A boy is a boy is a boy. . .

. . . and always has been.

Almost a thousand of the perfectly preserved documents, scratched on the bark of birch trees, have been recovered from the deep layers of Novgorod’s anaerobic clay soil over the past century…

The birch-bark documents date from the 11th to 15th centuries and include tax returns, school exercises, wills, IOUs, marriage proposals, prayers, spells and curses …

The most charming, however, are a series of 13th century drawings by a boy named Onfim, who was about 7 years old when he drew them around 1220 AD.  Onfim was supposed to be learning to write, but his daydreams got the better of him and his spelling exercises are mixed with doodles.

In this example, Onfim has diligently copied out the first eleven letters of the alphabet in the corner of the page, but got bored and drew a picture of himself as a warrior, sword in one hand and impaling an enemy with a spear in the other – he even labelled the figure on the horse as ‘Onfim’.

In another example, he drew a picture of himself as a wild beast (which he identified by writing “I am a wild beast” over it).

Onfim the Wild Beast would have gotten along just fine with my son Elijah — who, when he was two years old, came down the stairs in the morning growling to himself, “Here – come – wi-ld – Ji-jah . . . ”

Here is something Elijah (now 9) recently doodled, apparently while taking a break from making a Christmas wish list:

New technology, same old boys.

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  • simchafisher

    A bunch of people are sharing this post on Facebook and saying that a kid who drew these pictures nowadays would be expelled from school.

    I know there are some public schools with brainless “no tolerance, no violence” policies out there;but not all public schools are like that. My son once drew a picture of himself shooting his teacher on his math work – and while we did have a conversation with his teacher about it, that’s all that came of it. This was in the regular public school, not a charter school.

    In the charter school, my other son once brought in his pocket knife. All that happened was the teacher put it in her desk drawer until the end of the day, and told him not to bring it back again.

    Nobody got expelled or deported; DCYF was not alerted; no one had mandatory counselling or got sent to juvie.

    This has been your friendly neighborhood “don’t believe everything you hear about public school” announcement.

    • Maria Taheny

      Simcha,
      I love this! I am a third year PhD student in Clinical Psychology. Today, a child like this would be analyzed to the enth degree, given and anti-depressant and told he needs to work out his problems. I think we lose something very important when we ignore what these pictures tell us about our boys, whether it be a child from the 11th century or the 21st: The natural disposition of the males of our species is to protect and conquer. If we focus on the goodness this brings to their children, and how it reflects a God who protects us by conquering the greatest enemy, Death, we can flip something slightly disturbing into a great study of the human soul!

      • KarenJo12

        Possibly, but when my 11-year-old son drew himself killing zombies with names of two classmates on the monsters, all that happened was a call from his teacher asking if he was having any problems with anyone. Turns out he was one of many targets of a social-media based bullying ring. The school was far more concerned with uncovering the bullies than with punishing my son for a tasteless drawing.

    • KarenJo12

      Thank you!!! My younger son draws constantly, mostly superheroes defeating monsters. We never got so much as a note home, and this was the local public school. I have no doubt that at least some of those stories are true — there are what? 20,000 schools in the US? Some of them have to employ morons. Still, I’ll be money the majority of them leave out some crucial detail or exaggerate others.

  • richard

    In elementary school in my sixth grade I sat next to a student who drew WW2 aircraft and showed them to me. Even while the nun was speaking. He seemed oblivious as to where he was. The drawings impressed me though.

  • anna lisa

    Every single one of my boys has drawn pictures of themselves with weapons. At least one or two have been caught with pocket knives. None of them have gotten in real trouble. The most ironic situation of all was when my fourth son and I were called into the principal’s office. It turned out that the “violent” picture he drew was of what his sixth grade teacher was reading out loud to the class. My son, with tears in his eyes said “I was just doodling what Mr. Carter was reading”. His principal (nice Catholic Lady) looked duly mortified.

  • anna lisa

    My most recent minor run-in with a teacher involved my 10 y.o. He and his classmates were disembarking from a school bus, and my usually soft spoken Lucas, who was impatient with how slowly things were progressing, addressed the general crowd in front of him saying “move it or lose it”. One of the kids went home and reported this to his Mom, who wanted the “bully” reprimanded. His teacher is a pretty little recent graduate from our local university. So I wrote her back and said,
    “Lucas is the fifth of six boys. He has two brothers in their twenties, and two in their teens–and there are two more male cousins in their twenties that are presently living with us. Now picture in your mind how the guys downtown at that bar ‘Baja Sharkeez’ talk to each other. –Frankly? I’m just relieved that’s *all* Lucas said.” She had cc’d the principal, so I cc’d her too.
    Both of them give me big smiles these days.


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