Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is it the schools' job to foster creativity? זה תפקידם של ביה"ס לטפח יצירתיות

OK, in the wake of having received for the third time, the link to Ken Robinson’s video Do Schools Kill Creativity? I watched it all the way through, and my responses thereto are interspersed by timepoint:

1:10 - Our kids no longer believe that learning = employment. This is a huge generalization. I believe that middle- and upper-class kids do see the connection; it’s likely true that lower-class kids do not. Yet I’m not sure it’s the schools — or anyone — that are “to blame”. My brother-in-law, who taught for several years at an inner-city school, says that he actually worked alongside dedicated teachers and felt the school did a good job. Yet what did the kids see at home, on the streets? That those earning truckloads of money were the drug dealers, while those with legitimate jobs barely got by.

1:50 -
Our present system of education evolved during the Englightenment. That’s right, and it’s no coincidence that it was called that. There’s nothing wrong with a classical education, as exemplified by St. John’s College. The content should not be conflated with the means; just because we might aspire to a classical education does not mean it must necessarily be “inflicted upon” the pupil.

2:43 -
Modern schools were necessitated by the Industrial Revolution. Correct. Machinery replaced human (child) labor, women were recruited to the workplace, now what were we to do with the children while their parents were at work? It does not follow that modern schools follow the industrial model (6:37) whereby students are schooled in “batches” called “age groups”. Schools educate by age group because, if you’ve noticed, human development roughly (or not-so-roughly) follows age: Children of a given age have generally mastered certain skills, as well as certain attention spans, impulsiveness, depth perception, and empathy, just to name a few. Sure, a given kid might have achieved proficiency therein at the same rate as kids a year or two older or younger than s/he, but there’s nothing revolutionary in this discovery. That’s why, from middle school onward, the age groupings for certain subjects are fluid. I doubt a six-year-old and a ten-year-old are ordinarily going to get much out of being taught together.

3:15 -
the division of pupils into academically inclined / vocationally inclined. I believe that most of us veer toward one or the other, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, here in Israel, educators are talking about “bringing back the vocational track”. I don’t know where it went; from 7th grade on, where I went to school, all students (regardless of gender) could take metal, wood, automotive, foods, and clothing as electives, as well as music and visual arts. And you had to take a certain number of electives. Yes, we were all also required to complete a certain number of credits of English, math, science, PE, and social studies. It seemed fair to me. Yes, the “non-academics” struggled with these, and I struggled in gym. Would it be preferable to have separate vocational high schools where the requirements in the academic subjects are relaxed? In terms of efficiency and economics, the answer is probably yes. But do so and people start to scream “segregation!”

3:27 - “Most of us suffered with the present system”. Another generalization. School was school. Was it a party? No. Was it oppressive? No.

5:42 - the arts are the victims of our present system. My high school was strong in the arts. So is my kids’ high school. So strong is the latter, in fact, that what I believe to be a disproportionate number of the pupils (particularly the girls) are channeled theretoward. I sit in our local clinic, where their work is displayed, and year after year see the same Twiggy-shaped outline of a woman filled in by variations on an Academy Awards gown. This is arts education? Much more impressive work came out of my strict, regimented, conventional high school.

6:08 - we’re educating by anaesthetic in the form of Ritalin. Wrong. TV is an anaesthetic, as evidenced by the brain waves of those viewing it. Instead of sitting in front of screens, our kids should be running around outdoors, feeling real air and real weather, and something other than wall-to-wall carpeting under their feet. And we should be feeding them real food, not processed junk + vitamins to make up the deficit. And we should be spending enough time with them so that we don’t cave to ratcheting up their bedtimes, resulting in sleep deficit.

7:26 - conformity and standardized testing. Ask anyone who knows me: Do I feel the need to conform? The conventional, regimented schools I attended left plenty of room for individuality. Compliance with behavior standards? Yes. When the teacher said, “Form a line. We’re going to music,” I did so. When s/he said, “Get out your science book and turn to page 42,” I did so. Today, when I see a sign that says, “Speed Limit 25 mph,” I slow down and comply. When there’s a line at the checkout, I wait in it. Does this squelch my individuality? I don’t think so.
As for standardized testing, how else are we going to figure out if our kids are gaining proficiency? Why has standardized testing become a dirty word? I took standardized tests; they indicated to the school board if the school was doing its job. The SATs are a standardized test, and no one complains about it. On the contrary, it’s a sacred cow if there ever was one.

8:00 - thinking laterally. I believe it derives from knowledge, not vice versa. What is employment if not problem-solving? In order to solve problems and craft policy, one needs knowledge. In order to do their jobs, George Mitchell and Hillary Clinton need a solid mastery of history and economics, i.e., social studies. Where were they supposed to get these? In art class? Wood shop? I don’t think so. And by the way, artists and chefs need to know history in order to perfect their arts, too.

8:25 - the paper clip example: Even if you’re a genius by this measure, it and education are not mutually exclusive. And by the way, how did they test the children (and retest them at ages 8-10 - 9:25) if not by standard IQ testing?

10:00 - “There’s one answer”. I’m afraid that yes, to certain questions, there is one and only one answer: arithmetic problems, the dates on which events occurred, scientific properties of matter. At the research level, you start to ask questions. But in order to reach that level, and for your research to be respected by your peers, you do need to learn the facts first.

10:10 -
No, copying does not equal collaboration. It may sound cute, but saying it doesn’t make it so.

10:32 -
wholistic learning. I’m all for it, and I believe that today’s schools lean more in this direction than ever before. Yet it doesn’t mean that the old paradigm is a myth.

10:39 - “Most great learning happens in groups”. This is a broad, broad statement. I’m a loner. Every time the teacher said, “group project”, I cringed. I hated being dependent upon others for the results, or having them dependent upon me. Today I work in solitude, and I love it.

What I find to be absolutely true is:

“…the experience of personal talent meeting personal passion… in this encounter, we feel most ourselves, most inspired, and achieve to our highest level."

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

Yet I wouldn’t have been able to find that passion without a solid grounding in written English; Hebrew (which involved frustration and tears, and was NOT FUN at first); and at least a superficial level of what we call classical education: I’d better know who Plato and Moses were, and if I don’t know what’s meant by Occam’s Razor, I’d better know how to read so I can find out. I just don’t see any way around it, unless we convert all learning into clever animated videos that scrunch dozens of concepts into 11:30 minutes. And even then, our kids would still need the vocabulary(“enlightenment”; “industrial”; “revolution”; “conformity”; “vocation”; “collaboration” -- these few just from glancing at my notes) to benefit therefrom. It could be that there simply are no shortcuts to basic skills.