Monday, September 27, 2021

It Looks Like Insanity


A pair of girls in fancy gowns were digging in the sand pit. They were not, as far as I could tell, digging for a purpose other than to dig a hole.

Not far away, kids carrying sticks were bickering heatedly over who was the real Batman versus who was Batman 2, 3, and 4, while others insisted in the tone of irrefutable logic that "we can all be Batman."

As I observed, a boy in a dinosaur costume crawled past me on his hands and feet, growling.

There were no smiles among these children, no giggling, no shouting for joy. I feel safe in saying, however, that none of them were unhappy. I also feel safe in saying that all of them were deeply engaged in applying themselves to their self-selected work

"He who would do some great thing in this short life must apply himself to the work with such a concentration of his forces as to idle spectators . . . looks like insanity." ~John Foster

As an idle spectator, I didn't see anything as alarming as insanity, of course, but rather children engaged in play. On the other hand, if one traded out the children for adults, everything changes, doesn't it? I mean, were I to come across adult women in fancy gowns digging aimlessly, I'd wonder about their mental health. I'd likely cross the street if approached by a man wielding a stick insisting he was the real Batman or someone crawling along the sidewalk like a four-legged dinosaur. 

It would, indeed, look like "insanity," to use John Foster's word.

I've been fascinated by the NASA finding from a few years back that 98 percent of the five-year-olds who took the test used to identify "creative genius" proved to be geniuses, while only 2 percent of adults they've tested are up to that high mark.

Most observers, including myself, suspect that this is the result of schooling, that despite our best intentions, our schools are managing to not foster, but undermine and erode the natural capacity for "doing great things in this short life." Indeed, most of these children will be, within a few short years, expected to begin behaving like "big kids," which is to say, stop digging holes in fancy gowns, stop pretending to be Batmen, and most certainly stop crawling on all-fours and growling, except perhaps during certain, unimportant scheduled times like recess. The older they get, the more they will be shamed when they "work" like this. And if they don't give it up, if they can't display their "creative genius" in the proscribed manner, they will eventually be punished, scolded, made to undergo therapies, or even be drugged. 

Apparently, around two percent of us are born with the kind of genius actually supported by this system of child rearing and "education." Although, I would assert that a certain percentage of those we've labeled as "insane" possess one of the countless forms of genius that we don't recognize.

Perhaps society doesn't want to raise our children to do great things. Great things, by definition, are disruptive. But as an educator and parent, that is exactly the opportunity I wish to offer to the children in my life. I can't know what those great things might be and I should have no say in how they express their genius as long as they aren't hurting themselves or others. Yes, it's disheartening to know that the tall poppies are likely destined to be cut and the nails that stick up will be pounded down, but having lived so long amongst the only people who are free to fully express their genius, I continue to be inspired by the great things they are doing and hope that their time with me will increase the odds that their unique genius, their apparent "insanity," will survive the years ahead.

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