Thursday, July 16, 2015

Monsters Beware! We have you in our sights!

There is an evil monster lurking inside small children. Although you may never catch a glimpse of the beast, you will surely see signs of its presence. All you have to do to see the effects of this terror is watch a small group of children playing together for a short period of time. Blocks become an impenetrable castle. A swimming pool in the yard is suddenly filled with man eating sharks that can only be vanquished with nerf guns. The toy industry makes millions of dollars each year creating tools to help this monster infect our children. Even crayons contribute to this epidemic in allowing children to make visual representations of the world in skewed colors and inaccurate drawings. This monster’s name? Creativity.

Luckily, we have a powerful tool to defend our children against this nightmare. From a very young age, we send our children off to school, which works diligently to squash this creature, creativity. Children are taught to follow rules and fall in line with the group. They are taught to sit quietly, answer when asked, follow prompts with anticipated responses, and regurgitate information. Through time and the valiant efforts of dedicated professionals, slowly the creativity monster is contained and controlled.

It is important to note that this is neither a quick, nor easy process. Education professionals must proceed cautiously in order not to anger the beast who in turn may cause irreparable damage to the child. This is why when you walk into an early elementary classroom you will still see children drawing, coloring, even using their imagination during a discussion or during free-play. These classrooms many times have centers or stations that may even seem to promote creativity, although more and more classrooms are eliminating these centers in favor of the more sensible, structured instructional time with rote activities and mind-numbing worksheets. Fortunately, by upper elementary, most of the activities that provide shelter and nurturing for this creative monster have all but disappeared and by middle and high school, the beast has shrunk to barely more than a tiny speck buried deep inside an individual. Indeed, ask any high school student to use their imagination or create something and not only will they look at you with utter mis-understanding and confusion, they will likely have great difficulty in even recalling how to create something on their own. 
In order to assure the beast is under control, schools are mandated to administer standardized tests to measure how effectively students have “learned” material to overpower the creativity monster.

Still, we must be vigilant. There are some that would have us believe that creativity is a vital skill necessary to be successful and happy in life. Daniel Pink identifies creativity as one of
 his six essential aptitudes. He claims that in order to stay successful in our global world, people will need creativity in order to offer something that cannot be provided by a computer or cheaper by workers in another country (Pink, 2005). Howard Gardner identifies creativity as one of the five minds for the future in his book titled the same (Gardner, 2008). 

Still, Sir Ken Robinson may be one of the most renowned and outspoken supporters of the creativity beast. In his TED talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” he states “We are educating people out of their creative capacities” (Robinson, 2006) as if this is not an essential outcome of our schools. He also asserts “Kid will take a chance. They are not frightened of being wrong. If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They are afraid to be wrong” (Robinson, 2006). 

Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Luckily, most educational professionals know the worst thing someone can be, is wrong, and therefore work tirelessly to make sure students are armed with all the knowledge necessary to NEVER be wrong. Schools then test, practice, and test again to make sure their students are not wrong. If students are consistently wrong, we label them accordingly and give them extra help, spending massive amounts of money on programs and supplemental instruction, until they can rise to the level of all the other students, graduate, or drop out; whichever comes first. Sir Ken delivers his final blow to the traditional education system in a last ditch effort to save the creativity monster when he says “Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think that they are not; because the thing they were good at in school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized” (Robinson, 2006). 
Robinson seems to believe that by crushing the destructive creativity monster, we have stifled the talent and brilliance that naturally occurs in individuals. How fortunate that our educational policy makers know better and continue to develop requirements of our educational systems to counter these radical ideas.

So how do you know when you walk into your child’s classroom if their teacher subscribes to the dangerous doctrines of such so-called “experts” as Gardner, Pink and Robinson? You look for signs that the teacher may be allowing, or even encouraging the students to practice and develop creativity. Some questions you might want to ask yourself as you observe the class: Are the children engaged in activities that make them think and come up with solutions to problems on their own? Are they working in groups with other children to develop original ideas and/or share thoughts? Are open discussions taking place? Are the students creating authentic representations of their learning? Are they using technology to represent their understandings? If so, you are probably looking at a teacher that is working to nurture and grow the creativity monster inside your child.

Free Technology for Teachers

One of the biggest allies of the creativity beast is technology. There are a multitude of websites, programs and apps that encourage students to create products that demonstrate their learning, rather than regurgitate information.

Many teachers, falsely believing experts like Gardner and Robinson, are using digital tools for innovative activities and projects such as digital storytelling, movie making programs and apps, gaming in the classroom (Minecraft! Ugh!), computer programming, (Scratch,, Alice), blogging (, Blogger, Weebly) and vlogging (Voice Thread, Podcasts), and mind mapping (Mindomo, Spicy Nodes, Lucid Chart) just to name a few. 
Students are beginning to create not only artifacts within their classrooms, but many of these are digital artifacts on the web, for all to see. Students are creating videos that demonstrate a synthesis of knowledge about a topic and putting them out there for the world to see. Teachers create online “boards” using tools like Padlet or Edmodo where the students can interact in the virtual world, as well as in the classroom, defeating one of the major goals of traditional education to squash independent thought and foster uniformity and conformity. Where will the madness end???

Education policy makers must be strong. The simple answer to this problem is placing more value and importance on standardized tests. Teachers must be made to answer for poor test scores. Schools must be punished if they fail to perform. Only by placing increased pressure on schools will these naysayers be forced to stop inspiring students through creative activities, projects, learning explorations and the implementation of digital tools and get back to the traditional and proven instructional styles that have served our students well for so long. We must stand firm. After all, it was good enough for us 10, 20, 50 years ago, why isn't it good enough for them?

Gardner, Howard. (2008). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School      Press.

Pink, D. (2005). A Whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York, New  York: Riverhead Books.

Robinson, Ken. (2007).  Do schools kill creativity? - YouTube. Retrieved July 15, 2015,  from

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