Dissidents: Stop Shortchanging Talented Kids Who Challenge Us by Mark Phillips, I thought about the premise: the dissident. Not to slap on another label but rather to continue a conversation about our current educational system in the U.S., I’m curious where do all the “outsider” thinkers, learners go? I’m thinking about the creatives, the silent types, the sarcastic, and the just plain difficult to be difficult kids. Where do the kids go with the smart and sassy mouths, with the witty, bright ideas, or with the quiet, unassuming, seemingly unengaged eyes? What does education do with kids that live, think, and act outside the status quo? Punish them into submission? Label them? Suggest parents or caregivers medicate them? Alienate them?

I am curious if we as parents, educators, citizens, the system, were to engage and offer kids (all kids) a safe, nurturing, well-equipped educational setting, but give those kids (all kids) room, flexibility, the freedom to question, challenge, and (respectfully) disagree, what would happen? Thinking? Learning? Chaos? Or something else? I wonder if we are afraid to find out.

Your green is not my blue

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Categories: Misc.

2 Comments on “What about the kids who color outside the lines?”

  1. ktlocke
    February 1, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    As a former teacher I choose a school for my child that engages the disengaged. I am fortunate to be able to send her to a small school that embraces difference and allows each child to find their center, there place int he world. Children leave Rainbow Mountain at the end of 8th grade with an amazing confidence, and sense of who they are. A confidence I did not have until sometime in my 30’s!

    I have not the read the book you referenced, but I shall. I think it is time that we as educators and parents realise what ‘education’ as we know it has become is obsolete, it does not prepare our children for the future, and it does not engage them, it does not encourage them to be life long learners.

    We, as educators, and parents, are no longer the founts of knowledge, from where all information springs forth. We must take our place as mentors, and cheerleaders, as facilitators to guide young people to take responsibility for their own learning and
    creativity so that they may go forth and create a new world in this new millennium.

    • February 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

      Definitely…thanks for sharing your story Katie. I didn’t realize you were an educator…so you absolutely get it, from the parent end and from the educator standpoint. I do think there are some terrific educators out there doing the very best possible work they can in this broken outdated system, but sometimes I wonder if that is even enough because the system is just so broken. I don’t have the answers but I do see so many young people slipping through the cracks of this obsolete system (you are right on with that terminology), that I just worry about after so many generations of under educating our youth, what our society, our workforce will look like. It’s troubling as a parent and as an educator.

      I send my kids to a Montessori School (which I try to also write about) and I’m fascinated by their school’s philosophy of educating and raising independent, forward and free thinking kids. I really love how my seven and two year old are able to learn at their own pace, in their own way, and driven by what they are most curious about. I love that their school just doesn’t dump information on these kids and hope they memorize it enough to pass a test, but rather provides them with tools to be curious, creative, inventive, and self-disciplined. There are high expectations, but the environment is safe, encouraging, and learning is individualized so that kids don’t slip through the cracks. The classes are small (similar to the school your child attends). I also love the relationship I have with their teachers. Parents and teachers need to be partners in education, and we are so lucky to have teachers and parents alike at our school who believe in that and reinforce it at our school.

      Thanks Katie for your thoughts on this.

      I couldn’t agree with you more when you say that young people need to be charged with the responsibility for their own learning. If young people are encouraged to be curious, there is so much knowledge out there for the taking. We just have to make sure they can access and engage with that knowledge both inside and outside the classroom.

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