Inside the Lines (Part 1): An Unschooling Conversation

This discussion appeared recently on the Christian Unschooling Facebook Group:

MARI: One of my public school teacher friends repinned this on Pinterest and it made me so sad I had to share. “Colors make sense”??? Green cows with purple teeth make perfect sense to ME – who are you to judge my artistic sensibilities? It makes me wonder about Salvador Dali’s first grade teacher or Pablo Picasso’s kindergarten teacher. Sorry, Seurat, no smiley face for you – too much white space in pointillism. Too bad, Andy Warhol, your colors don’t make sense.

VICKY: Killing off that creativity…. so sad.

star-paperCARMA: My younger brother was a kindergarten dropout. The teacher made him cry because he colored some leaves black, or something like that, so my mom pulled him out. Of course he went on into 1st grade the next year. My mother regretted not knowing about homeschooling, said she totally would have done it! I wish …

MELISSA: This has to be a joke, right? Um, Salvador, your clocks are melting! That’s weird and makes no sense. No smiley for you.

CINDY H: I remember being in first grade and how neurotic the teachers were about coloring “skills.” No white space was a big one, and so was always coloring in the same direction, i.e., don’t color left to right and then color up and down in the same area. Those things are obviously not life skills in the least – it’s all about mind control, I think.

KANDY: That is horrible!

ANDREA: So, so sad. If I ever needed a reminder…

TRACI: It’s all a control issue.

SARAH: Thinking about this, it’s a symptom of the early-writing culture (in order to “teach” the class more easily). If you want to force such tiny kids to master pencil control skills, you’ve got to do a lot of it and as rigidly as possible to keep them all together. *sigh* It’s just such a stupid goal!

MELISSA: I don’t necessarily agree that it is a control issue. I think these teachers are trying to help their young students develop fine motor skills. But, they will learn fine motor skills without being taught and coerced with smile and frowns.

MARI: My kids were public schooled at that age and I used to get infuriated with the teacher. It wasn’t just about conformity in how they colored for their teacher – she would count coloring pages “wrong” if the directions said “color X red” and they used anything other than a Crayola ‘red’ crayon. We bought Rose Art crayons because (1) they were cheaper and (2) one of my daughters is very “texture sensitive” and she vastly preferred the texture of the Rose Art (they’re “creamier”). But Rose Art colors are a little bit different from Crayola and I would get nasty notes on homework with big red 0’s penned on them that said “Directions said RED not dark red!”

I would write back “If you wanted a specific brand of crayons it should have been noted in the school supply list!” All year for two years running I fought with that woman over coloring. Argh! I wish I had had the confidence then to take them out and educate them at home.

MELISSA: Oh my gosh, Mari! That is crazy!

ANDREA: Melissa, it’s the smiles and frowns that bother me too. My older two kids had pretty significant fine motor delays and wouldn’t have ever been able to meet those standards.

BETHANY: Who died and made that teacher the color police?!?! ACK!

MELISSA: And the middle smiley (with a straight mouth) looks like it’s thinking, “Um, seriously? Now you’re just messing with me. Obviously you *can* color inside the lines.”

ANDREA: Right! exactly my thoughts.

MARI: ROFL Melissa, I love that! Now I’m imagining the other faces talking, too. “Do you see the black line painted on the page directly in front of you, Six-Double-Five-Three-Two-One? Your colors belong on the *other* side of it!” is clearly what the frowning face is thinking.

PAMELA: Whoa! Sometimes I just can’t think of anything to say.

TRACI: Melissa, IMO coloring a flower a certain color doesn’t help fine motor skills. It just indicates that the teacher wants the flowers to be “typical.” That seems like control. Even in grade school I had seen black flowers, brownish flowers, basically any color flowers so it doesn’t make sense why they would be expected to stick to pink or whatever.

You know now that I think of it though, many of my art teachers growing up were more interested in duplication than creation. Making a painting realistic, a sculpture that looked like a model, etc. I wonder if a lot stems from the teachers being “judged” by such non-creative eyes.

IL: So sad. Often “outside the lines” is where the best stuff happens.

TRACI: And while I’m on a rant, the smiley faces bother me because they tie too close to emotion. “Following the rules makes people happy, coloring outside the lines makes people sad.” So approval-oriented I could puke. It is one thing to give a star to someone who chooses to follow the lines, but to make them choose between a happy emoticon and an unhappy one seems less about rejecting an inanimate reward and instead rejecting the teacher’s approval. Thank heavens most kids don’t have my hang ups.

ANDREA: …but this kind of thing can be the birthplace of such hangups, IMO.

