Back in the days when my kids believed in Santa and my words had the force and weight to either bless them or crush them, our daughters and son indulged in make-believe, dressing up to become the character of their dreams through the magical powers of the family costume chest. It was magical only in the sense that this chest of clothes, accumulated from garage sales and bad Christmas gifts, held the power of transformation. Our children became Andrew Lloyd Webber’s costume designer leading friends like pied pipers to the costume chest where they transformed into eye-patch pirates wearing tricorn hats or boa feather divas.
Sir Kenneth Robinson, the English author and advisor on education in the arts, talks about our education system as one that teaches from the waist up and mostly above the neck and favoring one side. He tells a story about a young girl drawing a picture at school. Her teacher noticed her drawing and asked what she was drawing. The little girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher intoned, “But we don’t know what God looks like.” The girl replied, “We will in a minute.”
Sir Robinson comes from the same town in England which produced the father of William Shakespeare. We don’t think of folks like William Shakespeare having fathers nor do we think of William Shakespeare as a child. Can you imagine a teacher’s notes about William, “Bill must try harder.” or Bill’s Mom sending him off to bed with, “Put that pencil down and off to bed with you…and quit talking like that, it just confuses everybody.”
My son loved to mimic his sisters which led him to dance in a tutu. His favorite song was These Are Days by 10,000 Maniacs and that song and dance was his first connection of mind and music, emotion and energy and the education of his feet. Maybe I should have had him take it off, but he really was a dancing prodigy and accomplished showman, and he turned out just fine despite the abuse he received from two older sisters.
Sir Robinson goes on to say about education that most of us have had all our creativity educated out of us by adulthood. Our educational hierarchy elevates mathematics and literature, below that is the humanities, and at the bottom of emphasis is the arts with music slightly ahead of dance in the pecking order. Ken Robinson says that all of formal education is tailored to producing professors and that we all can’t be professors, not that there is anything wrong with being one. Robinson has a great line about professors, “They think of their bodies simply as transport for their heads to get to classes and meetings.” He also says our system of education is currently producing a kind of academic inflation graduating kids who go home and play video games. It seems that in this academic inflation, a Master’s degree is the new Bachelors degree.
My daughter Jenna is studying Dietetics and is considering an advanced degree and internship. She asked me today, “Dad, should I get my Masters degree?” I didn’t know how to answer. We discussed and explored the topic but in the end she has to wrestle with the worthiness of investing in another forty hours of graduate work. Will further education make her a better person, a more productive and efficient purveyor of information about what we stuff into our mouths every day?
One thing is sure…children are extraordinarily creative and talented. Education often educates the creative brilliance out of childhood hearts and we are left with nothing but adult heads walking around on flaccid bodies looking for the next great idea or software app.
Should Jenna get her Masters Degree? My advice to Jenna is to take a chance, keep dancing, keep running, keep singing…see your whole life as a canvas to explore and create, not something to mess up. Just like you did making castles on the beach, drawing tattoos on your little brothers face with permanent markers of many colors, washing dishes even when you needed a chair to stand on…you are filled with extraordinary creativity so whatever you decide, keep nurturing the creative spirit of your professional, athletic, romantic and spiritual nature.
It’s remarkable how much the world has changed since I graduated college in 1981. No cell phones, no internet, ESPN was a minor blip in the cable tv world, the World Trade Center twin towers stood tall over Manhattan. You have no idea what the world will look like in five years, much less when you retire in 2065, so don’t get too hung up on a formal education. Your entire life is an education and it begins with each sunrise. And if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never create anything inspiring or original.
So, sling a little paint on that canvas, dance a little jig and keep hitting those books…just do me a favor and don’t write on your brothers face anymore.