I believe one of the most horrific, detrimental things we have done to children, which they carry into adulthood as it shapes their very destiny, is our creation of “the box” in which we regard everyone in it normal and everyone outside of it not normal. I think the traditional classroom and it’s appendages of expectations bears the greatest responsibility in establishing this paradigm of “normal” vs. “not normal” but we have all, everyone of us, played our part effectively.
It took my having a “different” child to really see this and to grasp the devastating effects. And even then, I didn’t see it until later than I wish. I owe it to Sally Clarkson for helping me put the finishing touches on the theory I have long held that society (where myth has begotten myth in the machine of the educational system) has far too narrow a definition of success and often cuts the legs out from under so many children with said definition.
Even as a I type this, my heart physically hurts to think of it, to know how many bright, brilliant, gifted and different children have had their entire existences truncated (at best) because everyone told them they didn’t measure up, when in fact, they measured perfectly, just as they were created to. Not less, just different.
And as I’ve pored over her new book, Different, (co-written with her “different” son, Nathan) my face has streamed with tears, from the source of regret, to know I have even played a part, unknowingly, in expectations that communicated disappointment to a child desperately trying to be something he is not, stretching and reaching to be who God made him to be, but always feeling he falls short.
An example of how we label a child:
Child A is a good reader. He loves going to the library and sits for hours and reads. Child B doesn’t like to read. In fact, he sighs and gets anxious over any of his school work. Maybe it doesn’t click with him and it’s confusing. Maybe what you’re trying to get him to read/learn is just plain boring to him and he has other interests he’s dying to dive into. Whether they are in a classroom setting or even being homeschooled, our tendency is to treat one as “the good student.” And if that is as far as our prejudices are verbalized, the other child knows he is the “bad” one.
“Sit still, pay attention, get good grades, jump through the hoops, so you can go to college and get a good job and have a fulfilled life.” Everyone knows what good students do.
But what about the others? The artists? The mechanics? The inventors? The entrepreneurs? The ones who think outside the box and disturb our systems and formulas? Some of them manage to suppress their differences enough to eek by with their creativeness and self esteems in tact.
But many others don’t. And their potential is squashed or badly hindered. They grow up feeling not just different, but feeling they aren’t enough because they can’t do math like the others or they can’t sit still and focus as long as the others.
And tragically, so very tragically, we give them the message over and over:
“You’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough.” How? We praise the one and frown on the other, we celebrate the one and sigh over the other, never stopping to see there may be more to becoming educated than a black and white result that can only be measured on paper. I wonder if even our attempts at encouraging excellence simultaneously insults the other one who is excellent in the gifts that happen not to be as loudly applauded? I’m not talking here about laziness and an “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. But rather, recognizing that academic prowess is ONLY ONE demonstration of brilliance and potential, yet we magnify it above all others.
Maybe we could try looking harder and see that some differences widely held as contrary to success, may in fact hold a secret store of potential, waiting to be unlocked by someone who sees it. Can we be the one who stands with them and defends the idea–even in their own minds–that they are not less-than because they’re different?
Our children are so vastly different, with so many gifts and interests and passions, how did we ever think we could streamline them to fit neatly into the same little box? And why do we try? What an incredible advantage has the child whose parents celebrate him for exactly his uniqueness, giving him as much accolades for his intense pursuit of gardening as they give the other for his mastery of Physics.