“In our original research on shame, 85 percent of the people we interviewed could recall a school incident from their childhood that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves as learners.” – Dare to Lead by Brene’ Brown, p.132.
I, too, can think of a specific incident that changed how I thought of myself as a learner. But I want to talk about something that changed how I felt about myself as a person. The shaming I want to address is the family tree.
The family tree project is nearly ubiquitous in schools. I was assigned to create a family tree more than once while I was in school and then again to help my children in creating a family tree when they were still enrolled in traditional school. Each time felt like a comparison to other families. It was a reminder that I was worth less. It was deeply shaming.
This assignment is painful for those who have been abandoned by one or both parents, adopted, abused or molested by someone in their family, those being raised by a grandparent or aunt or uncle while their parents struggle with addiction or incarceration, those whose grandparents or great grandparents experienced the holocaust or some other brutality, students whose parents or grandparents are not married to each other and have new spouses and children and the student can’t even understand how they are all related, those who were conceived with the help of a sperm donor….the list goes on. Statistically, this makes up a large portion of our population.
Think about it in different terms: How many adults would be comfortable creating a giant foam board family tree and putting it up in the break room at work? It sounds ludicrous to take something so personal and force people to share it with their peers. Why do we do this to children, who are more vulnerable and more susceptible to deep humiliation that can change how they view their own self worth?
On the flip side, what do we have to gain from this assignment? What exactly is the learning here, and is it worth the price? Some may argue that this project helps children learn about historical research. I think there are lot more meaningful and less harmful ways to go about it. For example, why not have children research a local historical figure or event? Take them to visit a relevant historical site, review documents together, go to the courthouse and look at birth, death or marriage certificates, read old newspapers – do some actual research and leave the family tree to the family.
Despite how negatively I feel about the school version of the family tree, I am grateful for the Bible version of my family tree. Ephesians 1:5 says that I am adopted into God’s family. Galatians 3:26 tells me about that family tree: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Let me rephrase this in family tree speak: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith (in Christ we all have the same family tree). For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (you can decide to be a part of God’s family, the invitation is open) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (In Gods family tree we are all the same, there is no divorce, no abuse, no abandonment, no discrimination, no humiliation. We are all loved, worthy through Christ, held there forever.)“
For those of us whose families are less than perfect (that’s most of us, isn’t it?), the family that God offers us can at first be hard to understand or accept. However, once we work through that and dare to believe Him, it makes His offer more meaningful and our gratitude all the greater.