My seven-year-old came home this week asking for a secret conference with me in the kitchen. She didn’t want her verbally gifted brother to hear that her teacher was going to put her to work on a special website.

“It’s going to help me with my spelling.”

She said it just the way I imagined the teacher presented it, all positive attitude and matter-of-fact. But when I asked her if that made her feel bad, the no came back a little too quickly.

Turns out when the teacher opened up my daughter’s journal and read one of the many entries she had written over winter break (as in vacation) she found an amazing amount of spelling errors. Big whoop. It’s not like she was using text lingo – heaven forbid.

What happened to free expression? It was her journal. My creative, highly intelligent, and self-motivated child decided to pick up pen and paper and write a story instead of play her new video game. She expressed herself in coherent and imaginative sentences. Her plot was sound and interesting. She even made pretty letters and stayed within the lines. So what if those letters don’t always spell words in the English language?

After my second grade delinquent told me about the special website, she whipped out her weekly spelling test. Eight out of ten correct. Huh?

Our children face swift consequences for failing to perform on a test. They know this, and they conform. That’s how my daughter, who has little patience for the proper placement of letters within words, passes her spelling tests. She gets serious when she needs to. So who cares if she can’t spell in her journal?

This is a girl who draws, paints, sings and dances. And she’s not only creative, she’s a math whiz too. She’s got to be bad at something. I know she needs to get into some statistical norm to fit into someone’s idea of the ideal student who isn’t left behind. I know she needs to pass the test so the school can get the money to pay for more subscriptions to websites. But if she’s spelling correctly eighty percent of the time on the test, isn’t that enough?

When do we push toward perfection and when do we let it go?