The other day I had an illuminating conversation in interruptions with my 10-year-old as he was reflecting the differences between himself and his friends, academically and socially. (X is better at math than me, but I’m better at puzzles than Y, and so on)
“You know, schools are very good at making students feel like they all have to be exactly the same: the same math skills, the same attention span, the same running speed. But it’s really important that…”
“I know, but that will be different in middle school.”
“Actually not that much. So it’s really important that…”
“Well, in high school you get to be yourself more in school.”
“Actually not as much as you think. So…”
“In college everyone acts like themselves and they don’t try to all be the same.”
“Haha. Not exactly.” Then after begging to be allowed to finish, I continued, “There will always be pressure to be the same. What’s important is that now, today, and every day after, you commit to knowing who you are. Your strengths, your weaknesses, your passions. Meet the expectations of your teachers, principals, classmates, parents–of course–but never let those demands cloud your knowledge of yourself.”
The K-16 school system, for all its many, many advantages, has the tendency to try to erase individuality. This is by design. I personally think that we in arts education have the best shot of superseding that design and working towards encouraging individuals to be themselves.
The only people who have a better shot at teaching kids to be individuals are parents.