Today I've been reading 'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini; a quote caught my attention:
"Children aren't colouring books. You don't get to fill them with your favourite colours."
This spoken to the father of the book's protagonist with regards to the father's disappointment that the boy has not followed in his footsteps as he would have liked.
Remember those 'colouring' books you had as a child? The magic ones where you'd simply brush over the outline with water and the colours would mysteriously appear. I think possibly children are those. The colours are all there already, hidden, and we educators have the responsibility of revealing the already-present hues. We have the task of coaxing out the in-built characteristics, the ones that their DNA have gifted them with. The tones that make them who they are. Not all of the colours will be beautiful to every beholder.
My daughters love colouring books. But often, once the picture is satisfactorily coloured, they will add flowers and trees and sunshines and rainbows to further enhance the image. I think as we are drawing out a child's natural skills, abilities, feelings and preferences we will, to some extent, impart some of our own. Some of these will stick, some will fall by the way. But through interaction with parents, teachers, friends, peers and others, the image of a child will also feature some of those embellishments that my daughters love to add. Not all of them will make the picture look better in everyone's eyes
We can't treat children like a fresh sheet of A4 - we don't have to start from scratch. Nor are teachers required to take a Dr. Frankenstein role, creating cut-and-paste collage children from a mish-mash of educational theories. If we decide to approach children as we might a colouring book then at best by the end of each year we might have classes of mini Miss Smith clones, for example, rather than a class of individuals. Children are individuals and (in the cheesiest moment of this whole blog so far) we, to paraphrase Phil Collins, should want to see their true colours shining through. Once we see them, and understand who they are, then we can begin to make suggested additions: Rahim is really good at drawing, so perhaps I'll show him how to use a painting app on the tablets so he can easily share his images online. Ayesha always brings in really tasty baked goods; let's also develop her instructional writing so she can write recipes. Knowing a child's uniquity and interests will give us the opportunity to add more colour to their palette, but never should it be because they are our favourite colours. Just because you're football-mad, it doesn't mean that you can foist that on your class. Not all children (not even all boys) are football-coloured.
The illustration of the magic painting books falls down when it comes to wielding that watery paintbrush. As a child it was simple: dip paintbrush in jam jar of water, brush on page. Job done. With teaching it's not that simple; it takes an artist. We are all artists. And it's all about our brushstrokes, and our choice of brush, and the temperature of the water. But remember, the colours are all there somewhere and we have to get creative in order to reveal them.