Many of us have spent considerable amounts of our time and energy in distinguishing ourselves from everyone else. For as many fields or activities as we can imagine, someone or several someones find ways to be different.

It’s not always about being better. In the case of art, for instance, taste is the criterion. Rembrandt’s art isn’t better than Van Gogh’s or Picasso’s. Their styles are entirely different and it becomes your preferences for one or the other. The same can be said for music, food, or any other time that the taste fairy appears.

What’s fascinating to me is when we outgrow the need to be like everyone else and we strive to be distinct. Take a class of second graders. Everyone wants to be the first in line. We all need to have the same type of backpack, lunch box, athletic shoes, and winter jackets.

All you need to do is be outside the norm and you’re subject to teasing, ostracism, harassment, or ridicule. While some young people don’t care about such treatment and defend their rights to be different, most won’t take that chance.

In middle and high school, situations begin to change. We begin to see daring hair styles and a cornucopia of footwear. Although electronics are ubiquitous, talents outside proficiency with this device or that one become visible. Is the change simply a matter of maturity or is it something else?

Watching young people learn, I think that there is quite a bit more pressure to conform than to be individuals. Math is finite and leaves little room for interpretation. But my kids have art and music, only once a week each. It’s not until third or fourth grade that compositions are introduced. And kids who find ways to amuse themselves in any setting are considered weird or strange.

My goal is to give students to create projects that they envision, with the tools that I provide. These can be feathers, stickers, ribbon, pom-poms, or crayons. But it only works toward the goal of creativity because there are no “bad” pieces of art. If we can begin as early as possible to emphasize what makes you special, we are doing our jobs. As far as I am concerned, let the math teachers do what they do best and leave it to others of us to foster individuality. Shalom.

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