Last week, my four-year-old son brought home a picture he colored in daycare. It was a picture of a cow, cut out and glued to a piece of light blue construction paper. Using crayons, he had colored all over the cow in different colors. He ran the colors across all of the lines and across each other. No part of the cow was a single color. The whole thing was a blob of scribbles. There was a dark blue, square sun over the cows head and red grass under the cow. He proudly held it up to me and said, “Look: the sun is blue! That’s silly!” I agreed and we laughed about it. Then he mentioned his teacher always said not to scribble, and that it was important to color inside the lines.
The thing is—I believe in scribbling. I believe it is the last little bit of individuality that my son can grasp onto. Every day, my son is taught how to do things the ‘right’ way. He can write out his name in nice block letters so everyone can read it. He uses play dough tools and stencils to make the exact same types of shapes as all of the other kids. Most of his toys have a right way and a wrong way to play with them. He lines up for the bus when told to. He puts his right shoe on the right foot, and the left on the left foot. Every day he is regimented, formed, told what to do, and forced to act a certain way. His free-will is straight jacketed so he can fit in and function in this society. Scribbling on a cut out cow is really the only place he has to be truly free, and exercise the creativity that allows him to understand things in an abstract way. If he wants to draw a purple, red, and yellow cow; standing on red grass; under a blue, square sun—then I think he should.
I think it’s important that humans do not sacrifice individuality and creativity for the sake of social coexistence. I fear the day will come when humans will lose the capacity to think abstractly about such things as a cow and the sun that shines on it. Thinking abstractly about everyday things, and using those abstractions to see problems in a new light, is what has made modern civilization possible. If we marginalize creativity our civilization will suffer.
When my son told me what his teacher said, his smile faded, and he looked at his picture with a furrowed brow. I looked at him and said, “You can scribble if you want to, it’s your picture.” He perked up, smiled ear to ear, and said, “Yeah, it’s my picture. I like scribbling!”