MARI: I know what you mean, Traci. It feels like, “If you want to make the teacher happy (and therefore LIKE you) you must do these things. If you don’t, it will make the teacher sad and then she won’t like you.” Or maybe that’s my own hang-ups speaking.

By the way, I like the “sad face” fish bowl picture better than the happy face one. It looks more realistic – like light is refracting through the glass and water to create highlights and shadows.

TRACI: And then take it one step farther and it would be “unhappy people color outside the lines… Wouldn’t you rather be happy??”

MARI: See, right up until you said that, Traci, I would have tried to color inside the lines to earn the approval and love of the teacher. But put in the “unhappy people color outside the lines” context I would immediately start coloring outside the lines as a form of angsty rebellion (because I was emo before emo was a word).

AMY: This is so sad … it’s the perfectionistic attitude, and the fact that the teacher wants the child to conform to what she wants. My son’s favorite color since preschool has been brown. He colored everything brown, so it would have been wrong in this teacher’s eyes. Just another reminder of why I homeschool!!!

MELISSA: I totally agree with you about fine motor skills, Traci. I just don’t think the motivation is purely about control, if that makes sense.

And LOL, Mari!!!!! And, you know that happy face is fake. That guy really feels caught in the trap of perfectionism.

ANDREA: I think the intent is very different from the resulting effect this has. The teacher probably did intend for this to be a way to improve fine motor skills, keep the class moving in a unified direction, etc. The end result though? Definitely more than that.

MARI: I tracked the pin back to the source. Apparently the intent of this was to give a visible rubric for first graders to grade one another’s work, thus sparing the teacher the agony of having to grade papers herself. But coloring pages were so subjective that she has to create a visual grading rubric for the kids to follow. Which adds so many additional levels of creepiness to this picture that I don’t think I can even deconstruct it all.

TRACI: Like I said though, most teachers are judged by parents, school boards, admins, etc. And many expect good little robot kids who make flowers that look like flowers.

ANDREA: Traci, so true. I feel for teachers, actually. They have been stripped of their creative outlet.

TRACI: Oh Mari that boggles my mind. As if peer pressure to conform to the “norm” for kids isn’t bad enough already without judgment by peers being endorsed by teachers too. But who am I to say anything … I think grading art is as pointless as collecting water in a sieve.

CARMA: I agree that the coloring itself is a fine motor skill exercise, and I think that most teachers of this age will rely upon conformity to a goal (matching colors correctly) rather than artistic ability because they are NOT artists and don’t know how to facilitate creativity, much less give it a grade! But the unintended message and consequences are heavy.

ANDREA: I file it under the same category as grading journal entries. I guess technically, I don’t grade anything but somehow journal entries and art seem particularly off-limits.

TRACI: Yeah, Andrea, if anything it would just be participation that could be graded in my mind’s eye.

JACKIE: My son’s first grade teacher would not let the kids use whatever color they wanted to color with. It was nonsense. We never made it the whole year with her, for other reasons as well.

MELISSA: This thread totally reminds me of this poem:

Flowers are Red by Harry Chapin

The little boy went first day of school
He got some crayons and started to draw.
He put colors all over the paper
For colors was what he saw.
And the teacher said, “What you doin’ young man?”
“I’m paintin’ flowers,” he said.
She said, “It’s not the time for art, young man,
And anyway flowers are green and red.
There’s a time for everything, young man,
And a way it should be done.
You’ve got to show concern for everyone else
For you’re not the only one.”

And she said, “Flowers are red, young man,
Green leaves are green.
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen.”
But the little boy said,
“There are so many colors in the rainbow,
So many colors in the morning sun,
So many colors in the flower and I see every one.”

Well the teacher said, “You’re sassy.
There’s ways that things should be
And you’ll paint flowers the way they are
So repeat after me.”
And she said, “Flowers are red, young man,
Green leaves are green.
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen.”
But the little boy said,
“There are so many colors in the rainbow,
So many colors in the morning sun,
So many colors in the flower and I see every one.”

The teacher put him in a corner
She said, “It’s for your own good.
And you won’t come out ’til you get it right
And are responding like you should.”
Well finally he got lonely
Frightened thoughts filled his head
And he went up to the teacher
And this is what he said.
And he said, “Flowers are red, green leaves are green.
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen.”

Time went by like it always does
And they moved to another town
And the little boy went to another school
And this is what he found
The teacher there was smilin’
She said, “Painting should be fun
And there are so many colors in a flower
So let’s use every one.”

But that little boy painted flowers
In neat rows of green and red
And when the teacher asked him why
This is what he said.
And he said, “Flowers are red, green leaves are green.
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen.”

This (very long!) conversation will be continued in tomorrow’s post.

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