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

Two Months – Really?

Aging is a mysterious process.  As I mentioned before, I am amazed at how quickly time passes since I’ve entered my sixth decade. Time flies by and my goal of blogging once a month has again been added to my growing list of “Try Again”. Ah, well.

It has been a busy time period. Our P.O.P.P event went off very well. In the next couple of days, I will add P.O.P.P. 2014 pictures and poems and info to the P.O.P.P. pages of this blog. Katherine Flotz, my partner in pulling off this year’s event, and I were tired and were contemplating not continuing with the project. There is an enormous amount of work that goes into the project and this year it was Katherine and I who waded through it. At our event, Katherine’s husband George, my grandson Luis Cortez, and Indiana poet Beverly Stanislawski provided enormous support.

But Katherine and I were tired. Then we watched our young poets and artists come down to receive their awards. They were filled with pride and looked adorable. So many parents and grandparents as well as our P.O.P.P.ers came to thank us as did our principals and other staff members. Katherine’s husband came up to me as the gym was emptying and said, “How can you not do this next year?” We can’t. We will be back. I have the next grant request form from the Crown Point Community Foundation, our most consistent and supportive grantor. We’ve already had our first committee meeting and two new members from the Indiana Writers’ Consortium have joined the team, Julie Larson and Kayla Greenwell. Be sure to check back in a day or two to see the 2014 additions to the P.O.P.P. pages.

The second notable event was my year-long journey with the Michigan State University Chicago teacher interns came to an end. Watching them move into the profession that I loved for 37 years is rewarding. I have had the privilege of working with interns from three other top Chicago Universities and I was able to see many good teachers move into our profession. However, MSU does an incredible job of preparing tomorrow’s teachers. They enter my class in the Fall with a bachelor’s degree and a solid academic background in the teaching/learning process. They spend an incredibly demanding year in Chicago classrooms putting that background knowledge into authentic practice. The thirteen interns I had this year will be remarkable teachers and many will go on to be educational leaders in the next few decades. I envy the students that will benefit from these teachers. I know that despite all of the jungle of errors we make in our education system, at least these determined young teachers will focus mainly on their students a provide the best education for them.

My mind has been focused on education a lot lately.  Each day the newspaper talks about educational cuts.  And most frequently this means cutting arts programs, dismissing staff, and increasing classroom size.  Each of these steps does enormous harm to our school children. I’m not an economist but I know that there are many other avenues to better budgeting for education.

I’m still not writing much but have been reading a lot. Currently I am reading Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe. It’s a thick book (someday I ‘ll share with you my aversion to thick books and the consequences of such) but incredibly engaging. Granted I am an Einstein Geek. In addition to his genius, I’ve been drawn to his irreverence to didactic educational environs.  His quote, Imagination is more important than knowledge…” (1) had been a guidepost to all of my teaching endeavors even before I became a science teacher.  Isaacson states, “Throughout his life,  Albert Einstein would retain the intuition and awe of a child.” I think this explains why Einstein seemed to have had a deep understanding of the teaching/learning process.

“It is a miracle that creativity survives modern education” (2) is another Einstein quote that resonates with me especially in the light of the current push for high stakes testing. It is also why I believe that organizations like IWC with funding from organizations committed to healthy communities like the Crown Point Community Foundation need to provide opportunities for children to exercise their creativity as they get to do with P.O.P.P.

Well, talk soon and don’t forget to check out the P.O.P.P. pages in the next couple of days.


1) Calaprice, Alice, Ed. (1996). The Quotable Einstein. (p 223). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press

2)  Albert Einstein. (n.d.). Retrieved from BrainyQuote Web Site May 27, 2014:

Albert Einstein. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2014, from Web site:


Albert Einstein. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2014, from Web site:
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It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.
It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.
It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.