Gordon MacKenzie is sort or a personal hero of mine. Though he has now passed away, I still turn to his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball for inspiration. In his book he relates a famous and oft repeated story about a trip to visit an elementary school.
As he meet with each grade level, he related to them that he is an artist. He would look around the room and notice all the student work and then wonder aloud who had created all the wonderful artwork.
He would then ask, “How many artists are there in the room.” “Please raise your hands.”
The responses were very telling. In kindergarten and first grade class rooms, every student threw their hand up in the air. In second grade classrooms, about three-fourths raised their hands in response. In third grade, only a few students help up their hands, some very timidly. So it went, each grade a little worse than the one before it until he finally reached sixth grade. In response to Gordon’s question, most students looked around to see if anyone would admit to being an artist, as if such an admission was a violation of group norms.
In the span of Kindergarten to sixth grade, students had un-learned their naturally tendency to be an “artist.” Why?
Sir Ken Robinson has been the rage lately on the web. He gave a talk at the T.E.D conference several years ago about how schools systematically kill student creativity. I posted a clip of his talk several months back. You can find it here (Is Creativity As Important As Literacy). I am hoping to finally get to his book one of these days.
“I believe that the emphasis on this frantic search for innovation is a result of our inability to foster this concept starting at the elementary school level. Shouldn’t we all be innovators? Part of what makes us human is our ability to think and reason. With that in mind, innovation should be part of our fiber. Why can’t children maintain their creative innovation past the 2nd grade? At some point the concept of innovation is ripped out of their souls. They are told to follow the rules, prepare for the standardized tests and think about getting a good job that pays well.”
In an age where standardized tests are the measuring stick by which schools and students are measured, we are creating an environment where we can’t afford to spend the time necessary to allow children to be as creative as they can be. We focus on getting the one right answer for each question because this is what the system has forced us into. Politicians do not brag about the quality of educational programming, or how school X has made growth over time. Newspapers can’t print growth over or quality teaching. They can print a test score. The can print it next to the scores of other schools. It is very neat and orderly. Who is good and who is bad is a matter of running your finger up and down a column of scores.
Doreen goes on to say…
“Finding great creative talent continues to be the biggest issue in our world where in reality it should be the easy part. However, since schools begin to dismiss the notion of creativity once a child leaves kindergarten, the pool of applicants gets very small by the time they actually enter the workforce. How can we shift the focus to allow kids to explore, think bigger, reward their drive and ambition as not just an anomaly but a must-have in today’s world? Instead, creative kids are often labeled ‘creative,’ which means ‘different.’ And different is too often not a good word for a child.”
Education is beginning to have the conversation, but with much in education, the wheels turn very slow. Doreen’s voice is another to add to the growing call for change. I for one believe in Tom Peters call for NO INCREMENTALISM. But that is the prerogative of the idealist. I hate to wait.