Hanging Upside Down

I heard it when I volunteered in my daughter’s kindergarten class last year.

“Dogs must be colored brown or black,” her teacher told her as Toots reluctantly put down the blue crayon.


I rose from the table where I’d been organizing glue sticks and went to my daughter’s desk.

“At home you can color dogs any way you want,” I whispered in her ear.


And after that, I made sure she knew I meant it.

“Dogs can be blue,” I told her later. “And suns can be purple, and not even round if you want, and skies can be brown and on the ground and trees can float and draw whatever your heart tells you.”


I’ll be damned if anyone is going to tell me or my daughter that dogs have to be brown or black.


Because you know what kills creativity?



And you know what kills me?

Putting those words into a creative child’s soul to fester and bloom into crazy perfectionism and self-editing and shame when she is old enough to think she should know “better.”




When I was in my 20s, I noticed that one of my work colleagues wrote strange. His words slanted to the left, were choppy, and nearly illegible. He gripped the pen awkwardly, and seemed to hyper focus on his fingers as he drew letters and words. One day I asked him about it.


“My first grade teacher thought I shouldn’t write with my left hand,” he told me. “So she tied my left hand behind my back and made me use my right.”


My stomach churned. Even now, I conjure the anger I felt at his explanation.


“I still use my right hand, but…” he pointed to the paper in front of him, “improperly.”


My friend had gone to a Catholic school as I had, and apparently nuns considered left hand usage “evil.” So rather than allow a child to write as he were born to, the teacher tied his hand behind his back. And now he writes unnaturally.


Luckily, my school’s nuns didn’t see the Devil in every child’s soul or hands, but I had my share of hand slaps at wearing a hand painted shirt, flowered hat, and unsanctioned Halloween costumes. Which, in some cases, I get. There are rules in schools that prevent harm, ignorance, and general anarchy. But when it comes to creativity? I think every school should encourage self-expression, even if it means blue dogs.




My very favorite sorts of people are those that buck the SHOULD, MUST, HAVE TO system. Those that don’t care to please nuns, teachers, the Devil or even God. Those that live to create without thought to living within lines, or drawing using accepted color palettes. Those that don’t fight what comes naturally. Because to deny what bubbles from the soul is like death.


I aim to teach my children this, and wish more teachers — and anyone who helps mold our childrens’ brains and hearts — would follow suit.


But for now, my friends? May your suns be purple and your dogs any fucking color you want.


31 Responses to “Hanging Upside Down”

  1. Kizz says:

    It makes me genuinely stabby when teachers EDUCATORS!!!! pull crap like that. She’s a kid. She gets to color the dog any color she sees in her fabulous imagination.

    Grrrrrrrr! Purple dog growls at this.

  2. Ginger says:

    Man you hit a nerve with me. I’m a firm believer that school doesn’t teach creativity, they teach a very narrow-minded way of thinking.

    I distinctly remember getting a story back in the 5th grade and the teacher wrote, “A little far-fetched, don’t you think, Ginger?”

    Well excuse me for using my imagination.

  3. Christina says:

    Even this fairly anal retentive accountant would be pissed off to hear a teacher limit a child like that! It’s coloring for heaven’s sake! It’s SUPPOSED to be imaginative and creative!! Lord. Control freaks stifling children’s imaginations made me livid. She shouldn’t be teaching. Period.

  4. Trish says:

    Yay! For you and for creativity. It’s good to march to the beat of your own drum.

  5. I find it so ironic that my daughter’s school does a Masters art program every month, where they learn about a famous artist, usually ones that bucked the system back in their day (like Monet, Seurat and Van Gogh), but have the kids recreate the style exactly. No allowance for creatively recreating creative artists!

  6. Tandy says:

    I wonder what that teacher would have said to Picasso….”Little Pablo, there must be two eyes, one on either side of the face, there must be one nose in the center if the face and one mouth under the nose.” I am glad that teacher didn’t teach Picasso there would be some great works of art missing from the world and one never knows where the next great artist will come from.

  7. Suebob says:

    I was never “good” at art growing up. How do I know? Because teachers told me, either overtly or subtly. When I had some time in April in Costa Rica, I spontaneously started drawing. I had so much fun! My drawings weren’t great, but I really enjoyed doing them. I wish I had been drawing my whole life instead of waiting 35 years for the sting of teacher’s criticisms to wear off.

  8. Please believe that *this* teacher does not stifle the creativity – though it saddens me to see my high schoolers stunned when I set them free to choose their own ways with art, writing, discussion. They’re so not used to it by the time they’re teenagers. :(

    But I persevere.

    Your daughter’s teacher doesn’t make any sense – has she never seen a white, blond, or spotted dog? Some people are crazy.

