Right before my son Cedar was born, I found this story called The Brown Flower among my own childhood items, printed it, framed it and hung it in Cedar’s room where I’d see it daily. I already knew I’d be unschooling my son and this story helped to serve as a reminder of why. Also this story made me focus on how my own expectations might eventually shape Cedar – sort of a way to keep me in check. Following is that story…
The Brown Flower
Based on a story by Helen E. Buckley
Once upon a time a small boy had been going to school for a few weeks; his teacher said, “Today we are going to make a picture.” The boy thought about how he could draw lions and tigers, trains and boats, houses and suns and all kinds of pretty things. He took out his crayons and began to draw.
But the teacher said, “We are going to make flowers.” The boy stopped drawing, turned his paper over, and thought how he could draw all kinds of different flowers: some with big leaves, some with pink leaves, some with pink and orange petals, some big purple ones and some little yellow ones and he started to draw happily.
But the teacher said, “I will show you how.” She drew a flower on the blackboard. It was brown with a green stem.
The little boy liked the flowers he had drawn better then the teacher’s flower, but he took out a new piece of paper and made a flower just like hers. It was brown with a green stem.
On another day the teacher said, “We are going to make something with clay,” The boy thought about how he could make snakes and snowmen, elephants and mice, donuts and lots of other exciting things. He began to pull and pinch his ball of clay.
But the teacher said “We are going to make a dish.” The boy liked that idea too, so he started to make dishes of all shapes and sizes.
But the teacher said, “I will show you how.” She showed the class how to make one deep dish. “Now you may began,” she said.
The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish, then he looked at his own. He liked his dishes better than her dish, but he crushed them back into a big ball again. Then he made a deep dish, just like the teacher’s. And so it went on for many weeks.
Then it happened that the boy’s family moved to another city. On the very first day at his new school, the teacher said, “Today we are going to make a picture.” The boy thought about how much fun it would be to draw a picture, and he waited.
But his teacher didn’t say anything. She just walked around the room. When she came to the little boy, she asked him whether he wanted to draw a picture. He said that he did, he asked her what he should draw. “Anything you want to,” said the teacher.
The little boy looked at his blank paper and thought hard for several moments. Then he picked up his crayons and started to draw. He drew a brown flower with a green stem.
Of all the problems I have with traditional schooling, squashed creativity is a top concern. Squashed creativity is not some made up issue, it’s an actual growing problem. Newsweek recently posted a piece called The Creativity Crisis. It’s long, but worth the read. To sum up:
Back in 1958, a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. The children who first took these tests have been tracked for 50 years now, and amazingly, Torrance’s creativity index was able to predict which kids would eventually go on to experience many creative accomplishments as adults. “Those who came up with more creative ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers.” And not surprisingly, correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ. Meaning high IQ scores in childhood did not equal creative accomplishment in adulthood, but creative thinking among children did.
Fast forward to this year and a study by Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary analyzed almost 300,000 Torrance creativity scores of children and adults, and found that creativity scores have been significantly declining since 1990, with the scores of the youngest children in America (kindergarten through sixth grade) on the largest decline.
Lastly, to make things worse, Newsweek found that American teachers say there’s no room in the day, at school, for creativity. There’s simply too much else going on that’s deemed important, such as tests and homework to prepare for tests.
In the film Race to Nowhere, top ivy league university professors pointed out again and again that the real movers and shakers in our world today are largely undereducated by traditional schooling standards, but creative to a fault. People who get way ahead in the world are often the creative thinkers, while their worker bees are often the less creative, but proficient adults who were top students as kids.
Why? I’m not a scientist but I’m guessing it’s because life can’t be as fully managed by someone who has been taught, and believes that life is like a series of standardized tests with one sufficient answer. Real life requires much more creativity than that.
Missing school doesn’t mean missing creative thinking and behavior:
Some examples of people who dropped out, got terrible grades out or who unschooled include:
- Noel Coward
- Charles Dickens
- Florence Nightingale
- Abraham Lincoln – note: 8 individuals, in total, who have served as a U.S. president never went to college.
- Thomas Edison
- Reggie Jackson
- Claude Monet
- Bill Gates
- Walt Whitman
- Sidney Poitier – reportedly, he could only read at the fourth-grade level until a friend taught him how to read better when he was a struggling actor in New York City.
- Ansel Adams
- William Shakespeare
- Ted Turner
- John F. Kennedy – note: was a drop out, but eventually did go back to school, but the fact that someone could drop out then realign what they want is significant.
- Steve Jobs
- Mark Zuckerberg – founded Facebook.
- Woody Allen
- Jimi Hendrix
- Frank Lloyd Wright
- Ray Bradbury
- David Geffen
- Steven Spielberg – actually wasn’t “smart enough” to get into film school.
- Wolfgang Puck
- Benjamin Franklin
- Leonardo DiCaprio
- Walt Disney
- Mark Twain
- Harriet Tubman
- Hans Christian Andersen
- Louis Armstrong
- David Bowie
- George Washington
The list goes on and on and on. This is not to say that all dropouts or unschooled individuals will be famous millionaires and that all schooled individuals will not, but it’s something to seriously think about when calculating the worth of formal education vs. life experience. Too many people believe that formal or traditional education is the only way to get a real life, to get a job, to become someone special and worthwhile and it’s simply not true.
We need to learn that wild and colorful gardens are important and beautiful; not treat our kids as if brown flowers are all that matter.
Later we’ll look at some more research surrounding squashed creativity and the formal school system.
If you want more info now: beyond The Brown Flower, another story I have saved from my childhood is the Animal School, which has been told in one form or another over the years, but it makes sense, from a “Let’s not group all kids together as if they were one child” POV. Read a version of the Animal School.
Now – tell me what you think about creativity in the schools.