Passing back Kindergarten self portraits, I raise Chris’ for all to see. Big round eyes with every detail attended to, stare back under a sideways baseball cap from large white paper.
The loud and giddy Connor calls out from the carpet:
“WHOA. Look at Chris’ drawing!
Kids coo with glee, and I can tell they love it. I love it too… it gushes personality and was drawn without abandon. Out of the corner of my eye Chris presses lips together and stares at blue fibers in the carpet while picking furiously at them with tiny fingers. Five year olds barely notice his expression as they clap their hands:
“WOW, look at the baseball hat!”
Chris remains frozen on the the carpet, refusing to claim his prize.
I crouch next to him and whisper in his ear:
“They’re not making fun of it. They like it.”
Big drops form in his eyes and his face crumbles. He submits to an impassioned cry, and I recognize it’s sound- indeed it’s a cry I’ve made myself many times- a sound unique to other cries, signifying a deeper sort of hurt. Connor’s mouth falls open as he witnesses the unintended result of his comment. I flashback to college theory classes:
People who deeply engage the world through creative thinking and making, learn to expect and accept the accompanying anxiety of recognizing one’s simultaneous power and vulnerability in confronting a self-formulated problem.— Olivia Gude
Many can’t spell, some can’t tie their shoes, their Math skills barely extend beyond counting, yet these minis are creating and re-creating themselves through imagery- each one of them experiencing deep anxiety about having that expression rejected. The deep connection between a person and their art is not created, we’re born with it… a connection so strong it leads adults to spout nonsense such as:
“I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler…”
As if somehow that’s what Art is about to begin with.
I turn to Connor,
“What do you think we could do to fix this?”
Without a word he stands up, walks to the sobbing human ball and wraps his arms around Chris’ shoulders in the gentlest of ways.
“I really like it, I really do, it’s going to be okay.”
The class watches stunned, murmuring approval as Connor, a normally raucous stinker, morphs into a mother hen before our eyes. Mental note to remember this next time Connor yells across the art room, Brazen…
Chris avoids eye contact and nods his head reluctantly. As I pass out other portraits the class passionately tries to make right again-
“Good job, Taylor. I really like that Kyle…”
This is powerful stuff for a child. This is more than smearing tempera over white paper okay? Even kiddos are required without being asked, to express their selfhood and risk it all when they create. It comes with the territory, it’s built into the system. To me, that’s the only work on this planet that truly matters, although admittedly I’m biased.
I often fantasize on long car trips, or during dull meetings, how I might contribute to the paradigm shift that is happening right now in education. The one where progressive thinkers are begging the rest of society to rethink what matters when teaching little humans. Right now, the only thing I can think of is to write a stinking blog. I figure the rest will come in unassuming packages, such as during Kindergarten Art on a Thursday.