Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Is Creativity Lost from Education?

While Ezzie has been swamped with moving, he hasn't forgotten about his blog. In desperation, he spoon-fed me material with which to guest post about. Luckily, he picked something that I strongly believe in - education. So...I took the bait.

He pointed me in the direction of this video by an organization called TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). The video is about 20 minutes long, which I have to admit is a bit long for my usual Internet attention span, but the content is definitely worth it.

Along with the video from TED, I received my copy of Newsweek yesterday. And the cover story was also about education.

Both the video and the article in Newsweek made some extremely important points. The video focuses on the fact that only certain kinds of intelligence are valued in education today, while the truth is different people are gifted in so many different ways - some classically academic, some artistically, some musically, etc. I've often felt that the educational system is deficient in making students who excel in areas other than math, science and writing feel like they can match up, when the truth is, it just depends on the specific arena in which they are performing.

The speaker on the TED video points out that today, due to the focus on specific areas of expertise, we are teaching students to be boring. Okay, he doesn't use that word, but he does say that we scare students from an early age from being innovative. We teach them that there is a right and a wrong. We don't teach them how to look at a problem and use their own logic skills and their own mind to creatively find an answer.

I don't complain about my education, because the truth is, I received an excellent one, and we were given a lot more freedom and encouragement to think than many (I was fortunate to be in a very good program), but I still experienced some of this. When learning algebra and calculus in high school, I would look at the problems and figure them out my own way. I would get the right answer, using my own logic. And my teachers would tell me that I was wrong, that I should specifically follow the steps they were showing me. Why? Why wasn't I encouraged to use my own brain to figure these problems out? Who knows, if I had been encouraged to do so, I might have learned a lot more, and come up with whole new ways for accomplishing math (okay, that could very well be an exaggeration, but I do remember being very frustrated by feeling like I was held inside a box and not understanding why I couldn't do it my own way).

The speaker from TED laid out three factors of intelligence - it is diverse, dynamic and distinct. Intelligence comes in many forms, it changes and grows throughout time, and it's different in each person. I think he certainly has a point.

The Newsweek article dovetails nicely with the TED video. The point of the article is that education has become so focused on basics, at such a young age, in part due to the No Child Left Behind Act, but also due to pressure from parents to "perform" from birth, that it has lost its flavor, its creativity and its appeal to even the youngest students. According to Newsweek, "instead of story time, finger painting, tracing letters and snack, first graders are spending hours doing math work sheets and sounding out words in reading groups."

The earliest years of education are being stripped of their fun. And I think that's incredibly detrimental to most. If a student learns at age 5 that school is about pressure, stress and sitting still while filling out a worksheet, why on earth would they want to endure a minimum of 12 more years of it? Much less continuing on to college?

Five year olds have a natural curiosity about the world, and I think the best form of education for them is one that doesn't bash them over the head with tests and facts. It's a more subtle education. For example, Newsweek speaks of a school in Chattanooga, Tennessee where "two weeks ago newly minted kindergartners were spending the day learning about the color red. They wore red shirts, painted with bright red acrylic paint. During instructional time, they learned to spell RED. Every week each class meets for a seminar that encourages critical thinking." That's education.

I remember my kindergarten teachers hosting units on a variety of interesting subjects - from astronauts to scuba diving to nursery tales. The lessons were made creative and interactive. We put on plays, we colored pictures of the topics we were learning and we put together books about these topics. I still remember it, because it was fun. The years I spent sitting still were certainly not imprinted in my mind, and I probably remember little that I "learned" during those periods.

It's not easy to balance everything that an education should be. I would love to see it much more individualized, and tailored to each child's unique needs, skills and talents. But that's not easy to do when you have a classroom of 25-30 (or more) students, each needing individual attention. I don't have the answers, but I do have to say that after hearing reports of the state of kindergarten these days, I wouldn't want to go back.

UPDATE: I was just talking to my co-worker who was ecstatic that her 3-year-old "got in" to preschool at the last second, after being rejected by five other preschools. The amount of time, money and stress that goes in to these preschool applications, interviews, tests, etc. is retarded. I wouldn't trust such people with my kids.

Cross-posted at Sweet Rose.