Here & there: How public education stifled my kid’s originality

Columnist Kat Dayton provides this photo with the caption: "Oscar, an original thinker, jumping out of school and into an alternative education." Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 19, 2016 | Photo by Kat Dayton, St. George News

OPINION — One of my favorite cousins has a favorite saying:  “Public school dims the diamonds and polishes the coal.”  Before you take too much offense, she’s a public school grad.  So am I.  All three of my boys are public-schoolers, too.  Well, they were until this week.  

This week, one boy left our neighborhood school to join the ranks of the home-schooled.  He didn’t leave because I think he’s a diamond. He didn’t leave because I think he’s coal.  He left because I think he’s an original.  

Unfortunately, what I’ve discovered this year is that originals don’t always fare well in public school.

My son daydreams in class.  He’s reported as “off task” and “imaginative.” When he does a timed quick-read passage on the subject of American heroes, instead of worrying about his speed, he wonders aloud about heroism and the morality of war.   

His teacher remarked to me back in November that she didn’t know what was going on inside my son’s head, but she oscillated between thinking he was lazy or dumb.   

Outside of school, this same 9-year-old child builds life-size catapults by himself, constructs elaborate Lego models of his own design and meditates in sunshine-filled spots on the floor.  

He’s smart.  He’s kind.  He’s an original thinker.  

He isn’t the only original.  I’m not naïve.  There are many in this world according to Dr. Adam Grant, author of “Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World.”   

They famously include the likes of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Albert Einstein.  Grant said these individuals are different, in part, because when confronted with a familiar problem, they have the ability to see the problem, and therefore a solution, in a new way.   He calls it Vuja de.

The movie “Rushmore” centers on an overachiever named Max Fisher.  Max is an exceptional playwright, founder of the beekeeping club, saver of Latin and a visionary.  But, as the headmaster says, “he’s one of the worst students we’ve got.”

Max fails academically and eventually gets kicked out of school.  Part of the problem is that he is overcommitted.  But a bigger part of the problem is that Max is unconventional.  

Although Rushmore is a fictional story set at a fictional private school, it still reflects something important about our educational expectations.

American education seems to value convention over ingenuity – good grades over creative achievement.   Then, we wonder why our system isn’t producing problem solvers.

I’m not arguing to do away with grades.  I’m not arguing against public education.  I am arguing for a little Vuja de.  

There is something wrong with a system that rewards doing the same thing with excellence over doing excellent things, even if they are unconventional.

We need to value and reward ingenuity, creativity and passion in our schools, not drive them out.  We need more Max Fishers, not fewer.

I didn’t plan on homeschooling any of my children.  It wasn’t an easy choice, but it was a necessary one.  In spite of my son’s good test scores and decent grades, he was losing himself at school – and everything that makes him an original.  

Grant said nonconformists move the world.  I believe him.  For now, for my part, I’m educating my nonconformist at home in an effort to keep him that way.

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected] | [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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  • Common Sense February 21, 2016 at 8:44 am

    My kids are bored in school. They are super smart. When they get home they are exhausted from the drill of their school days. It literally sucks the joy out of them.

  • maggie February 21, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Love this! What a brilliant mother to observe this and present it in a way that is not hateful, yet a wake-up call to those in charge of educating our children.

  • Roy J February 21, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    RIght, because every bored and lazy student in any school, public or private, is a little Einstein, a genuine Holden Caulfield…XD

  • Greg February 21, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    A real educator knows that one can only draw or bring out the ‘original’ness of a person. Unfortunately, most so-called educators only aim is to suppress creativity and imagination– the hallmarks of a divergent thinker.

    • Voice0fReason February 22, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Bear in mind that many of the schools down in this area (I know about Hurricane District first hand) frankly don’t care about the fringe students. Too smart? Too bad, just bob along until you graduate. Not as smart as your peers? Too bad, but they will happily take the extra special-ed money (they call it resource now, to lose the stigma) and stick your struggling kid in with a bunch of ‘non-English speaking kids’ (call it an in-school daycare).
      Teachers in Hurricane will let your kid not turn in homework all semester long, dragging along with a low ‘F’ grade, but 3 days before grades are due they get enough extra-credit to boost them to a passing grade. This makes the teachers look good at grade time, because all their students passed. Every time, without fail. Kids that know this know that they will always get a bail-out. They are learning to work the system at an early age, but it will only set them up for failure at college.
      We have a kid that has gotten a word-search for extra credit in math, and got 2000% (that is not a typo) to go from a 23% to a 90% grade. He actually felt he earned that 90%.
      The teacher didn’t care; he just didn’t want to have to explain how he let it get so out of hand.

