Generation Cedar

We Devastate Children with “The Box”

The Box

I believe one of the most horrific, detrimental things we have done to children, which they carry into adulthood as it shapes their very destiny, is our creation of “the box” in which we regard everyone in it normal and everyone outside of it not normal.

My Different Child

It took my having a “different” child to really see this and to grasp the devastating effects. And even then, I didn’t see it until later than I wish. My son hated his school work. Almost all of it. But what he did love was drawing. He was a natural-born artist. I saw it from a very early age. And when I say he is a brilliant artist, well, I’ll show you:

My son drew this with colored pencils only, at age 14.

The very part of his brain that made him so creative “short circuited” other parts of his brain which made it difficult for him academically.

He was a genius, but I was measuring him with the tiny little measuring stick most of society uses to determine success. He is now successful, by the way, and functioning beautifully.

The box theory

I recently read a book that helped me put the finishing touches on the theory I have long held.

I think the traditional classroom and it’s appendages of expectations bears the greatest responsibility in establishing this paradigm of “normal” vs. “not normal” but we have all, everyone of us, played our part effectively.

That theory? Society (where myth has begotten myth in the machine of the educational system) has far too narrow a definition of success and often cuts the legs out from under so many children with said definition.

Even as a I type this, my heart physically hurts to think of it, to know how many bright, brilliant, gifted and different children have had their entire existences truncated (at best) because everyone told them they didn’t measure up, when in fact, they measured perfectly, just as they were created to. Not less, just different.

Let them be who they are

And as I have slowly come to terms with the reality of what we’ve done, my face has streamed with tears, from the source of regret, to know I have even played a part, unknowingly, in expectations that communicated disappointment to a child desperately trying to be something he is not, stretching and reaching to be who God made him to be, but always feeling he falls short.

I taught high school English and even wrote A letter of apology to a former high school student in an attempt to redeem the kids I have hurt.

5 Ways to Be a Really Great Mom (When you Feel Like a Bad One)

Now that I’ve been a parent for 23 years, I realize that all my good intentions about what kind of parent I was going…

An example of how we label a child:

Child A is a good reader. He loves going to the library and sits for hours and reads. Child B doesn’t like to read. In fact, he sighs and gets anxious over any of his school work. Maybe it doesn’t click with him and it’s confusing.

Maybe what you’re trying to get him to read/learn is just plain boring to him and he has other interests he’s dying to dive into. Whether they are in a classroom setting or even a homeschool setting, our tendency is to treat one as “the good student.” And if that is as far as our prejudices are verbalized, the other child knows he is the “bad” one.

“Sit still, pay attention, get good grades, jump through the hoops, so you can go to college and get a good job and have a fulfilled life.”

Everyone knows what good students do.

But what about the others? The artists? The mechanics? The inventors? The entrepreneurs? The ones who think outside the box and disturb our systems and formulas? Some of them manage to suppress their differences enough to eek by with their creativeness and self esteems in tact.

But many others don’t. And their potential is squashed or badly hindered. They grow up feeling not just different, but feeling they aren’t enough because they can’t do math like the others or they can’t sit still and focus as long as the others.

And tragically, so very tragically, we give them the message over and over:

“You’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough.” How? We praise the one and frown on the other, we celebrate the one and sigh over the other, never stopping to see there may be more to becoming educated than a black and white result that can only be measured on paper.

I wonder if even our attempts at encouraging excellence simultaneously insults the other one who is excellent in the gifts that happen not to be as loudly applauded? I’m not talking here about laziness and an “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. But rather, recognizing that academic prowess is ONLY ONE demonstration of brilliance and potential, yet we magnify it above all others.

Albert Einstein said:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Let thank sink in.

Maybe we could try looking harder and see that some differences widely held as contrary to success, may in fact hold a secret store of potential, waiting to be unlocked by someone who sees it. Can we be the one who stands with them and defends the idea–even in their own minds–that they are not less-than because they’re different?

