Mixed Messages

This morning I was listening to some kids’ songs and was struck by something. In particular, there was Kermit’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green” (a classic) and then one called “Trading Squirrels.” The second one was a little dialogue between a climbing squirrel and a flying squirrel. They were saying that what the other one did couldn’t be too hard and that they should trade places. Of course, we as parents can see the writing on the wall, and both squirrels fail.

The message of both of these songs is for kids to accept their differences and realize how unique they are.  They should, as Kermit does, see the beauty in the things that make them different (“Green is the color of Spring”). The squirrels teach that each of us have our own strengths and abilities and we shouldn’t be jealous or condescending toward others because they have different strengths.

All great messages, right?

That is, until they get to school. It seems to me that we spend the pre-school years telling kids how great it is that they are unique, and then we put them in a system that suppresses their uniqueness. School wants all kids to have the same abilities and the same aptitude. If they don’t, they are punished. Perhaps one child is excellent at music, but not so great at math. That child may be required to spend less time on music to concentrate on math. Why? Because all kids MUST learn math. They all MUST have the same abilities as each other.  

Why are we sending these mixed messages? If children’s differences are to celebrated, let’s celebrate them in schools as well. Let’s allow them their diversity and help them grow in that direction. Instead, we label them as having learning difficulties or disabilities and get frustrated when all of the little square pegs don’t fit in our nice round holes.

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6 Comments on "Mixed Messages"

  1. sebrina
    02/11/2009 at 9:02 am Permalink

    OH man this is exactly what I am seeing happen to my children at school!! My youngest son is being kept out of play time to practice his letters and reading (he is only 5!!!) and my oldest son was so upset the other day because he got a C on an art project that I happen to think was beautiful, but the teacher said it wasn’t colorful enough!!!

  2. TheOrganicSister
    02/11/2009 at 7:33 pm Permalink

    This is so frustrating! It’s a blatant contradiction that no one will acknowledge. Or they will agree that our schools are doing this but refuse to take part in any type of reform or alternative. Have you seen the video “Animal School”? It’s a great illustration that everyone nods along to, then just as quickly dismisses because “what can we do”. I can answer that question in a few ways. 😉


  3. admin
    02/11/2009 at 8:47 pm Permalink


    That kills me to hear about! I hope you can unschool your kids, they’d thrive in your creative home. I can’t believe any teacher would give a child a C on artwork! Seriously, don’t we all agree that art is subjective in the first place? And then to discourage these kids in a creative field because it doesn’t fit some arbitrary mold? Ludicrous on all kinds of levels.

    P.S. I LOVE your photos – gorgeous. I wish I lived in Toronto so you could take some of my little man.

    I have seen Animal School, and it is frustrating how it convinces so many people and then they can’t see any way to fix it. Or, perhaps they’re just afraid of the answer. Our politicians seem to think that our kids aren’t in school enough!
    And, good luck on your great adventure. I have to admit that I’m a little jealous! 🙂


  4. Derrick Langeneckert
    04/11/2009 at 2:38 am Permalink

    Why not teach the child math from a musical perspective? Music has alot of complicated math like time signatures and notes. Thats where the school fails. School is like an assembly line and thats probably the only way it could be to be effective enough to teach everyone.

  5. Cassi
    04/11/2009 at 11:25 am Permalink

    First, in the interest of full disclosure – Derrick is a former student of mine. One of the many students who would have excelled in an unschooling environment but who was seen as a problem student by the private school he attended. (Is that a fair assessment, Derrick?)

    I think you are in the frame of mind that I was when I started thinking about unschooling: it’s the ideal situation for my kids, but I don’t see how it could be done on a wide scale. The institution of school MUST be the way it is (i.e. has to be flawed) because that’s the only way any real education can be done. But, as I’ve delved into it further, I think there are definite ways the school can be more like unschooling. In fact, that topic is part of what I talk about in today’s post, and will post more about it in the next couple of days. For more about this, check out this article: http://zenhabits.net/2009/08/education-needs-to-be-turned-on-its-head/


  6. Netzi
    05/11/2009 at 10:59 am Permalink

    It’s like when schools and school-supported things (e.g. Channel 1) tell kids to not be insecure or fall for peer pressure. I remember one commercial using a Christina Aguilera song: “I am beautiful no matter what they say…words can’t bring me down…”. It was about one kid not fitting it and another kid either helping or inviting the other into a lunch table.

    But it’s the same institution encouraging pressure, making kids feel stupid for being behind others or for going against the system. How can a problem solve a problem?

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