While I was out doing yardwork this past weekend, rocking out with my iPod, I experienced one of those moments of synchronicity when one of the songs hit a particular note with events of recent weeks. The song, “Born to Fly” (performed by Sara Evans), seemed to embody in spirit several themes of change in my family’s life of late.
We recently moved my son to a new school to complete seventh grade. There are a variety of reasons for this, but there were two events that finally sent me over the edge (and those of you who know me might comprehend what it takes to achieve this feat). First, he was given an assignment to write a fictional narrative (short story—don’t ask me why they couldn’t just say that) of 1 or 2 pages with some specific requirements. He handed in “Goals”. It was seven pages long and contained not only the required elements, but a lot more—including a surrounding flashback and symbolic metaphor that I wished I had imagined.
He received a “C”. The teacher informed him that, among other comments, the concept behind the story was not believable. Strike One.
Several television shows that he watches have contained, for one reason or another, references to “Romeo & Juliet”. He wanted to find out what that was all about and decided to read the play. He approached the same teacher to see if he could use that as his “free reading” assignment. He was promptly informed that it would be too difficult for him. Strike Two.
We didn’t wait around for Strike Three. (If I were to really think back on all of the events, Strike One was probably really Strike Three. The proof is left as an exercise to the reader.)
We’ll leave my opinions on the American Educational System for another time, but in my mind, both of those responses by that teacher I consider to be criminal acts. I find it unfathomable that a student that willingly chooses to go above and beyond his perceived level should be swatted back to earth. I would think that a teacher would be thrilled to have a student—regardless of age or grade level—who voluntarily chooses to tackle Shakespeare.
It feels to me that children are driven to pursue very narrow goals, like achieving good scores on standardized tests or participating in team sports to foster competitiveness and teamwork. (I find it interesting that most parents would rather foster the hope in their children that they could be the next big NFL or NBA star, than the next award-winning director or author. It strikes me that the odds are much more in favor of the latter.) Thinking and behaving outside those narrow boundaries often seems to carry with it a stigma of being irresponsible and immature. After all, no grown-up would choose to pursue a career as a novelist when they could be a software engineer.
As a society in general, it feels like we have gotten so focused on being competitive and being “practical”. There are stories and jibes aplenty about Liberal Arts majors working fast food counters, while their brethren with Business or Computer Science degrees are raking in the big bucks. Uh huh. Does all those money buy them spiritual fulfillment? Do their souls heave large sighs of contentment at the end of the day? Hmmmm.
My experience has been that most of the creative people that I have been fortunate enough to encounter in my life all seem to possess the sense that they were capable of being more than they are, of accomplishing things most people only wish for and dream of. I don’t mean that they are snobbish or arrogant about it (although some are). Instead, they possess a firm self-assurance that they believe that they can accomplish more—that they are “born to fly”.
We owe it not only to our children, but to ourselves, to not try to clip their wings too early—if at all. Without such flights of fancy, there can be no creativity, no great works of art—only a deadening of spirit. And I think, as a society, we have seen enough of that.