Our children are so vastly different, with so many gifts and interests and passions, how did we ever think we could streamline them to fit neatly into the same little box? And why do we try? What an incredible advantage has the child whose parents celebrate him for exactly his uniqueness, giving him as many accolades for his intense pursuit of culinary arts as they give the other for his mastery of Physics.

Let’s do better.

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24 Responses

  1. We’ve been homeschooling for 5 years and I’m already realizing how my own institutionalized schooling has been a hinderance in teaching our kids at home. It’s so hard to let go of that idea that my kid just might never be “good” at math or never understand science concepts. Unfortunately, we (I) have allowed the world to tell me what makes a kid smart or worthy, instead of who God created them to be.

    I agree with what you have written. I do wonder though where you stand when it comes to a child who doesn’t want to learn (like anything!). Yes, I KNOW kids are always learning no matter what. I’m talking about the need to learn to read and write. While it’s not fair to expect that all of our kids will love to read or be great at music, is it not a parent’s responsibility to train our kids to learn the basics, even if they don’t want to? I disagree with the other extreme of the spectrum where kids are rarely held accountable to learn or do anything that does not please or excite them. (I watched a video of an unschooled family and the kids directed the entire household with what they did/did not want to learn). Some concepts in math are not pleasant, but they are very necessary. My 7 year old son does not ever chose to read on his own, so we do have him read to us so that he can practice and grow. I’m sure he’d rather not do it, but it’s a pretty important life-skill.

    Could you be more specific in what you mean about how as a society we have robbed our kids of being creative? Is it wrong to have expectations of our children, even if it lies outside of their natural gifting? I just want to hear more of your heart on this issue….you have as much variety as could be with 11 kiddos!


    1. D.

      To answer your question, I agree with you very much, that some things we must require of our children regardless of their desire to do it. But requiring something of them is different from letting that something color our opinion of their worth. For example, I may say, “Sorry you don’t love this but I think it’s important for you to do it.” But if I give undue credit to that thing for determining my child’s success, I’ll be likely to be fearful and/or frustrated if they struggle. I may end up saying something more like, “I don’t understand why this is so hard for you….” or “If you don’t get this you’re going to have a hard time down the road…” or something that makes them feel their success as a person hinges on these arbitrary subjects we’ve chosen that matter more than other things.

      What I’m saying is, I might make them do a thing, but I don’t have to act like it’s detrimental if they’re not good at it or not interested in it. Does that make sense?

      So what I mean about “robbing” them of creativity is that sometimes kids who excel in something besides academics are given a pat on the head (at best) and made to feel incompetent at worst, because we place academics on a pedestal higher than some other gifts and accomplishments. There might be a C student in school and he never gets the award, never gets the praise and “attaboy” from parents and teachers, though he may be dong his very best in his school subjects. But he might be brilliant when it comes to taking apart machinery and putting it back together. Typically, his gift will not be highlighted the same or encouraged because it isn’t in the “right box.” Make sense?

      Great questions, by the way.

      1. Thank you, Kelly. That was a very helpful clarification. And we are absolutely 100% guilty of falling into that trap of “if you don’t learn this perfectly now, then you’ll always have issues in your future…..” Guess we don’t realize how controlling and perfectionistic we are as parents until we actually listen to the words coming out of our mouths.

        I knew long ago that educational credentials don’t do anything in earning acceptance into God’s kingdom, but there is so much earthly pressure all around us, all the time. There are times where I am so clear on our vision for our kids. It’s about their character, it’s about their hearts – it’s about building for eternity, a heavenly citizenship. Encouraging the way God has gifted them. But it’s very easy to lose that vision and start to feel worried (angry even) that my kids will be a failure in the world’s eyes because they were home-educated by a stay-at-home mom!

        Thank you for being a voice of reason and speaking to our (my) heart. May the Lord allow all of us to see our kids as precious and intelligent, made in His image.