  9. Sarah says:

    Yeah, dogs can be blue, and should be if that child wants it to be that way. As an art teacher, mostly with the very young, I find it hard to sometimes be the one to tell the parents not to push their child into using scissors “the right way,” or hold a pencil “the right way.” Even simple tasks attempted to be corrected can hurt that inner budding butterfly. Cheers to all the parents – and teachers – out there still wanting to encourage creativity and individuality.

  10. Rima says:

    One of my favorite stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is called, “Eyes of a Blue Dog.”

    So there.

  11. Jenean says:

    brings back not so fond memories….kindergarten conference..we, the Royal we I guess, anyway, we are concerned, your daughter want’s to color everything purple. also when asked which is larger a cat or a dog she answered cat. I went home and asked her about the cat>dog thing, she said, “lions are in the cat family and they are larger than dogs…I thought, ok baby color my world purple!

  12. I LOVE this post. When I was a little girl, my teacher at Richmond Montessori (MONTESSORI) called my parents to tell them that I she found it distracting that when I dressed myself, I mixed stripes with plaids. Distracting? Montessori? My parents were furious, almost pulled me out of the school (in hindsight, I might have learned math had they done that… but I digress). The good news is that they let me dress myself and that I felt comfortable enough to mix plaids and stripes. And that’s exactly how I have raised my kids.

  13. Ferd says:

    Right fucking on!

    Good for you. Toots is lucky to have you. :-)

  14. Myra says:

    As a lefty, I applaud you. :)

  15. Chrisy says:

    You’re awesome. I love this post. xo

  16. Starr says:


  17. Monica says:

    I so agree. Freedom of expression starts in childhood. Kids should be allowed to color anything any color they want. I should know. As a schoolgirl in South America, when I was 9, the teacher told me exactly what to underline in my stories, and what to draw. Creativity was thrown out the window. Thank goodness I was only there a year.

  18. “May your suns be purple and your dogs any fucking color you want.”

    I love that!

  19. […] San Diego Momma » Blog Archive » Hanging Upside Down Let there be blue dogs! Source: sandiegomomma.com […]

  20. tinsenpup says:

    This just makes me too angry. It’s a shame so many stupid people get to be teachers.

  21. Bravo! You handled that “teacher” better than I think I would have. I’d have been tempted to just smack her. And then send her this link: http://www.georgerodrigue.com/rodrigue/index2.htm

    And by the way, my two black dogs often look blue when viewed in the right light.

  22. Barrie Summy says:

    Your children are lucky to have you!

  23. Mama Mary says:

    This post floored me. How dare that teacher try to stifle the creativity of your precious creative soulful daughter! Or any child for that matter. The last line of this post is one of my favorite things i’ve ever read! xoxox I’m going to draw my middle finger and color it dayglow pink.

  24. Jason says:

    Technically… there is a such thing as a blue dog. Your daughter is a genius to know this.

  25. diamond dave says:

    I sorta take a middle ground here. I’m all for encouraging creativity, but I think children also need to be taught that at certain times in their lives creativity has to take a back seat to following directions. The trick is to get them to understand that there is a time and place to freely express themselves, and the real world doesn’t always make that possible in any given moment.

    But as far as your daughter goes, let her enjoy all the blue dogs her heart cares for. Kindergarteners coloring should be all about the creativity.

  26. MomZombie says:

    I agree a lot with what Diamond Dave says. It’s a tricky world out there. During a play date between my daughter and her friend, the girls debated whether to pretend to get married. The other girl said: My mom said GIRLS DO NOT GET MARRIED TO OTHER GIRLS. My girl looked at me, confused. I said: Girls can marry girls IF THEY WANT TO in this house and in many other places, too.

  27. This teacher obviously has not seen Blue’s Clues.

  28. Ann says:

    I’m semi shocked a teacher would say something like that. That is so 1950s.

    Great post.

  29. Kate says:

    Blues Clues! Hilarious!

  30. Rosemarie Brennan says:

    I stumbled upon this post by “accident.” I loved it!

    My picture book WILLOW (Sleeping Bear Press, 2008) is about just such an art teacher. One who has lots of “don’ts.” One whose art room is unnaturally neat. One whose students sit in rows, silent and still, like eggs in a carton, painting green trees and red apples. That’s how the art teacher, Miss Hawthorn, likes it.

    But then along comes Willow, who paints pink trees, blue apples, and polka dot pigs.

    In real life, I have been both Willow and Miss Hawthorn.

    It wasn’t until after I wrote WILLOW that I realized how many people can relate to these two characters. (I suspect that’s why Willow was named to the Oprah’s 2010 Kid’s Reading List – http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/Books-for-6-to-9-Years-Old-2010-Kids-Reading-List/8).

    If you send me your address, I would be happy to mail Toots an autographed copy of WILLOW.

    Best wishes,

    Rosemarie Brennan

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