Thursday, December 7, 2017

That's Pretty Good For a Boy


"Boys will be boys" many people will say with the expectation that every boy is a rough and tumble dirt magnet looking for trouble. It's just snakes and snails and puppy dog tails remember?

There can be no sugar nor spice, nor anything nice about them.

"Boys will be boys" when it comes to the things they love. If they aren't interested in sports, there isn't much left for them in life. But please do not lament. They will soon be on their way to a life of working with their hands, driving a truck to work, and relegated to a banal existence in the salt mines of life.

Or, they may wind up donning a button-down shirt and matching tie surrounded by three temporary walls punching keyboard with fervor so he can keep the economy and his family afloat financially.

Yes, boys are too busy wrestling with their testosterone levels to be bothered with feelings and self-expression. They are drawn to machines because they are ones. Never mind the critical thinking or pondering that happened before schools even existed; when men pondered the stars in the sky and discussed where the world actually ended.

Their grunts and shoulder shrugs speak volumes now. We will ply them with action figures and guns to reinforce this thinking that they are always on the front-lines because they were meant to be there, not because they chose it.

Never mind all the historical facts of artists and poets from long before their time who spent hours capturing stars on canvas or putting words on paper. Nevermind they ways they spoke about the love they felt in their hearts based on a furtive glimpse or a temporary smile.

Yes, boys are just boys when it comes to emotion. They can't be bothered with tears, shouldn't wear pink nor dance the night away because they feel the music in their souls and not just the resounding thuds in their eardrums.

We should reinforce this notion to them in classrooms where critical thinking and innovation are born that creative independent thought is frowned upon because of their gender. We shouldn't give them opportunities to thrive and limit them with our expectations. We should let them know before they figure out what it is that makes them happy that boys are lawyers and girls are ballerinas because that's just the way things are done.

"That's pretty good for a boy" is what she chose to say in that moment.

A teacher my son had said this to him. A teacher that was supposed to bring out the best in him. A teacher whose very job is to inspire and empower all students.

And so, his mind began to turn. "Was it really good or just good for a boy's effort?

When you become a teacher you are told that there are thousands of ways to praise. There is no room in art to undermine the creation, revision, polishing, and perseverance it takes to express oneself in art. In a subject where we think outside of the box it's hard to imagine feeling trapped within one.  

She uttered six devastating words to an impressionable youth who was trying to find his identity in a class designed to nurture and grow a bud into a blossom. Instead of cultivating him with tender care the way a gardener transplants a a root-bound flower from a pot it has outgrown to thrive in the sun, she instead tore his roots from beneath him. If she had said that to me, I also would have lost my footing.

She chose six words strung together that dispel the notion that anything he created, solved, wrote, or performed meant anything at all because he is a boy and only girls have the predisposition to be expressive.  

I'm lucky I suppose, that in all the years of my schooling that not one teacher told me I didn't have what it took as a boy to be creative. There were hundreds of thousands of times words passed their lips and never among them was a word of discouragement or malice. 

There was no sarcasm when they looked me in the eye and told me that the way I saw the world was special because it was my way. There never was inference that what I created was inferior to another student because the way I saw the world was different from the girl sitting next to me. 

I told this boy that our gender never defines what we can and cannot do. I told him that her comments prove that even teachers can get things wrong.

I told him that his painting of birch trees in the early morning was more than "pretty good for a boy" and that while that phrase was said to him by an adult, and adults are supposed to know historically more than kids, that there really was no such thing.

I told him that despite her own ability as an artist that she truly could never see the forest for the trees if she believed what she said to him and felt sure about a boy's inability to be creative. If that were true, she was only really teaching to half of her students. 

The only way for her to get out of the woods would be to illuminate her path. To prove to her that while the woods may seem dense and murky for boys that our creativity will light the way; that our sheer will to not accept this premise that creativity is not for boys.

"Pretty good for a boy" shouldn't be in our vocabulary. It's an antiquated line of thinking back to a time when girls weren't expected to do math or read for that matter because it just wasn't in their nature.

So to my boy and for every boy who reads this blog. Know this; Art is for everyone. Believing that will lead to a generation of boys who understand that self expression is a part of who we are regardless of what we are.  




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