Red Flowers With Green Stems

I recently discovered this poetic story, published in 1961 by the insightful early childhood expert and author, Dr Helen Buckley (1918-2001). See the original poem below, written 30 years before the video was made. It still strikes a painful chord with much traditional school-based art teaching, even today. As loving, well-meaning parents and teachers, we must be so careful not to overly prune the fragile creative buds of the children in our care. 

THE LITTLE BOY, by Helen E. Buckley

Once a little boy went to school.

He was quite a little boy and it was quite a big school, but when the little boy found that his room was very near the outside door, he was happy and the school did not seem quite so big any more. 

One day, when the little boy had been in school a while, his teacher said: “Today we are going to make a picture.”

“Good!” thought the little boy. He liked to make pictures. He could make all kinds. Lions and tigers, chickens and cows, trains and boats, and he took out his box of crayons and he began to draw.

But the teacher said: “Wait! It is not time to begin!”

“Now, we are going to make flowers.”

“Good!” thought the little boy, he liked to make flowers, and he began to make beautiful ones, but the teacher said “Wait! I’ll show you how.”

And it was red with a green stem.

“There,” said the teacher, “Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s flower. Then he looked at his own flower.

He liked his flower better than the teacher’s. But he didn’t say this. He just turned his paper over and found his red crayon and his green crayon.

He made a flower like the teacher’s. 

It was red with a green stem.

On another day, the teacher said: “Today we are going to make something with clay.”

“Good!” thought the little boy. He liked clay. He could make all kinds of things with clay. Snakes and snowmen, elephants and mice, cars, and trucks, and he began to pull and pinch his ball of clay.

But the teacher said: “Wait!” It is not time to begin!” and she waited until everyone looked ready.

“Now,” said the teacher, “We are going to make a dish.”

He liked to make dishes. And he began to make some that were all shapes and sizes.

But the teacher said, “Wait! And I will show you how.” And she showed everyone how to make one deep dish. 

“There,” said the teacher. “Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish, then he looked at his own. He liked his dish better than the teacher’s. But he did not say this. He just rolled his clay into a big ball again and made a dish like the teacher’s. It was a deep dish.

And pretty soon the little boy learned to wait, and to watch and to make things just like the teachers. And pretty soon he didn’t make things of his own anymore.

Then it happened that the little boy and his family moved to another house, in another city, and the boy had to go to another school.

This school was even bigger than the one before and there was no door from the outside near his room. He had to walk up some big steps and walk down a long hall to get to his room.

And the very first day he was there the teacher said: “Today we are going to make a picture.”

“Good!” Thought the little boy. 

And he waited for the teacher to tell him what to do.

But the teacher didn’t say anything. She just walked around the room.

When she came to the little boy she said, “Don’t you want to make a picture?”

“Yes,” said the little boy.

“What are we going to make?”

“I don’t know until you make it,” said the teacher.

“How shall I make it?” asked the little boy.

“Why, any way you like,” said the teacher.

“Any color?” asked the little boy.

“Any color,” said the teacher. “Well yes, if everyone made the same picture, and used the same colors, how would I know who made what and which was which?”

“I don’t know,” said the little boy.

And he began to make a red flower with a green stem.

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