Thursday, December 10, 2009
Unschool in Kids' Books: Willow
Without at all trying to, we have stumbled upon many library books that depict school as an arid and rule-bound environment that squelches children's creativity. Maybe a disproportionate percentage of creative children who were unhappy in school grow up to write kids' books!
The art classroom at Willow's school is neat and orderly, and the children face front in tidy rows... all but Willow, who is reprimanded by the art teacher for turning around to gaze out the window. The teacher assigns art tasks (such as drawing a green tree) and Willow is scolded by the teacher and mocked by her classmates for the pink tree or blue apple she paints instead of following the model pictures. Willow brings her book of Famous Paintings to show her teacher paintings like hers, but the teacher merely mutters "Horrid little girl" under her breath!
For Christmas, however, Willow gives her beloved art book to her teacher. We see the teacher studying the book, then drawing and painting with increasing abandon. Her hair comes loose, her clothes are spattered with paint, her pictures are scattered all over her classroom floor. When the children return after the holiday break, they enter a room flooded with color and a woman they don't recognize, their transformed teacher, invites them to help her paint murals on the walls.
It's a bit didactic, I suppose, but what I liked about this book was that Willow gave her art book to her teacher not to prove a point, but to open up a world of creativity to her teacher; it was an act of generosity on the part of a child who wanted to share something that gave her pleasure with someone who was clearly unhappy. The image of the uptight schoolmarm is a bit sexist, and I wasn't terribly pleased by the visual representation of her transformation in the shift from her austere hair pulled back in a bun to a much prettier, happier woman with loosely flowing locks. But I like the book's basic depiction of the value of creativity, of the two-way street of education as the teacher learns from the student, and of a school environment transformed by child-led learning.