  2. What about the child you know can be very creative and he is bright, but not not only does he fight doing his best academically, his only inspirations consists of a gaming console and a youtube channel? I know, get him off the electronics. He is basically an only child (older brothers in college), and every idea I have to get him involved in something is shot down. He takes an art class during the week and loves his tutorial but anything outside that, forget it. Everything he does is only to hurry and get it over with. Not so he can game, but just because he sees no value in it. He starts highschool next year and I am terrified for him, and me. I don’t want to ruin this.

    1. LouAnn,

      Forgive my intrusion……As a parent, to a parent it seems more like a heart issue with your son. We have this conversation A LOT in our home, “Even if this is not important to you, does not mean it’s not important at all.” I think it’s about reminding our kids that the universe does not centre around their agenda and one day they will be required to work under someone else’s authority. We are training our kids to prefer others, think about others and that no matter what they are doing, “they do it all for the glory of God.” Wonder if you could have a good heart to heart with him? Maybe it’s his age????

      Also, Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men….” This admonishment comes right after children are told to obey their parents )(and likewise parents are to not provoke their kids).

      Blessings to you.

      1. I can see lots of frustration Mom. He has been untrained in diligence by gaming. You probably put a lot of effort into the initial work ethic training. In games fruit is instant: he moves his thumb and builds a world. Let him do anything moral that he will do even grudgingly and you try to build in fast results. This retrains in sowing and reaping. Limit game time till after. Then You can gradually move towards real interest and longer wait for results. I’ve paid my kids to work in an online business that was not even profitable figuring I’d lay out same amount for lessons or sports. It was instant pay and redirected their computer time. One works on web pages today.You are correct to be acting on this now.

  3. Sadly, this kind of thinking has permeated the church. In our (now former) church, the pastor and his wife were especially guilty of this thinking. Academics were idolized so much that my 2 sons never felt like they measured up. One time my daughter considered (at ten) being a vet. The pastor’s wife practically shouted, “Good for you”. Oh and the pastor homeschooled his kids too! Thankfully my kids are made of much sterner stuff than most kids today! It was difficult at times navigating those waters but we did not bow down to that way of thinking.

  4. Groan. So guilty of the “If you don’t get this now, it’ll affect you forever” thing. Especially with my 9yo’s math.
    Thanks for the challenging post, Kelly. Very much looking forward to hearing you speak at the AHEA convention next month!

  5. I really, really wish more people understood this.

    I grew up “different.” I’m STILL different. I was always academically successful, but I have a very different profile of skills from what is deemed “appropriate for a woman.”

    All the repetitions of Jeremiah 1:5 (and similar verses) in the world don’t quiet the voice in my mind that says, “Different is bad, different is less, different is sin.”

    I wonder how much productive work for the Kingdom I have lost dedicating my energy to “acting normal.” It’s a question that has laid heavily on my heart for the last year or so.

    I know I have damaged my children with the same message; I wonder if it can be repaired. I suppose it’s the same as with any other mistake: See the sin, stop the sin, learn to do something different.

    1. We all, I’m sure, project our expectations onto our children one way or another, and that’s not always a bad thing. We just have to make sure we aren’t demeaning them by insulting a difference that is inherently given to them by God.

  6. I canceled ‘school’ for the day and am taking the time to search for some wisdom from seasoned mamas. So I thought of you Kelly, and this article really fits my situation. We have seven children under 13. My oldest two (boys) rebel against schoolwork nearly daily, with my oldest hating math (struggling to complete 4th grade math at 13) and my ten-year-old is dyslexic, fighting his way through kindergarten level reading. Our whole family is effected by the fighting. I’m overwhelmed.

    That is the acute situation, the obtuse is that neither my husband or I liked school. He hated it with a passion and struggled to be a C student. I did ok on the surface because academics were easy for me, but inside I was seething at the wasted time when I would rather pursue areas that mattered to me. We’re both gifted in fields that aren’t the “right” ones.

