When I was in kindergarten, I remember my teacher gave us the task of copying the alphabet. But I didn't want to do that; I wanted to draw a picture instead. So I did. The teacher told me to stop drawing and start copying. For some reason, I continued drawing my picture. I wasn't trying to be obstinate, I simply felt like it was perfectly okay to carry on with what I was doing. My teacher didn't share my point of view and I got paddled for disobeying. For some reason, I still remember exactly how I felt after that: pure confusion. I still didn't understand what I had done wrong.
This experience helps me remember to be wary of treating children as if they should know better when in fact oftentimes they honestly don't know if something is right or wrong. But recently my kindergarten experience flashed into my mind under another perspective: I was right and the teacher was wrong. She wasn't wrong to teach me the alphabet. She was wrong to punish me for being a child. Wrong for making me sacrifice creativity for conformity.
But it's not really her fault. This is how the system of education in schools works, unfortunately. Everyone must conform to the standard way things are done and leave a large part of their personal talents and interests at the door. I'm not saying that we need to get rid of having to learn the alphabet, mathematics, or the names of American presidents. I'm saying its wrong to give kids the impression that in order to succeed in life, they need to always color within the lines...or get an F. We're "educating" kids on the altar of what makes them creative, unique, and happy. And now we're really beginning to suffer the consequences.
And what are the consequences? The economy has made alot of things extremely clear. It's as if the fog of blatant ignorance of what has been going on for a long time already is finally stripped away. People are finding that their survival depends on their own ability to take care of themselves, to be self-reliant, to believe in their own personal abilities. Sir Ken Robinson points out that the very survival of our economy depends on innovation. And innovation depends on the creativity of individuals.
However, because our schools are actually relics of a system that was designed to support the Industrial Age, people today have been poorly equipped for far too long to handle the demands of the new era. In spite of all the "Express Yourself!" gimmickry and other efforts tried out by schools trying to satisfy students, the fact is the core of our education is still a system that was built to produce people of conformity and not creativity. This is why Sir Ken Robinson is calling not for an evolution of education, but a revolution. The school system excels at producing the type of people who are very good at being employees and that is exactly what is helping plummet the economy into a downward spiral today. We need more independent-minded people and less dependent-minded people.
How silly it is to wait until students are 18 years old to start taking their personal interests seriously. It is no wonder that young people are at a loss as to where their talents and abilities and desires lie when their minds have been molded into a standard way of thinking, behaving, and "doing life" from the time when they were very young and impressionable.
How sad it is that most adults in the workforce not only have no idea as to what their talents are, but most don't even believe they have any talents at all!
Albert Einstein said that everyone is a genius. I highly doubt he said this for any other reason than the fact that this is true. The problem is that we haven't allowed children to develop any of their innate interests into genius. There are so many people who get up every day and are unhappy and unfulfilled. They don't do what they love and so they don't love what they do. The tragedy is that they feel that this is normal. How many sleeping geniuses are out there? How many people have undiscovered talents, potential, and dreams withering away inside them?
When I was about 15, I discovered I had the talent for drawing. With just a couple lessons I was able to draw better than pupils who had been practicing for years. It was pretty amazing and this experience propels me to stay on the learning curve, alert for any other hidden abilities, to keep growing, learning, and acquiring more and more skills. It makes me wonder...how many people out there are living from childhood experiences of needing permission to explore a creative impulse? How many adults are out there timidly looking around like a child at a desk checking to see what everyone else is doing and feeling discouraged about doing anything that doesn't resemble the norm? How many ideas, talents, and dreams are getting buried every day? How many people are becoming lawyers, accountants, or doctors when they really want to become dancers, missionaries, or open up an ice cream shop with a hundred different flavors?
I refuse to be a sleeping genius. How about you?
P.S. In a future blog post, I'll address why following your purpose/passion does NOT equal setting yourself up to be poor or unsuccessful.