Monday, September 1, 2008

A Case for Creativity

More and more, of late, I am finding myself face to face with what some may brand an irrational fear. I am back in my traditionally calendared school and working hard to connect with my students so that we might begin our forward progress. As we work though, I find myself regularly drifting to an idea that began with Ken Robinson. Creativity, in schools... is dying. Worse than this... that I might be assisting in killing it.

I hear it in conversations with colleagues. Here is a statement made by a parent to a kindergarten teacher at my school on meet the teacher day:
“My son knows how to write already. When you do drawings in class, will he be forced to draw also?”

I read about it in articles that discuss the newest educational offering from our federal government proposing a series of formalized assessments, so that we might better gauge our K-2 students. A ninety minute test for a six year old.

I see it in my new eight and nine year olds, 25 of them altogether, who are afraid to make drawings, already having branded themselves as not being artists. Children who already have a deep seated fear of failure which hides their hands from sharing, for fear of making a dreaded mistake.

I think about how much of my year is spent coaxing my students out of themselves. Showing them that they are in a safe place, a space where mistakes are ok, a place where failure can become greatness.

I see it at our first faculty meeting, which has to have some portion of our time devoted to reviewing the data from our End of Grade test scores. And what does the data show us this year? Well we did not make high growth. Excuses, most actually legitimate, roll out. What might have caused this? What can we do to rectify this? Educators already racking their brains for where a change might be made.

Most often, to me, it seems like the change begins by cutting something in order that more time might be devoted to assessing progress towards the EOG, or so that more time might be spent in preparation for the EOG. Of course there is always the small voice in the crowd, frequently an administrator, who says that if we stick to the standard course of study, and teach the curriculum, then our students will be properly prepared.

The truth is that it would be an injustice not to prepare a student for the intricacies of a formalized assessment. Preparation for anything requires practice, and practice forces a devotion of time. My fear is that more and more of us aren’t meeting what are becoming impossible standards, and as a result more and more of us are cutting back on the creative things that we have done in our classrooms.

Creativity, in our country, has, and will continue to be one of our most valuable natural resources. During the past century we have mined untold amounts of creative thinking and the benefits have been clear. However, much like our oil, our creativity depletion has become frightening. We are systemically instilling a fear of failure into our youth which has debilitated their own most powerful resource. We must invite, encourage, celebrate creativity in our classrooms. Is there any way to revert ourselves away from this road that is rapidly driving us away from it?