Child: Daddy, when I grow up I want to be a writer!
Father: Ok son, but it’s pronounced D o c t o r.
“You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.” – Henry David Thoreau
Did you know, that before the Hippocratic Oathin in the 5thCentury BCE, surgery was considered a manual, rather than an intellectual act? In fact, surgeons were considered craftsmen who worked with their hands, deftly and creatively equipped to use the knife, some fairly brute force, and a pretty amazing imagination too, if you ask us. Barber-surgeons in 18thCentury Britain didn’t even need a university education until 1846, which marked the final severance and shift from the work as craft to high-end intellectual profession (as we know it today), after the introduction of anaesthesia. Resultantly, surgeries became more and more controlled environments and no longer required the restraint of patients, and in turn no longer required the strength and creativity once necessary. The craft of surgery was cut off from its artisanal roots, and is seen today as one of the foremost intellectual professions. Talk about an amputation!!
The point isn’t that today’s surgeons aren’t the intellectuals we presume, because they are- they are formidable; and nor is it that the introduction of anaesthesia and a university degree turned the profession into something it’s not, because the profession did evolve and continues to do so. The pointis that the civic view on professions is socially constructed, some work considered more highly than others in different centuries, in different cultures, they ebb and flow as we are told by media, government and our peers what to signify when hearing of certain vocation streams. Doctors, engineers and lawyers are now at the top, artists and writers far, far down on the ocean floor.
There was a time not so long ago when writers were considered the intellectual powerhouse of a community, and in some societies they still are, but now the idea of our children expressing a desire to work as an artist fills us with stomach- churning dread, for what people will think, as much as for their future. God forbid our children have talents outside of the three professions we’ve deemed acceptable. And all that these social constructions have done, is limit our school systems to ones that encourage and revere academic performance, with an enormous emphasis on math, science, business, with an expectation that the entire sum of our children enter into the narrowest field of professions down the track.
Children who show a proclivity for the creative, or take an interest in civic matters are regarded as children who simply aren’t cutting it at school, simply aren’t cutting it with math and science…and the truth is, THEY AREN’T. But that isn’t the problem, they are not the problem, the problem is that we think that gifts in areas outside of math and science are base or even worse, defunct.
Our education system has catered for children who can fit into the mainstream idea of what is acceptable, resulting in many children who show gifts and talents in other arenas falling through the cracks, their needs disregarded, their uniqueness going unidentified, their environment failing to create a space for them to develop their myriad skills; critical thinking, artistry, crafts, entrepreneurial, civic mindedness.
As parents, we are not even encouraged to identify those gifts as being ones of any value, let alone seeking out school environments that have the facilities to cater for and develop such brilliant, creative young minds. We barely even know the school curriculum before enrolling our kids! What do you know of your child’s school system- do they have a gifted program, how do they identify these students? Does your school even encourage gifted children equally, or is there a fierce concentration solely on academic performance? And these are questions we should all be asking, not just the parents of artistic or gifted children.
Grace* displayed extraordinary capabilities in art and creative writing, even at primary age, and attended a prestigious private school in West London. Her elite primary school prepped their students for high academic performance- math, science and even law subjects were requisite. There was an art class for the children, but it was considered secondary and tokenistic, and besides that, the math teacher doubled as the art teacher and had no training in the arts whatsoever.
At home Grace gradually became sulky, listless and began to withdraw, her mother also noticing signs of an anxiety disorder and a remarkable drop in her self-esteem. When Grace’s mother approached the school to find out what was going on, she was flabbergasted by their response. Yes, they noticed Grace’s aptitude in the arts, yes they noticed her withdrawal and acting out, but they insisted that she just needed to ‘buckle down’ and improve on her math. A once happy, outgoing and creative child had been reduced to a number, a lemming, reduced to a child who wasn’t cutting it in mainstream education. A child that should be better at the things society deems important. Tricky when that changes so often. Besides, didn’t the lemmings fall off a cliff?
Don’t be dismayed, this story ends well.
It had never occurred to Grace’s parents that they should consider what school to send her to, they assumed that they were doing the best for their child by sending her to the most prestigious private school on the west side. Their intentions were nothing but pure; pure yes, but ultimately misguided. We cannot presume that the most expensive or elite school one affords, is also the most appropriate school for our little one.
Every single beautiful child has their own unique makings, some are brilliant mathematicians, some are brilliant with nature, it’s about recognising their strengths and searching for the best environment possible for our children. After the meeting, Grace was pulled out of the school and sent to a bilingual Montessori school in London, where she is currently thriving on a strengths-based model of learning, where children learn from both the teachers and one-another, and each child’s unique personality and abilities are nourished and encouraged to grow. Grace has recently revealed a strong propensity towards listening and helping others, a greatly compassionate child who never fails to comfort and encourage other students.
Nelson Mandela displayed these same traits in his youth. They are traits in Grace that are currently being recognised and validated as something wonderful and generous, wildly humanistic traits that may some day flourish into a career to which those traits might lend: Art Therapist, Psychotherapist, Development Worker, Politics, to name just a few; pathways that would have been impossible had Grace remained in a school environment that, for her, was toxic. Montessori education is just one of many exceptional approaches to schooling, with a steadfast approach to upholding and promoting self-directed learning, academics, creativity, art, civic responsibility, independence and most importantly, a life long passion for learning. What more could we want for our children then an environment that fosters an obsession and love of learning!
So let’s leave the lemmings approach to computer games, and far, far away from education. It’s clear that our school system might need a few sutures of its own! If we all work together on this- redefining societal views, encouraging uniqueness, respecting different gifts and strengths- our next generation of children is going to be unstoppable. Homework isn’t just for children, we have a responsibility to those we love to do our very own homework, and find a school that best suits the needs of our children.
In the words of Albert Einstein “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
Want to read more…. The Good Schools Guide: Educating the gifted child