Conformity and creativity

In order to understand my goals, I feel that it is imperative to state my values. Yet, to understand my values you must understand where I’ve come from, been, and plan to go. Therefore, before diving into my goals I would first like to share with you some of the experiences that have shaped my mindset today.  

Where I Am From: 

Coming from a majority Black charter school that was and is still deep rooted in conformity, I have always felt restricted in the way I thought. My first conscious experience with conformity was the strict uniform policies: light blue shirt neatly tucked in, navy blue slacks neatly ironed, all black shoes with no trace of color. No outside hoodies, and you must wear a sweater or tie as a “third piece” or you will receive a “demerit”. Enough demerits would result in being sent to the dean’s office or if you’re lucky, lunch detention.

The merit and demerit system is a behavioral correction system that as I got older, has become more transparent to me. The merit and demerit system (MDS), is presented as an aid to steer kids on a well behaved path by rewarding “good” behavior with “credits” and punishing “bad” behavior with “deductions”.  Students are able to “earn” credits by: participating in class/group discussion, supporting classmates, remaining focused, and consistently working in class. On the other hand, students would “earn” deductions for: missing a writing utensil, tardiness to school/class, turning in late homework, and uniform infractions. 

I remember going to the mall with my mother to get a pair of “all black” sneakers that suited the school’s policies. After going to three stores and being told that all the black vapor max were sold out, I had to settle for the all black shoe with a silver instead of black Nike check mark. The following day, I walked into school and somehow the Nike symbol, which quite literally took up a few centimeters of the shoe, was somehow spotted by the hawk eyes of one of my teachers. Despite my efforts to explain why I had to purchase a shoe that slightly did not meet the requirements, I was told the shoes were an issue and received detention whenever I wore them. I did not have any other options and had to wait until my mother could purchase me a pair of slip-on Vans which were not of as good quality, but were affordable at the moment. After a few months of active wear, my new shoes began falling apart. 

Where I Have Been:

I’ve included information about the merit-demerit system and my experience with the uniform policies in hopes that you can begin to imagine the behavioral environment I was raised in. However, the conformity was not only limited to behavioral correction but was also very apparent in academic settings. 

During my reading of Song of Solomon, I discovered my attitude towards my education is similar to Corinthians Dead’s experience with her family. Corinthians who was the, “daughter of a wealthy property owner and the elegant Ruth Foster, granddaughter of the magnificent and worshipped Dr. Foster”, constantly felt the pressures of her family’s elevated titles which often left her struggling to maintain an image that was not hers to keep. Due to these familial pressures, Corinthians remains guarded by her experience and it takes other characters to verbalize the experiences of Corinthians. When Magdalene Dead, Corinthians sister, opens about her and Corinthians experience growing up she says, “I was the one who started making artificial roses. Not Mama. Not Corinthians. Me. I loved to do it. It kept me quiet. That’s why they make those people in the asylum weave baskets and make rag rugs. It keeps them quiet.” Unlike Magdalene who was content with making the roses to pass time, “Corinthians continued to make roses, but she hated that stupid hobby and gave Lena any excuse to avoid it. They spoke to her of death.”

Similar to the Corinthians, I found myself sacrificing parts of myself to satisfy others. Corinthians was forced to sacrifice her youth in order to please her family, and I found myself sacrificing my creativity and individuality for a school who promoted both behavioral and academic conformity. Every assignment was prompted, right or wrong, a simple grade, and the “hard work” of the school year was summed up to a cumulative GPA based not on how much you understood the lessons’s content, but how well you scored on paper. The mentality of the school was ineffective, and instead of “getting the grade”, I started to retract from doing school work, particularly work that was promoted and formatted. I struggled with being the student that followed the prompt, not knowing that I was searching for an outlet to release creativity and produce work in an environment where I was not often pressured into bending into a standard. This caused me a lot of trouble in my junior year of high school with my writing seminar class. I started off strong, doing my work, meeting deadlines, focused on maintaining “the grade”, and slowly fell off. Instead of learning and being passionate about my work I was simply making artificial roses, trying to fulfill a means to an end. 

Where I Am Going: 

Now that I have graduated and escaped the conformity that was my high school, I am challenging myself to break free of the mentality that prompted writing is limiting. Instead, I want to push myself to find ways in which I am able to show individuality in my writing. Going into this class, and every class moving forward, I want to go in with the mentality that I am working to learn and grow as a free thinker. I want to push myself to find the opportunities within every assignment to know more, and to grab my education by the horns. That being said, I intend to find the common ground between doing work and finding my passion, despite my still very strong attraction to creative writing rather than literal writing. I look forward to motivating myself, and not only taking my college courses for a grade but for an opportunity to develop my mentality as a student, writer, and person. 

As for those reading who may relate or even understand, I want to push you to not let your biases shape how you enter new environments. I regret being stubborn and denying myself the opportunity to grow. The only way we can ever grow is to push through the uncomfortable, and I hope this essay can keep me grounded in the upcoming years of my education and life beyond.

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