    I decided by 14 that I would never send my children to school. I wanted them to be free to pursue their God-given gifts, not be pressed into the “normal” mold and resent it. I had a picture of teaching the basics of reading, writing and math. My happy, motivated kids would be inspired by something at a fairly young age, and would be supported in that with time and resources from helpful parents. I was inspired myself by reading books about successful home schoolers who broke the mold and started businesses or published books in their teen years while others are still in school. Well, my oldest does like to read. Beyond that, he’s motivated to play with Legos. My ten-year-old screams at me and tells me there’s no reason to learn to read. I feel like I’ve given my kids an opportunity that my husband and I only dreamed of, and it’s been thrown back in my face.

    So, this year we did school. I bought curriculum. Had my seventh baby and only took one week off. I told the kids if they weren’t motivated to do anything themselves we would have to do school like everyone else. It’s been disastrous. I’m as bored as they are.

    I’m torn between knowing my kids are here for a reason, that they need to learn SOMETHING, but not knowing what that something is, so they play all day and may not be prepared at all for adulthood. Or, I teach ‘normal’ stuff, bore and alienate my children.

    I have prayed, as one author instructed, to the children’s Father and asked what their giftings are and how I should teach them. When I do get ideas, we try them (i.e. spend money and time) and they quit.

    I know a couple of things. 1) My kids are artists. They light up when I present an art project. They will repeat the process for days. 2) My husband had a normal education and got a normal job. He feels trapped. Neither of us want that for our children.

    I am sorry this is so long. I need help from seasoned moms and have no support system for anything out of the box.

    1. Molly,

      I hear your pain, and am sorry you’re feeling overwhelmed. I understand the feeling very well.

      You’re on the right track with understanding the importance of the basics of reading, writing and math, as well as making time for your children to pursue their individual giftings. But it can be frustrating, I know, finding the balance, especially if our kids’ ideas of what’s valuable and what’s not don’t particularly align with our thoughts.

      Not knowing you or your children, I can’t make any specific recommendations, but may I suggest looking at this from a different angle — not from a “What should they be studying?” perspective, but from a “When is the best time to study?” perspective? Let me explain.

      I recently read some information about the circadian rhythms we experience bodily, and what time of day is optimal for various tasks and activities. There is a little variation, based on whether we’re more like an “owl” or a “lark” in our rhythms, but I found it fascinating to read about some general principles that apply to most people. Then I set about to change our household and homeschooling routine to better utilize those peak times, and it has been helpful for our family.

      Research shows (sorry I don’t have links for what I read on this) that the brain works best for cognitive tasks about 2 1/2 to 4 hours after waking up.

      Later, there’s a pretty significant energy drop, approximately 1-4 pm, after which energy levels begin rising again for a couple, three hours. (Generally speaking — we know, of course, each individual is just that, a unique person. Individual patterns can and do vary somewhat.)

      I read, also, that the best time for physical activity is in the late afternoon to early evening. Lung capacity is at its most robust, and various injuries are less likely to occur with exercise at that time of day. 5:00 pm was mentioned as an excellent time for kids to exercise (and a little earlier for adults 50+ years old). I find singing is also a good physical activity for that time of day, due to one’s enhanced lung capacity then.

      The other interesting thing I took note of in my reading was that creative work is often best done when tired. 7 pm and later was touted as a great time to indulge the creative urge. The thought is that the tired brain is less likely to get over-analytical and shoot down wonderfully creative ideas that might not seem “realistic” under the scrutiny of the hyper-focused, sharp mind we tend to have mid- to late-morning. Evening is the time I like to sit down and compose music, and I encourage my kids in non-screen creative pursuits at that time of day, as well.

