A Plus


About ten years ago this three year old said to me, “Mummy, when I grow up I’m going to have a shed. Inside my shed I’m going to put a boat, a tractor and a sewing machine.”

What could be better? His Grandy had a boat in his shed, he was obsessed with any kind of tractor (“Hey look a tractor.” “Actually Mummy that one is a grader. You can tell because it has a long metal scraper on the bottom.” “Oh, sorry.”), and I was always using my sewing machine. He loved to sit and watch me sew. He loved that the fly wheel turned one full revolution every time the needle went up and down. He loved that there was a secret compartment for the bobbin. He loved the metal teeth of the feed dogs. My uncle bought him an old sewing machine and we let him pull it apart with a screw driver to see how it worked. He still loves gears and levers and all mechanical moving parts.

This semester he is doing home economics at school. He was really looking forward to it and had discussed the possibility of continuing with it when he selected his optional subjects for next year. He told me that he was making a bag. He discussed his fabric and his colour selections with me. He thought it was OK to have red with green and brown, what did I think about that?

Yesterday I asked how his bag was going and was told that it was finished and probably in his room. Naturally I wanted to see it right away.

“How did you go with it?” I asked, hoping that he would tell me about his sewing, using the machine and how he had worked on it.

“I only got a C-. “, came the reply. This is not what I had meant, but this is what the bag now means to him.

This really annoys me. Why do we take something that is fun and creative and turn it into a possibility for failure? Why is there not value in just letting him make and create? Why does it have to be for assessment?

Here is his bag:


“What is the design?” I asked.

“What do you think it is?” he responded. I thought it might be a World of Warcraft symbol. My Pete thought it could be a paint brush. It could also be a flower bud. He was happy with all of these interpretations – he wanted us to create our own meaning from his work. That is a true artist!

I don’t understand why we slowly squeeze creativity out of our children until they become those adults who proclaim themselves to be unable to create. Surely our creativity as a species is the very reason we currently hold this position in the world. Surely the creative thinkers have been pivotal in our development. Surely we should encourage and nurture the creativity of every child. Allow them to think, imagine and problem solve. Making a bag may not solve our current crisis of fossil fuel consumption, but it will allow one boy to fire up his brain to solve problems before him and feel successful about doing so. It will give one boy the confidence to be a thinker and a creator.

Why did he get a C-? His applique stitch is neat:


His seams are evenly done:


The only ‘flaw’ I can find is a small pinch on the back.


He said that he tried to unpick it, but it stiched like this again. This was the moment for him to learn something important. We don’t learn when things work out just fine. We learn when they are not working and we have to consider a new approach, or a different way to do it. The only reason that I go on to make the next quilt is because while I’m making the current one I think of a different / better / more interesting way to do it next time. That thought process is exciting. It wouldn’t be if I was told that my first one was not good enough.

Is he doing home economics next year? Of course not, why would he?


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27 responses to “A Plus

  1. twolimeleaves

    Ah, Tracey. Nothing hurts a mother’s heart more…

    My mate Donna (Superstar Quilter) has a son with ADD. When he was about Pip’s age, he made a quilt – completely unassisted by Donna. In fact, she didn’t even know he was making it until she heard him sewing in the early hours of the morning. He did a great job, took it to school and the teacher crapped all over it from a great height (so to speak) and announced to the whole class that his mother must have made it. He is a kid who had very few successes at school. Here was the perfect opportunity for that teacher to celebrate an achievement with him, but she turned it into another failure (and killed all his interest in sewing at the same time).

    There are sucky, sad people everywhere. It would be soooo nice if they would just stay AWAY from our children until we have finished with them.

    For the record, I would have given you AT LEAST a B+ Pip. And it’s a paintbrush. Any fool can see that.

  2. Hopefully your son is learing his most valuable lessons from you and his Dad. It seems that at school kids either get the “everyone is a winner” or “that’s crap” and nothing in between. i think it’s a very creative bag. The motif is very cool.

  3. Just as I hit “submit” I remembered that my Mom would not allow me to take home ec in high school. She had taught all of us how to sew and cook and she knew that the home ec teachers would suck every bit of fun out of both of those skills. She was right.

