The assignment came in a small, four-page booklet. You read the nursery rhyme with your child and then they colored the pictures. We had it covered! My son could freestyle Humpty Dumpty without the book and, he was “Five Fingers of Death” with his crayons. This was supposed to be his shining moment of happily returning his assignment to school and the school affirming him.
The next day, when I picked my son up from school we hung out at the school playground before heading home. I asked my son the traditional question (how was school today?), followed by a question about his homework, “how did the assignment go?” His usual response was, “good”, and then he would share one or two happenings. But on this day he did something I had never seen or heard. His voice was hesitant; he spoke with his head down and appeared to have no energy for playing on the playground. From the time my son could speak, whether he had an accident or just wanted more cereal or juice, he spoke to his parents with the confidence they would oblige. I could tell he was in emotional trouble, I had never seen this demeanor with him and I knew his spirit was injured.
When I asked him, “How did the assignment go,” my son, while holding his head down, slowly said, “not so good. The kids that did the assignment right, got a big sticker on their paper, and the ones that did it wrong got a red mark.” So I asked, “buddy, what did WE do wrong with your book?” My son looked up at me and said, “my teacher said we’re not suppose to color in imaginary colors. We have to real world color.” I was totally at a loss for words. I quickly went through my mental Rolodex, searching my memory of the assignment instructions and something that might have been missed when reading the parent guide; had they indicated no imaginary colors, no imaginary friends or play. What the heck is imaginary colors? With a hunch that we didn’t miss any instruction, I said, “Buddy, yesterday, when your teacher gave you the book, did your teacher tell the class they couldn’t color in imaginary colors,” and without hesitation he said, “no. When Ms.***** looked at my book, she said there are no such things as blue horses and then she didn’t give me a big sticker, she gave me a red mark.”
What my son was experiencing was the introduction to a system of reward, judgment and consequence. His school’s way of teaching there is a right way to do something and if done correctly you receive a Big sticker and positive acknowledgement, and if done wrong you experience the judgment, consequence and humiliation and then feel ashamed to talk to your dad because he might be disappointed that you didn’t get the Big Beautiful Sticker. But no matter what the outcome of this assignment was supposed to accomplish, I couldn’t help thinking, who in the world was Humpty Dumpty. Had I missed something? Had Humpty really been an actual person, some kat named Sir Humphrey Dumphrey of Wales. Everything about this story is fictional to begin with, right? Why make such a strong real world point with this particular fictional story. Once I got all of the information I gave the parent conversation that brought a smile to my son’s face, made him excited enough to play on the playground’s jungle gym, and returned his voice of song as we drove home in the car. What was going to take a little more effort was dealing with this rule of imaginary color.
From his teacher’s perspective, my son’s coloring obstructed and demeaned the iconic story of the egg named Humpty-Dumpty. His coloring inaccurately portrayed “All The Kings Horses” as including brown face men, which I even knew was incorrect because there was no affirmative action in those days. And instead of having a stable full of brown horses, he included blue ones. He did not realize his teacher wanted his horses’ color to be in uniform just like the students in her class. And how could anyone look pass his color shading of Humpty-Dumpty, it was very inappropriate. He was not sticking to the rule of “real world colors”.
The difficulty of coming up with a resolution rested on this imaginary policy applying to all assignments. Humpty-Dumpty was the first of many coloring assignments based on a parent reading and their child reading along and then coloring the images. The irony was, after nurturing my son’s spirit to independently color his assignment after we finished reading was now actually a detriment to his success in school. His imagination, ambition and creative use of Crayola Crayons was causing him to fail. Not to mention, Black people had not done enough in history for him to ever believe there would be a need to use the brown crayon on any human character. We needed to prepare to save the brown crayon for the unit on Martin Luther King.
My son’s imagination was being asked to leave, impeached and replaced with authoritative affirmation. That’s when a kid submits their will to comply with the spoken and unspoken rule of the authority. Avoiding any further consequence by literally following instruction word for word and never deviating; learning that the symbol of stickers (the reward) is your teacher’s language of letting you know “you did right.” This is when schooling replaces a high quality education and the hidden agenda as to why can be best understood from a quote found in the beginning of Paulo Friere’s book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed—“Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes “the practice of freedom,” the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world (forward-Richard Shaull, Pedagogy of the Oppressed).”
Transformation was happening to our world but in the reverse of what we desired. Crayons, which were the earliest tools given to my son to allow his imagination to sore would be held culpable, along with his imagination, for violating a classroom policy. Crayons that had served the loyal ranks of helping to shade, tint, contrast and bring a diversity of tone and color to so many of my son’s coloring books now had to be locked away, based on colorism. We were having our very own crayon lineup and giving eyewitness accounts of which colors committed the crime against Humpty-Dumpty. Those crayons were immediately removed from my son’s backpack and restricted to home projects, right along with my son having to incarcerate his imagination and only meeting with it during visitation hours on weekends.
Of course there was protest from colors exclaiming they did have a place in the real world. Turquoise even said, “it’s bad enough you can’t even pronounce my name right, but to lock me away,” but even she knew the history of colorism and understood “fortuitous fate and not blatant [colorism] should be held responsible. Just as men and not women are inducted into the military, and even then only men of a certain age and physical and mental condition, so lonely some groups are destined by their role in the nation’s history to serve as catalyst for stability and progress” (Derrick Bell, Faces At The Bottom Of The Well, 1992).
The teacher knew by restricting my son’s use of his imagination and removing the tools to help him create and express it, he would have a much better chance at becoming a great student in school.
To be resolved…..
A supportive voice from afar! Rated Teenage and up!
I love this story!!!!!!!!! Your story is so important, I have to shared this with the families and schools in my community.