I spend most of my day thinking about The Lion King.
I sit next to a window and over the past month or so, they’ve been letting the grass grow to what I can only describe as “Lion King grass.” Every morning, I raise my fancy ergonomic desk to the stand position and imagine a chorus of “aaaahhhh zabenyaaaa” in my head. That’s the way my mind works.
I run into cubicles daily. I have bruises on my arms from routinely running into the shadow boxes that line my office’s walls. I dislocated my thumb by accidentally sitting on it at my desk. You see, my depth perception is depleted as I concentrate on more important things: narrating my life, creating character profiles of the people I pass, wishing I was Simba.
I have a creative brain. More specifically, a writer’s brain. Which means it never stops. Podcasts help keep it busy, but even then, I find myself writing down lines, phrases and words that I like. By the end of the day, the notebook I keep next to my keyboard is filled with quotes, titles and ideas.
Recently, I was reading a friend’s status about being an art teacher these days and it made me really, really depressed. She talked about how she’s at the bottom of the totem pole – deemed a privilege instead of a necessity. Schools are struggling to keep up with standardized tests and art electives are being replaced by additional test prep.
I would have never survived that type of atmosphere. I’ve always been smart, but not in a way that was reflected on a standardized test. My above average english and reading scores would make up for my below average math scores and at the end of the day, I was very average. I hated math and science. My mind just didn’t work that way and I found myself bored – staring out the window and making up lines to a story that didn’t yet exist.
However, my school, teachers and family understood the way my mind worked. And I didn’t go to any fancy bougie school. In fact, the school that I went was publicly exposed as a “failing school.”
This is what my “failing school” did for me:
– When I wasn’t challenged enough in my reading classes, I was pulled out of class and into a room with a few other students to learn at a pace that was more individualized and catered to me. Since I already knew how to read, it emphasized basic writing skills and encouraged me to journal. Our principal, who had ten thousand other things to worry about, took time out of his day to let me come into his office and read my latest installment of “Annie’s Life.”
– In kindergarten, my teacher took time out of class to let us make a band called “The Lion King Band.” Instead of going over the alphabet again and again and again, we practiced and would perform at school lunches, picnics, and assemblies.
– When I was in 4th and 5th grade, I was placed in All-City Orchestra, which was an orchestra composed of kids from different elementary schools that met and rehearsed at the middle school a couple hours every month. I’d be pulled out of math, my worst subject, to go to this without hesitation or opposition.
My parents were just as supportive. Instead of grilling me about my below average math skills, they let me just get by, understanding that I’d never be great at it. They encouraged me to try a little harder, but didn’t let the D that I got in science get in the way of celebrating the fact that I got the highest English score in my grade. Instead of forcing me to study for a subject I hated, they let me continue to write stories, poems, songs and movie scripts that would never get turned in. My mom let me drop trigonometry when I complained that the hours of homework were too much for something I didn’t care about. Instead, I took another study hour which I would spend in my theater teacher’s room rehearsing, discussing Broadway shows and coming up with new ideas. I took the math and science classes necessary to graduate, got the SAT score needed to get into the college I wanted to go to, but stopped there. Instead, I spent hours writing, reading, rehearsing and took four different english classes during my senior year.
While the STEM life is definitely for some people, it wasn’t for me. It was painfully boring for me to learn those disciplines. I didn’t think that way, nor was I interested in thinking that way. I went to school on the cusp of NCLB – narrowly escaping it’s impact on my school. My teachers weren’t very concerned about my inability to think further than the basic level when it came to math and science. They didn’t push me against my will to get better at them so that I could bring the school average up. They let me get by, didn’t dwell on my weaknesses, and instead celebrated my accomplishments in english and the arts. My teachers came to my plays, let me rehearse for talent shows during our down time, and let me learn individually when I was going a little faster than the rest of my class. There was nothing standardized about my education.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without that. I was given the advantage of following my passions and having a supportive atmosphere in which to do so. Art electives were deemed necessary to keep me functioning in school and “just getting by” in math and science was fine, because they knew that I didn’t have interest in either. My “failing school” was the perfect environment to grow up in and is a large part of the reason why I’m able to perform, write and follow what I love to do. There wasn’t a single person telling me that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, seek a career in the arts.
Cultivating a creative mind doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice education. It just means that you understand an individual’s limits and passions. You listen to them and what they love to learn about. Even with a “creative mind” that was raised in a “failing school”, I still graduated college with a dual degree and obtained full-time employment. And because the school I went to embraced all the facets that made my mind operate, I am able to write, create and perform at the same time.