The Trouble with Conformity

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The Trouble with Conformity
A group or individual resource on the topic of how conformity supports oppression using the song, Flowers are Red by Harry Chapin

Mis-education depends upon conformity. The squelching of creativity, the moments when people surrender and give up their ability to think for themselves, to dream of new possibilities, and to hope for a different way of life are captured in the lyrics of Henry Chapin’s folk song “Flowers are Red.” This story points to the danger of teaching conformity and conventionality to the point of inability to be creative.

READ: the lyrics of “Flowers are Red” by Harry Chapin, below, like a story.

The little boy went first day of school
He got some crayons and started to draw
He put colors all over the paper
For colors was what he saw
And the teacher said… What you doin’ young man
I’m paintin’ flowers he said
She said… It’s not the time for art young man
And anyway flowers are green and red
There’s a time for everything young man
And a way it should be done
You’ve got to show concern for everyone else
For you’re not the only one

And she said…
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one

Well the teacher said… You’re sassy
There’s ways that things should be
And you’ll paint flowers the way they are
So repeat after me…

And she said…
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one

The teacher put him in a corner
She said… It’s for your own good…
And you won’t come out ‘til you get it right
And are responding like you should
Well finally he got lonely
Frightened thoughts filled his head
And he went up to the teacher
And this is what he said… and he said

Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

Time went by like it always does
And they moved to another town
And the little boy went to another school
And this is what he found
The teacher there was smilin’
She said… Painting should be fun
And there are so many colors in a flower
So let’s use every one

But that little boy painted flowers
In neat rows of green and red
And when the teacher asked him why
This is what he said… and he said

Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There’s no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

LISTEN: to the poem as sung by Harry Chapin.

Resistance to oppression requires creativity. Lacking ingenuity and vision keeps structures of oppression in power. Moving toward a world of equity and justice will take persons with vision and the capacity to be original, authentic, and creative. The work of justice and equity requires people who are able to “put colors all over the paper.”

RECALL: times in your own life when you were forbidden from thinking, dreaming, and being creative. Discuss the experiences with others and see how these experiences are obstacles to a more just and equitable world. Consider how these are obstacles to a just and equitable United Methodist Church.

DISCUSS: the ways in which conformity assists oppression and oppressive systems. Discuss what is at stake if persons are not creative, innovative, or able to think for themselves.

WRITE: your experience of mis-education as a short story, poem, or song, and then perform it for others.

Share.

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