After completing a class assignment that required him to draw a picture depicting censorship, an 11-year-old Maryland student had to miss school for a psychological exam and sign a contract saying he wouldn’t attempt suicide, the Associated Press reports.
His teacher at Montgomery Village Middle School misinterpreted the drawing, which showed the lynching of a black man, with two Ku Klux Klan members and the words “Black Lives Matter” in the frame, and thought the student was feeling hopeless about life and might do something to harm himself.
Sade Green, identified as the boy’s mother, was said to be furious about the incident, after a teacher sent her son to a counselor, who then recommended the boy seek the advice of mental health professionals.
As teachers, we need to encourage creativity in our students. That means we need to encourage self-expression, not inhibit it. The second this teacher recommended that a boy be evaluated for psychological disturbances or possible suicidal tendencies based on a piece of artistic expression, that boy’s creativity took a blow like it has never experienced before.
“Most five year olds are totally confident that they can draw, sing, and dance,” writes Marvin Bartel of Goshen College in Indiana. “Tragically, within three or four years this child, if she is typical, will experience a crisis of confidence. She will no longer feel competent or creative. As teachers, we are often partly to blame for the diminished inclination to be creative as children become socialized and aware of their own limitations.
“The world needs more and more compassionate creativity to solve difficult problems confronting us,” he continues. “Creative people do not have answers, but they habitually question the status quo and think about alternatives and improvements. … When combined with empathy and compassion, creativity is bound to be a force for good.”
It is time for adults, teachers included, to celebrate not only the creativity of students but also their unique and individual ways of expressing it. What this student did was powerful, even raw, and any teacher who makes an assignment that includes artistic expression ought to be better trained in evaluating that student work. However, if other aspects of the student’s life would indicate that he had suicidal tendencies, then such a review would be appropriate. Absent any other sign of suicidal tendencies, though, this knee-jerk reaction on the part of a Maryland teacher reflects badly on the training he or she received as an education professional.
Honor not only what students know but how they show it.