      That is probably all too wordy. 😉 Here’s the nutshell version of the schedule we adopted recently, applying that research:

      Morning: breakfast; chores, alternating with some independent study on subjects they like to pursue, and with outside time; group school after they’ve been up a few hours (family read-alouds and such).

      Afternoon: lunch; screen time for the kids while I practice piano; rest or free period; Mom-led individual subjects alternating with more time outside.

      Evening: supper; evening pick-up; creative pursuits.

      I don’t know if any of that helps you, Molly, but I offer it as food for thought on how perhaps a schedule that more closely aligns with your family’s biorhythms may make the subject matter you do teach go down a little easier, if it comes at a time of day that they’re more “wired” to address cognitive tasks.

      You may also find this article interesting, which I read when I was searching for ideas to help one of my children. It has applications for many children, in fact, so I pass it along for your consideration. It sounds like you’ve got a lot of creative people in your household, so the right-brained/left-brained information in the article might be quite pertinent to your situation, too, as it was/is to mine.

      Blessings to you and your family. Praying for you! Hang in there, Molly — you’re doing a good thing.

      1. Thank you for the link. I have studied the brain hemispheres and purchased a right-brained dyslexic curriculum for my ten-year-old last year for reading. I also waited until he was ten instead of pushing him when he was younger, as the article recommends. He has made progress this year, the program works for him, he just doesn’t have any desire to do it. It’s more a discipline/character issue. I’m looking to replace our math for sure. I’ve been using Legos along with the bland curriculum for fractions and counting. Visuals are key.

        There is such a lack of motivation. I keep thinking gee, our parents dropped us in public school and we turned out fine. We try to do better by our kids, and they turn into rebels. Our home has become child-centered and I have no idea how to turn this around. We’re looking at local Christian schools for our 13 year old but I don’t see how we can afford tuition.

        1. You’re welcome on the link. I found other helpful articles when I was poking around that site a couple weeks ago, too.

          Here’s another link you might be interested in. It addresses the problem of the child-centered home, and the author’s opinion of what can be done to help turn that around (serving as a family). She has good thoughts, IMO. I recommend clicking on the two links that you’ll find within the article, too, which give lots of practical suggestions for serving.

          1. I’m smiling here. 🙂 I found her blog last year, read quite a lot and bought and read her book. Good information, but service projects don’t fit with my baby and toddler filled arms right now. No doubt service projects would help my children’s attitudes if I could facilitate them. Her info was more about spending a lot of money on kids, which we don’t do. I just spend all my time on kids. Mostly arguing to do school, arguing to pick up after themselves, do chores, etc. If they would listen there would be less time spent.

        1. Oh Molly, my memory is so awful. I’m not at my computer now. I’m going to shoot for answering you in the morning. I’m sorry.

    2. Molly,

      Better late than never, no? Don’t answer that.

      Up front I’ll tell you, we struggle with many of the things you mentioned, and I do not have all the answers. But I’ll offer you some different thoughts I have.

      First, I would capitalize on your children’s interest in art. Whatever that looks like for you. If it’s visiting museums, checking out related books/movies, going to visit an artisan in your area, anything that will spark conversation and open doors for more interest. Don’t underestimate that.

      Do they show interest in going to the library to browse subjects of interest? I have found that to be a very refreshing way to open up new areas of reading/discussion/interest.

      I STRONGLY recommend your getting “A Different Kind of Teacher” by John Taylor Gatto. Changed. My. World. He has some practical things in there about helping a child thrive and prepare to be a successful adult.

      I would still focus on basic math, getting them reading (and requiring them to read, even if it’s their pick), and writing. I would suggest at first, finding them pen pals so that the writing makes sense to them. If any are interested in poetry, maybe you could see if they would like to try their hand at that. If they’re interested in music, have them copy lyrics and talk about the rhythm of words, etc.

      For the one interested in Legos, google “teaching with legos.” I found this link but haven’t really looked through it…

      The longer I homeschool the more I’m convinced that everything is built from a basic knowledge of the 3 Rs. When it becomes important to learn, they will rise to the challenge.

