Don’t Lose the Creativity

I’m disappointed in this year’s P.O.P.P. entries. Not in the children, not in the schools or teachers, but what is happening in education.  We are not attending to the need to encourage and develop creativity in our students.

Katherine and I saw it when we went to the schools. Teachers who accompanied their classes to our mini pep rally for the most part were disinterested in what we were saying.  Most of the teachers’ faces told us they were passive, somewhere else, not with us. Most likely their minds were grappling with the day to day challenges of their chosen career:

“How will my students be ready for the high stakes tests?”

“I have all that paper work to fill out that has to be in tomorrow.”

“Do I have the forms completed that are due today?”

‘What is the “contest” I don’t have time to do what I have to do now.”

The teachers weren’t enthusiastic. They may not have even heard us. How could the children get excited? Parents and teachers are the elementary student’s primary models.

We told the children that their teachers would have them reading and writing a lot of poetry during November. That was our contract. The teachers were to be our partners in exposing the children to a genre that provides a vehicle for sharing feelings and humor among other things; a vehicle for developing creativity.  I don’t believe that happened. The selection we have this year could have been achieved if we went to a park, gave kids a pencil and paper, and asked them to write a poem.

I’ve written before about the negative effects that I observed happening during the end of my career.  No Child Left Behind and the emphasis placed on high stakes testing, primarily in literacy and math, were having an opposite effect on a well rounded education. While not the intent, creativity was being shoved to the back of the class.  I’m curious how the new “STEM” movement will impact creativity. I’m all for STEM but science, technology, engineering, and math will not thrive without giving our students ample opportunities to use their imaginations and expand their creativity.   Einstein stated, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, imagination encircles the world.”*  If you can’t dream it, you’ll never look for it.

Since the time of the early Greek Philosophers, we have known the importance of a well rounded education. Attention was equally paid to math, science, humanities, physical education. But look at the funding and time devoted to all these areas in your local school, are all of those areas provided for in an equitable manner? My guess is no.

The idea that attention to the arts has to diminish higher achievement and scores in literacy (basically reading and writing) and math is silly. Throughout my career as a science teacher, I was privileged to be able to engage in teaching the way I felt my students needed. Our studies mainly focused on project based curricula.  Time and again, I saw students who were marginal performers in terms of tests in math, reading, and writing delve into the projects.  They were reading and doing calculations for a purpose in the project. I didn’t have to drill them to death on how to take a test or the basics of the math and reading. They found out that reading, math, geographical understandings, and historical contexts were necessary tools for understanding their project problem. And you know what? Their scores began to rise on tests used to determine achievement. They created models and posters, they wrote brochures and poems, they engaged in constructive argumentation. They proposed solutions to problems.

I had a 7th grade student who used Legos ™ to build  a model vehicle for Martian explorations for a competition my kids were involved with (he won a trip to Space Camp). Less than a year later, I was reading a popular science magazine. A brief article described  a vehicle that was being developed for Martian explorations – the Martian Rover. It was eerily similar in design to what he had developed.

Students were discovering that there were skills and knowledge required to open up doors of understanding to their world. They didn’t HAVE TO LEARN, they NEEDED TO LEARN. There’s a difference.

My plea is let teachers teach. Allow them to use their energy on what’s important – their students. Release them from extraneous paper work and  duties. Let them rediscover how exciting and effective it can be when their students create.


* Calaprice, Alice (collector and editor) 1996. Quotable Einstein. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press