Thursday, May 10, 2012

Happy Month 81, Connor!

Dear Connor,

Counting your age in months is truly ridiculous. I get that. But my mind is a sieve these days, and I feel the memories of you and your sister slipping almost as soon as I think to myself "I hope I remember this"! Your sister and you compound the feeling by requesting stories "about me" all the time.

In the past two months, you have fire balled into a Monopoly mania that calls you like heroin calls it's addicts. If the mania doesn't stop soon, there's going to be an intervention. You now have three versions of the game, and one of these versions has three games within it. You have mastered the art of "buy-buy-buy", and only occasionally find yourself too strapped for cash to survive. When nobody will sate your desires to play the game, you've been known to just play by yourself. You have not been known to have the imaginary person you play against make good decisions. You're a lucky man that your babysitter seems to have missed out on Monopoly when she was growing up. She's making up time with you.

You are a two-wheeled rider and adore your new 20" bike. You are totally rocking it.

My friend Jean wrote an amazing post about her son with autism. In it, she carries forward an analogy from Paul Collins' book "Not Even Wrong". In the book, he states "Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg." Jean carries this forward by noting that all people are different. And here is where I started thinking about you.

In a Waldorf school, the early childhood program uses a wet-on-wet technique to paint. It's one of the more serene artistic experiences I've ever been witness to. The rationale behind the method is well documented, the chief reason for its use being that at this age, children should experience the emotion and feel of the color, not be concerned with the shape. In our public school, the children are asked to paint with Tempera paints. The most common exercise with paint seems to be filling in previously drawn lines. You can probably imagine how Connor felt when faced with this task. If you can't, I'll lay it out for you. He was in tears. In art class. Does that strike you as extremely sad? Because that's how it strikes me. Isn't art supposed to be one of those classes where a kid gets to express him or herself creatively, without being super constrained? I tend to think so.

Here's an example of some of Connor's work from last year.

I have to give the art teacher a hat tip, though. I like her a lot. She used to belong to the same studio I belonged to. She's clearly a great artist. The day after Connor cried in class, sobbing "yes, I understand you're not mad at me", she found me in the hall and told me the story. I almost started crying right there. Maybe we both wear our hearts on our sleeves, Connor? As soon as she started telling me about the class and about the tears, I started explaining Connor's background. I talked to her about the merits of the technique he was used to, how it evolved each year of schooling, how Connor is actually quite skilled at it.

At first, the art teacher was mostly "well, he's at public school now, and this is what we do", but then she softened and said she could see why wet-on-wet would be a good technique. She offered to give Connor an extra painting lesson so he could have a better chance of doing what was expected of him in art class. I took her up on that offer - even though it is the ultimate in capitulation. Connor and I attended a painting class with her a couple of days ago. During that class, she started talking about the technique they were performing in class. So I asked the question I wish I heard more often: "WHY?". Her answer was generally "Because it's part of the curriculum, and I see your point that it's not really painting, per se, it's more like illustration, but in the end, kids here can produce a painting that looks like something they want very early". BINGO. Parents, apparently, want to see finished work that has real forms in it, so our children are being taught the most uncreative method I can think of in order to accomplish this. Draw lines. Fill them in. Rinse. Repeat. Don't let the paint influence the art, make the paint fit into the art.

And the whole thing made me feel like some square part of you, Connor had just been damaged. And that just hurts. And it doesn't just hurt you and me, it hurts everyone who won't benefit from this particular creative strength you bring to the process.

I can say, this is by far the biggest disappointment I've had with your school, and I must also remember that just a few days, I was on cloud 9 because two non-teacher staff members had gone out of their way to tell me "I know I'm not supposed to say this, but I just love Connor". When that happened, all I could think was "I'm counting on you to love him". I was glad.

Much love, Connor. Just know that I celebrate your square edges. I'm sorry one of them got pounded.


1 comment:

  1. I had wondered about your art class comment on FB. Hmmm. I guess I never thought about the way public education thinks about art. Teo does a lot of art that is all about product, but I'm happy he gets any art and I value the work because it makes him do different things with his fine motor skills and follow directions. I feel for Connor, though.

    Thanks for the link to the wow technique--I have a drawerful of watercolor and I'd been thinking we need to start using it up!!