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Children should never be taught creativity


Here's to You, Mrs. Batz


by Ken Mondschein



In many ways, I have Mrs. Batz to thank for this Web site.

Growing up, I was in what they called the "gifted" program in my elementary school. In my white, working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, this basically meant that my father worked a desk job, and I had managed, at the age of 4 years, to do scintillatingly well on an IQ test. Apparently, all that blunt trauma and computer-screen radiation I've accumulated over the years had destroyed any brainpower I might have had to the point that I can now not only not pass the MENSA test, but have difficulty remembering to take the keys out of the lock on my front door. Back then, though, I was considered a "special child," and not in the short-bus sense.

This "specialness" afforded me and my little genius classmates certain opportunities denied to the sons of auto mechanics and pipe fitters. For instance, we had Mrs. Batz come in Tuesday mornings for an hour of "creative writing." Whereas this was most likely to give our teacher a break from our non-stop, Colecovision-and-"Diff'rent Strokes"-fueled hyperactivity, it was excused in the school budget on the grounds it allowed us to be "creative."

"Creativity," the idea that inside every child there is a genius yearning for self-expression, was a big buzzword in the early 1980s, a holdover from the filthy, dirty hippies. When Jerry Rubin had said, "Do your own thing!" it was revolutionary; when the Board of Ed said it, it was laughable. Thus Mrs. Batz was brought into our young lives.

Mrs. Batz was enormously fat. In the cutthroat world of elementary school, this was a death sentence. We only saw her an hour a week, when she would exhort ourselves to express the innermost secrets of our nine-year-old psyches on notebook paper. Somehow, my classmates sensed she had no real authority over us. They promptly nicknamed her"Mrs. Fats," and generally spent the time practicing their social skills by thinking up pet names for the breakfast roll she had caught between the rolls of fat on her thighs.

Thinking back on it, they knew, on some instinctive level, that learning to express themselves would ultimately be detrimental to their future careers in middle management. If you've ever seen Annie Hall, you'll remember the scene in which Woody Allen goes back to his elementary school and the kids all say what they grew up into in 20 years. One boy sells Jewish prayer garments. Another girl is a porn star. The same with my classmates: One guy is a Harvard-educated lawyer. One started his own company. The rest are probably cubicle serfs like everyone else. None of them are suffering for having failed to learn to express themselves.

I, on the other hand, was never like the other kids. Being myself a victim of their cruelty, I empathized with Mrs. Batz. I wanted to please her. Damed if I wasn't going to be creative! I would spend the hour merrily scribbling stories about my Dungeons and Dragons characters and James Bond-style yarns, with the plots ripped off from episodes of GI Joe, that naturally starred myself as the hero. These efforts were met with high praise.

Today, I'm still a writer. The only difference is, I discovered what gets you a gold star in elementary school doesn't get you very much respect—or money—in the real world. I live here in the East Village, surrounded by a million other twentysomethings who all have a band or a book or another project they're trying to put together, hoping for that pat on their head from their own Mrs. Batzes. We've all been taught that creativity is the key to happiness, and as a result, we just can't shut up and take our Prozac and ride a desk until retirement or downsizing. As a result, the 99.9 percent of us who will inevitably fail at our endeavors are all going to be miserable.

I can say from this experience that children should never, ever, be taught to use their imaginations. Trying to awaken some sort of creative muse is tantamount to child abuse.

Thank God the pendulum has swung to sweet, blissful, soul-killing standardized testing.


Edjumacation sucks. E-mail

Posted February 9, 2003 1:57 AM






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