      I met a homeschooling Mom this week who told me this story:

      Her son was a constant battle. He caused strife with her and all his siblings. He was obstinate, refused to do his school and she felt like a complete failure. He finally got a job at 18 or 19 at a Publix. He realized pretty soon he didn’t want to work there forever but he decided to work in each department (or maybe he just ended up in each, I can’t remember). He loved working in the pharmacy. The pharmacist talked him into going to pharmacy school.

      He didn’t technically have enough high school credit so he went to get his GED. He had to take classes to be able to pass, which he did on his own because it was something he wanted. He is now midway through pharmacy school and doing great. The mom is completely shocked. But she said it prove to her how powerful the desire is in our children, when they’re equipped with the basic knowledge for moving ahead.

      So I would say keep your head up, keep battling for the hearts of your children. (In fact, it might be better to pull back for a short season from schooling at all, and really work on regaining respect and just an enjoyment for each other.)

      Maybe you should have a “come to Jesus”, you and your husband, with your children. Share your heart, your thoughts, ask them for their honest feedback, explain that you want the very best for them but that as you sacrifice daily to figure out what that is, they owe you respect and gratitude. Then figure out the consequences when they don’t give you that.

      Make most of their reading read-alouds, if you have the time. Try to find some really interesting books all of you love and enjoy some of that together.

      I’ll keep thinking, but those are my thoughts for now. Don’t think we all have it figured out. We don’t. I hear your heart so loud and clear about not wanting to bore and alienate. I know from research that kids remember very little they are not interested in learning, so I try very hard to make everything connect somehow to life in a way to help them remember.

      And you’ll be surprised what they’re learning just from living, especially when there is good conversation (I have to be deliberate about that). He gave you your children and no one is better equipped to meet their needs than you are, no matter how you feel to the contrary.

    3. Oh Molly, there are a couple of things I forgot to mention. We have LOVED using Compass Classroom for History. It’s a solidly biblical perspective, the lessons are short but thorough, and they are interesting.

      Also, a youtube channel called “Crash Course” has quite a few short, very interesting courses. For visual learners, the internet has been a miracle. I also require various documentaries from time to time either on Netflix or Youtube.

      1. Thank you Kelly! I’ve been scouring the internet this last week and boy have I learned a lot. 🙂 There are many great TED Talks and FB groups I’ve utilized. I just found Compass Classroom this morning via another source. 🙂 We read aloud a lot and all enjoy it, I guess I still struggle with looking for acceptance from the regular schoolers. Because reading isn’t enough…kids have to “buckle down” and learn what everyone else had to learn.

        I’ve found out that there are “open schools” that just basically stand back and facilitate learning with a healthy environment. The kids are dropped off and allowed to learn whatever they want…the kids are thriving. 🙂

        Anyway, I’m excited now that I’ve (re)embraced educational freedom. My kids love getting mail too so I’ve ordered more magazine subscriptions. I will look up Gatto’s book, I know I’ve read one of his. I’ll be looking up Crash Course too. Thanks again. 🙂

        “No one has ever changed the world by doing what the world told them to do.” ~Eddy Zhong

        1. Yes! Aren’t those schools fascinating? Well I promise you won’t be able to put Gatto’s book down. It is revolutionary. I also love reading quotes by successful people about the freedom of learning. Getting ready for my upcoming conference, I ran across these:

          Curiosity is a delicate little plant that, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.
          – Albert Einstein

          Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
          – Albert Einstein

          The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.
          – Albert Einstein

          The aim of education should be to teach us how to think, rather than what to think. To improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, rather than to load the memory with thoughts of other men.
          – Bill Beattie

          And if you decide to go with Compass Classroom (if you haven’t already, I’d love if you went through my affiliate link 😉 above.

          I am so encouraged by your comment. You sound like a different person this week!

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