  4. “We don’t learn when things work out just fine. We learn when they are not working and we have to consider a new approach, or a different way to do it.”

    Excellent words to live by.

    I like your son’s bag. I’m sorry the home ec teacher’s head got stuck up her butt so she couldn’t see it properly.

  5. This broke my heart, this post. I had a mother make inquiries about her child joining in an adult’s tap class because the child’s one (taught by someone else) had folded. But when she heard I didn’t teach for exams the mother totally lost interest. As if the the only point to dancing is the score you achieve. I pity that kid.

    I love Pips’ quilt and his blonde baby hair. I thought it was a fountain pen.

  6. Typo!! I do know where Pip’s apostrophe should go! I doooooooooo!!!!

  7. This story is sad. Why should study be designed so as to quash any enthusiasm a new learner may have?

    C- seems way too tough. C- to me would suggest a bag without a handle, or a bag without a base seam, or seams that weren’t sewn up all the way. None of which Pip’s had.

  8. He was robbed… or they thought his work was so good that you helped or something.

  9. crafty

    I love that he wanted a sewing machine in his shed. He may yet you know, even if he doesn’t do any more at school.

    I thought it was a rocket, the end of it with fire coming out, but then I am conditioned by my boy’s drawings to see such things.

    And it is a very cool bag.

    C? Bah Humbug.

  10. I wonder if his teacher is always perfect at everything on the first attempt. What a boring world we’d live in if we were all like that.

    I think the bag is great. And that is so clearly a paintbrush – I don’t know how anyone could mistake it for anything else….

  11. I read this post and it did really resonate for me. I know you are such a great mum who is very connected with her children. And what amazing children you have nurtured!
    So I felt sad that Philip may never be inclined to sew again or that his previous admiration for the sewing machine is perhaps gone now. Then I thought…you know what, the real lesson here, is how YOU RESPONDED. You were interested. I know you were encouraging and you would have praised him. A C- it may be in school but at home it is A+.
    I wonder how many parents take as much interest (and follow up) as you do.
    This spunk of young man will grow in to a great man because of all these little experiences. Despite them.
    I thought it was a matchstick with a flame.

  12. I thought paintbrush too. It is lovely If you want, I can dig out my crappy home-ec t-shirt so he can gloat about his neat stitching and lovely applique work.

    You know this is a soap box issue for me! Schools so narrowly define success these days that perhaps 10% of children meet their standards…..literally. If you do not pass a multiple choice test that says you are very good at memorizing facts, you haven’t learned anything. That’s what GOOGLE is for people!!! Why should my son memorize the names of all the rivers in South America? He won’t remember it next week!

    Shouldn’t we be teaching our children about cooperative learning, how to freaking THINK and CREATE instead of memorize? Shouldn’t we show value for the learning process (try, learn from your mistakes, and put forth a better effort every time)? Shouldn’t children be judged individually for their unique gifts and not lumped into preconcieved categories? My dad completely sucked at school…. but he built our house by himself! He can see a problem and come up with a brilliant solution without looking in a book. That is what I want for my children….. to have them think outside the box, to come up with NEW ideas, not regurgitate old ones that fail. Isn’t that what the world needs these days? Fresh perspectives. I need a drink now….

  13. I thought in classes like that you were graded mostly on attitude, participation,etc. he finished it. on time. it looks good. he did it qall himself. i wonder what that teacher’s criteria were? for me? i’d give him an A….
    What i’d really like ior theteacheto read your post! Any chance?

  14. It looks good to me! I can’t even sew a button on!

  15. Such a crushing mark. Why are some ‘teachers’ so damn unsuitable??
    That bag is wonderful, not least because he designed & made it all himself, but I see a paitbrush in that motif, Big & Bold with endless possibilities for even more creation!
    I think it is a huge success on so many levels.

  16. I think it’s beautiful, and I would have given him a much better mark. To me it is so simple and so stylish. He should start producing them en-masse and selling them!

    What do you do in those circumstances? Do you ask the teacher? I’d be marching up to the school and asking for the teacher to explain herself. (I think I have a lot to learn!)

