Little Pink Spoon #4 from The Wheel of Creativity

Posted on Aug 27, 2012

Conformity Comes Home

At six years old, because of my mother’s desperate campaign against the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll in public schools, I was sent to a strict parochial school. There my own conditioning began. I acquired the school’s judgments about what was right and what was wrong, and my fear took root there. Seeing the harsh punishments inflicted there on those who ventured out of bounds—forced to stand outside the classroom facing the wall, sent to the principal’s office, hit with a paddle—I felt terrorized. And order in the classroom was maintained.

The education at St. Thomas was excellent in classical academics—math, science, English, Latin—and the Arts had their tiny extracurricular place. In addition to chapel singing, competitive Scottish dancing and needlepoint, there were occasional Christmas concerts and plays. Once when there was Shakespeare, I played Portia. There was no structure to develop skill in or understanding of the Arts; they were the seasoning on our intellectual buffet. We were being groomed—with math, science and language—to get into good universities and to excel and compete in the world. I am grateful for the benefits of this training, and I regret its costs.

In this creative outback, there was one woman who saw me. Mrs. Homer T. Bouldin, my first grade teacher, was writing a book on teaching children to read and write phonetically, which she called An Acorn in my Hand. To demonstrate how her method could work, she selected my story and published it exactly as I had written it, exactly as you see it here.



By Kathy Robertson

When George Washington was a boy his father had pigs, cows and horses. George had a pony of his own, Whitefoot. He rode Whitefoot around in the fields every day. When George was eleven years old his father died. One day when George was at his mother’s house he found some old tools. “Those tools were your fathers tools,” said George’s mother. “Can I have them”? said George. “Yes”, said his mother. “He meshered land with those tools”, said his mother. “I want to learn how to mesher land,” said George Washington. “You will have to go to a man in town”, said his mother. So George went to town. He said, “Sir I want to learn to be a sirvaer”, said George Washington. “To be a sirvaer is hard work”, said the man. “I know sir”, said George Washington, “But I want to be a sirvaer sir”, said George Washington. “Okey”, said the man. One night when George was out with the sirvaing party he saw an Indian war dance.


I was six years old, still innocent of the judgment and shame in words like mistakes, and right and wrong. I was so proud. I am proud to this day—of the sweet little girl who set out to tell her own little story in the best little way she could. Lesson 1: I can do it and it’s fun. But that changed the next year.

In second grade, we learned to write cursive, and Darcy Dunn knew how to make her ovals right. I can remember looking at my page, looking at her page and feeling bad. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get my ovals to look like Darcy Dunn’s; I could not get mine to come out right. Lesson two: You don’t always get what you want.

One day, in third grade, I dared to play a little. It was Halloween time and those little white-yellow-orange candy corn pieces were a favorite. Quite uncharacteristically on a dare, I broke off the white part, went to the teacher with “my tooth” in my hand, and asked to be excused to the bathroom.

I shall never forget the terrible feeling, waiting there in the principal’s office, crying my eyes out. My own inner shame was punishment enough. I never dared anything like that again. Lesson three: Don’t you dare!

By fourth grade, I had learned it was not safe not to know. If I had a question in class, I would not ask it; I feared I would be reprimanded for not knowing the answer. So learning came for me, not from passionate curiosity but from the need to be right, to do it right, and above all to not be wrong. Lesson four: Take no chances!

I stayed at St. Thomas until my last year of high school. Though one year I tried another private school, I returned. I was fused to it. It was the cloth I was cut from. What drove me to excel, despite my innocent love for life, was fear. Year after year, the lessons taught without words took me farther away from myself.

And you?

Q: How, as a child, did you learn to silence your own inner voice in order to conform to the outside world?

Continued next Monday…

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