As the school year is completing, I visited each of my four younger grandchildren at their respective schools and brought lunch. Today it was Jonathan’s turn. His last day of school is Thursday.
As soon as we were seated in the cafeteria, this bright and creative boy informed me that he had gotten a low grade on a project he had just finished. He seemed genuinely surprised by his teacher’s assessment. As he shared his story, I was deeply touched, more than a little dismayed…and so glad that I chose this day to have lunch with Jonathan.
The assignment was to build a doghouse out of foam board and paint it. In my family we have many Whovians…fans of the long running British TV show, Doctor Who. Jonathan came up with the clever idea of creating a TARDIS doghouse, making his project taller, and thinner, and painting it the bright blue that is characteristic of the Doctor’s traveling time and space machine.
Jonathan’s doghouse hints that it just might be bigger on the inside…a classic Doctor Who reference…and he even added the light atop the roof.
Listening to Jonathan as he described his project, I was impressed. However, his teacher was not. He is not familiar with Doctor Who, or the TARDIS. Giving Jonathan low marks, he said this 5th grade boy didn’t do the project in the right way, that he didn’t measure and cut correctly. In short, he told Jonathan he messed up, made a mistake, failed.
I understand that Jonathan might not have followed directions exactly. And his project didn’t look like everyone else’s. However, he chose to think outside the box and create something unique…and meaningful to him. He expressed creativity when perhaps following directions was the real assignment.
I am so proud of my grandson!
We spent the rest of lunchtime discussing creativity and expressing ideas and chatting about Doctor Who. I shared with Jonathan that sometimes people don’t understand those who think creatively but that doesn’t mean we have to conform. I’m not trying to turn my grandson into a rebel. However I wanted him to know it is okay to be different, create something different, and have a vision. I love his ideas.
Fortunately, another teacher, a Whovian, recognized his project for what it was and expressed delight with it. Jonathan’s teacher raised the creativity score, but did not change the overall grade. My heart felt this boy’s pain at not being recognized for his work. When he invited me to pop up to his classroom after lunch to see the TARDIS doghouse, I was thrilled.
In the empty classroom, a row of doghouses lined a shelf. They all looked exactly the same…square boxes with peaked roofs…except for one bright blue taller thinner doghouse that really stood out. What an extraordinary project, from an original thinker.
After much praise and many hugs, I left Jonathan with his teacher. Had the teacher not been in the presence of children when Jonathan joined his classmates, I would have had a few words with him. Nothing raises my ire like unfairness toward children. My words would have been civil, however, I would have loved to have asked him some questions.
Why is it more important to teach kids to always follow the rules rather than express creativity? Why not encourage, rather than condemn? And why not acknowledge that there are many ways to create a doghouse, other than making them all identical? Jonathan did measure. And his measurements were exactly right for the creation he had in mind.
I hope Jonathan will keep being his shining, creative, unique self. He will always be graded on his performances, by someone. I want him to know there is so much more to life and living joyfully and freely, beyond receiving marks, or grades, or scores on a piece of paper.
I think his TARDIS doghouse is beautiful and amazing, just like him. And I know a certain faithful Doctor Who companion who would absolutely love it…just as I do.