  • Symon Capel February 21, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    I believe that the opportunities of a non-traditional education out way common schooling.

    I’m a traveling soul, struck with wanderlust and seeking pure adventure.

  • radioviking February 21, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    My friend is a public school teacher (for a local elementary school) who is constantly lamenting her concerns about how much of her job is becoming less creative, fun, and imaginative due to the fact that she (as all teachers are) she is evaluated by administrators and expected (forced? If she doesn’t, she would lose her job, right?) to use district mandated math and language arts programs. Seems like a lot of people are feeling like the author – even the teachers! Wow, this is a crazy situation in the good ol USA. Parents, your voices need to be heard in the school board meetings! You have more power for change than you realize! Are parents given options? Years ago the teacher’s union shut down the options choices (Google education choices and vouchers programs). Isn’t America about choices? Um, not the education system.

    My friend tells me that she has so many creative ways and ideas to make school motivational, inspiring, challenging, and fun for her students, but she says that the math and language arts programs are suffocating the learning environment; holding her and the children hostage with standardized tests, worksheets, stressed out dead-lines for programs, and what teachers have to do to “jump through the hoops” of government regulations, etc.

    Running my own business, I look for creative, problem-solvers who have good attitudes and strong work ethic. But many of the public school children seem pampered by the “everyone’s a winner” (political correctness) attitude they are getting indoctrinated with in the public school system. Knowing my friend, and seeing other great teachers like her – professional educators who feel just as trapped as the children and parents – I see a few possible solutions:
    1. Teachers and parents working together to make school personalized and interest based for the children (say goodbye to the drill-kill no brain math and language arts programs!),
    2. Concerned parents and families let you pr concerns and frustrations be heard by going to the public school board meetings (some I have attended are surprisingly low attendances),
    3. Demand choices: voucher programs enable parents to have THEIR money stay with their children, not the schools. It’s your tax money, right? Well, shouldn’t parents have a say or ability to choose to use their money for their child’s education? Does Utah protect and respect the authority of parents? Doesn’t appear to be e case.

    .If we keep doing the same thing, we will keep getting the same results. But we have to get out and communicate our ideas, concerns, and then work for a real solution.

  • .... February 22, 2016 at 8:55 am

    Eye dunnit needen skoolun eyes a yutaw resdent

  • Rainbow Dash February 22, 2016 at 10:33 am

    Good article. I have to agree in some ways and not in others. Homeschooling your child is fine. I believe it is agreat alternative if the child is truly ” obstructed” – if you will- by the public education system. On the other hand, you mmust cinsider that the public education system offers benefits as well, the first being a break for you, the second being that most children attend public school and get to socialize in many ways (recesses, lunch, school functions, in class) during the day with other children of different races, backgrounds, beliefs, etc. Whereas at home, they lose at least part of that.

    The public education system is kind of like life. You don’t always get your way and you must learn to work with others to find a solution to life’s problems.

    On the other hand, the public eduation system is – for lack of a better term- crap. I believe the reason for this is due in part to the fact that it is really the only game in town so they can do whatever they want. Voucher programs are popping up here and there but not very quickly and in most places the public education system is still the only guy on the block. There was once a bumper sticker referring to Ma Bell (When AT&T was the only game in town) that read. “We don’t care. We don’t have to”. And why should they? AT&T was , back then, the only game in town. I feel that it has become the same regarding the public education system (Edu, inc). Edu, Inc. doesn’t care, Edu inc. doesn’t have to. And why should they? they are the only real game in town, even now. Voucher schools exist independent of school districts and have fewer restrictions on them imposed by the state. Voucher schools are therefore in competition with Edu, Inc and I am glad for this. Very soon I believe that more of these schools will pop up in more places and start to take students and teachers away from Edu, Inc. Edu Inc will then be forced to change their business by offering more localized programs, less tests, higher teacher salaries, etc. They will change or they will die. Simple as that. With competition comes change, with change comes progress, with progress comes creativity and with creativity comes genius.

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