  17. I don’t blame the teacher. I think that the problem is systemic. I know that if I go to the school she will have a criteria rubric and be able to use it to justify her mark. I deal with it here at home. I take the attitude with my children that school is not the be all and end all of your existence. They are bright, articulate, happy, social individuals. THAT is what gets you by in this world. A couple of years out of school and no one cares whether you got an A or a D in history. How many people do you know who seemed to have it all at school, but buggered up their lives, or who seemed to be outsiders at school and went on to be hugely successful. School is not a barometer for your life. My kids know that.

  18. Between this story and Stomper’s story about Climber’s book not receiving the recognition it deserved, I’m starting to see the attraction in home schooling!

    I think the bag’s great. Bugger the bloody teacher’s opinion, that’s just one person’s crappy opinion.

    Please provide phone number and address of said teacher and me and me bruvvas will go sort out some shit.

  19. I think you have the right attitude towards encouraging creativity. The most important part of the learning process is to learn to think, analyse, apply and enjoy! What’s the point if you don’t enjoy and aren’t proud of what you have created?! That is where positive self-esteem lives!

    I think the bag is great! He did a significantly better job at applique than I could hope for on my first try! I’m even wary to do applique so good for him to take that leap forward

    (I recall my first & only high school sewing project was a wrap around skirt that was eons too big. I have no idea what happened to it, likely given to charity because it didn’t fit anyone I knew!)

  20. When I saw the first photo of the bag I couldn’t believe the final mark given. It looks like a beautiful native flower to me (like a protea or something). I agree with what so many have said here – that your attitude to all of this is what will resonate most with your son in the long run. But it breaks my heart to think of the effort he put in and then that feeling that he must have had when he got the mark.

    Melinda and Stomper Girl have both has recent similar experiences. Teaching is a profession which runs very strongly in my family. But I do wonder what the universities and colleges are teaching our teachers in respect to creativity.

  21. What a fantastic bag!! I think your son has done a fabulous job. It is such a shame that the ‘C-‘ prevented him from rushing home and saying ‘Mum, Mum, look what I made at school. Gee I am clever!’

    Tracey thank god you are his mother and will make sure his creativeness has not been burned.

  22. Oh Tracey,
    As an ex teacher I shuddered when I read your post. How I hope I never made a pupil feel like that.I think the teacher should have helped him fix the little tuck in the back ( taught him something ).
    Ask him if he is pleased with it no matter what the teacher rated it. Did he enjoy the process? Tell him the things about it you think are good. Presumably he still has to go to that class and make other things? He is such a bright lad I think he may come around to thinking of it as a growing experience and that life is not always fair – nor teachers!

  23. So sad, and I think you should have a talk to this teacher before she quenches the creative spirit of any more children.

    If Pip doesn’t want to use the bag, could you use if for something? Then make sure he sees you using it and let him know how important that bag is for that purpose.

  24. h&b

    that is such a sad story to me.

    Where is the report on what could be done better, what was missing ? Did the project have a clear outline on what was to be done ?

    And absolutely on the mistakes – perfection teaches us nothing except perhaps that we are exceptional and without flaw – ha ! – to those that things come too easily comes a big big fall …

    And the teacher rendered it a C-minus, and so now does he, and there the interest was snuffed like a used match.

    So wrong…

  25. Sorry I’m so late here … Pretty much everything has been said already …but I do like your attitude that how well kids do at school is NOT the be all and end all of everything. I’m sure Pips creativity will re-emerge in GLORIOUS form and then you might think of taking a trip back to the teacher … just to gloat and rub her nose in it ….

  26. Una

    Please tell your son that the bag is wonderful! If he ever goes into mass-production, I want one of those!!!

    EC Home Teachers suck. I think these are the ppl who never had a creative bone in their bodies or any talent to speak of and became teachers. My EC teacher was the same. I made this beautiful little handbag at school and only got a 4- (even worse than a C-) because one of the seams had ripped – a seam that wasn’t ripped when I turned it in. My granny praised it and used the handbag as a change purse later and had it for 20 years. But I never sewed after this failure.
    Only as an adult I have started to sew again, but that one grade at EC is still burning 😦

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