Changing Learning through Critical Thinking and Technology
RSS icon Email icon Home icon
  • Schools and Creativity

    Posted on April 21st, 2009 John No comments

    If there is one thing the schools do not do well it is prepare students for novel situations. Their plight is understandable; schools must educate a wide variety of students on little money with relatively small staffs. They are under pressure from society to do not only a good job but prove empirically that they are succeeding. Criteria for success are set by government agencies; No Child Left Behind on the Federal Level and, in Virginia where I live, Standards of Learning (SOL’s) which are in many ways more restrictive than the national standards. Schools are accredited, and must cover certain amounts of material. They may be neither too lenient (witness the illiterate high school graduate concern), nor so strict that no one graduates (thus no meeting their government quotas). In a system such as this things inevitably are reduced to “fill in the blanks” kinds of learning. The questions are measurable and the outcomes are defined. These are methods that are the exact opposite of what a creative education needs. Or a education for the 20th century.

    Creativity is not an objectively measurable commodity. In spite of Thorndike’s famous statement that all that exists can be measure, there is no reliable way to “grade” a student’s creativity without descending to the absurd. Ellen Longenman once summed up the history of education in America as “Thorndike Won and Dewey Lost.” Dewey, in his way, saw the role of schools to be primarily the creation of a child that is generative and self-sufficient, while Thorndike’s legacy is more aimed at transferring measured quantities of knowledge. Now I do not want to get into that popular game of creating the objectivist “straw man” that so often is a feature of educational critique. Thorndike was concerned with measures, and a grade-based system is prejudiced toward them. Dewey, on the other hand, saw a more fluid educational system.

    The basic point is that our system of school does not naturally seek to enhance creativity. It is taught, but only by dedicated teachers working under the radar in subjects that are not valued like the arts, language, even sports. Topics such as math, science and reading are vital, and so the system sort of “clutches” on something it can measure.