Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The virtues of creativity

In this blog I've repeatedly complained about wrong-headed priorities involving creativity, explaining answers, learning styles, self-esteem, and relevance. In the next few blog posts, I'm going to argue that each of these things should still play some role K12 education. I begin, today, with creativity.

As regular readers of the blog know, I've repeatedly criticized the practice of grading students on creativity when there is no established protocol for teaching it or for measuring it objectively (beyond the crude, reductionist, and pointless tallying of things like "illustrations per page" and "colors per illustration"). Does that mean that creativity should play no role in K12 education? Not at all. Teachers can, and should, attempt to inspire creativity in their students, and to be creative themselves in their teaching.

But inspiring creativity does not mean simply exhorting students to "be creative." Far more promising is helping students appreciate the creative works of others--in anything from poems, to stories, to essays, to paintings, to clever solutions to math problems. Or giving them inspiring assignments or prompts--e.g., extend such and such a bizarre opening sentence into the first of a story; or extend such and such a random squiggle into a page-sized illustration. Or taking them on exotic outings--topiary gardens; whirligig exhibits; kitchen instrument concerts; or La Compagnie Transe Express.

Teachers themselves can be creative, too, even in the driest of subjects, and without reducing the subject matter to meaningless mush. A friend of mine who teaches at St Ann's in Brooklyn--a school whose combination of a classical education and a creative teaching staff is perhaps unparalleled--dresses up every Wednesday like a puritanical schoolmarm, topped with a puritan cap and equipped with a dunce cap, teaches her 5th graders the fundamentals of grammar and style. They love it, and they learn it.

Ironically, at the same time that students are increasingly graded on "creativity," schools are inspiring it less than ever. They're increasingly more likely to punish than to reward teachers who don't adhere to their scripted lines. And, their language-policed, all-about-me curriculum, which prefers mirrors to windows, provides way too few windows, in particular, into creativity at its most inspiring.

Perhaps that's why America is less and less a land of innovation--except for first-generation immigrants, assuming they don't go back home.

1 comment:

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Totally wish your schoolmarm friend had been MY english teacher. I never learned grammar fundamentals except what I could learn just from reading a lot and dipping into The Elements of Style. Often have felt the lack!