My son had a victory last night. A pie in the sky, write home about it, shout it from the rooftops victory. He is in an advanced film class at school and the film he helped write and created special effects for took first place in a county wide film festival. You’d have thought he won the Academy Award. He was beaming like the sun and as I watched, I quietly stored the memory in my heart.
You see, this is a kid that hasn’t had a lot of victories. In fact, for many long years we watched him struggle, unable to find his place and passion. He is not an academic. He is not an athlete. He is neither the teacher’s favorite nor the popular kid among his peers. But man is he creative. And artistic. And musical. And brilliant in ways that are often missed and difficult to measure.
With my first born we receive emails with accolades for his academic achievement. Every teacher loves him. They absolutely love him. He performs and excels in the academic box of the school system thereby garnering loads of acclaim and recognition.
With my second born, the emails are quite different. Out of 4 academic classes last semester, he was legitimately failing 3 of them. That’s not a stellar success rate.
However, he was absolutely killing it in band and film.
I hear about a lot of parents who tend to take away extracurricular or non-scholastic activities when their child isn’t meeting their academic expectations. The condition for participating in the arts, band, clubs or sports is academic performance. Get the grades so you can do what you want. Perform in what you don’t love and then we’ll allow you to participate in what you do love. It’s the advanced version of telling kids to eat their meat and vegetables so they can have dessert.
But what if for some kids the non-academic is their meat and vegetables? I can say with certainty it is for my son. Band and film are what sustain my kid. They are his lifeline. They feed him and grow him in ways the three R’s never will. And quite honestly, they will be the ticket to his success. He will never sit behind a desk crunching numbers. I doubt he will ever sit in a meeting wearing a three-piece suit and watching a PowerPoint presentation. If he sits, it will be at a piano or a laptop loaded with After Effects. His meetings will most likely be with other creative types wearing wacky t-shirts and colorful Converse. And the very air will be thick with artistic and imaginative brilliance.
I think there is a whole giant group of kids that we are doing a massive disservice too. When we dangle our kids’ passions like a carrot and then make them jump through the necessary hoops to get it, we stunt their growth. We reduce what compels and ignites them to a mere hobby and place it on the shelf next to the Legos and video games. We silently tell them that their passions aren’t worthy.
In our drive for goals and a future that our society says they should have, I believe we have lost the ability to see who our children really are. Somewhere along the way, the artists, the musicians, the athletes have been sacrificed to a system that rewards the traditional. We are completely missing unconventional genius because we are wrapped up in a subpar math grade or a weak lit paper. Furthermore, our tendency as parents is to punish by taking away our children’s passions. When the report card shows up and the numbers don’t meet our hopes or expectations we hastily strip our children of “the extras”. The interests that don’t get graded or perhaps don’t seem to count towards their future are a quick casualty in our push to deliver successful, contributing young people.
I will admit that we tried this approach early on. We threatened taking away marching band from my son if he didn’t bring his grades up. And it worked. His grades came up. While his heart went down. He lost passion. He lost joy. The very thought of losing what he loved created angst and resentment. It wasn’t long before we saw the overall ineffectiveness of what we had done and promised him we would never again make his passions part of the equation. We will never again use his creative appetites as leverage.
Now there is a new deal. Just graduate. Please. Get the diploma so you can take the next step and do what you were created to do. Is he capable of A’s and B’s? Heck yeah. He is smart as a whip and if he put his mind and energy into it we are convinced he could ace any class he wanted. But he is too busy putting his mind and efforts into learning his sixth instrument. He is too busy putting his energy into mastering killer special effects and producing unique and amazing short films.
The world needs all types and I absolutely love that I get to offer up this magnificent young man who refuses to fit neatly in a box. I am giddy as I watch his story unfold and see the colors of his life and passion spill off the traditional page. He has emphatically thrown the book out the window and traded it for a trombone and a camera and I couldn’t be prouder.
It’s time we flip the equation. It’s time we stop using our children’s passions as kindling in our attempt to lite a fire and get them to perform. It’s time we reward that zeal and enthusiasm. Rather than use their fervor as leverage, we should be working tirelessly to remove any and every obstacle that stands in the way of them succeeding at what they truly love. It’s time we let the dessert lovers have their cake and eat it too.