Question #2: How many politicians does it take to annihilate a generation of creative thinkers and turn public schooling into a chessboard of teen zombies in a twisted game of corporate profit?
You know, kindergarten used to get it right. Early education used to truly champion creative thinking, but oh no. No nostalgic bastion of Play-Doh and Crayola now… as territory for computer stations and testing is conceded to the enemy at alarmingly younger ages. “Now, Jack, can you point to the wisdom of life residing hidden somewhere between answers A and E on this scantron?” No, Jack wants to run across a playground and assess how the wind’s velocity moves his kite. He wants to write a poem to the breeze, but no time for that. Give him an electronic pacifier and sit him down with the other automaton. After all, think of all the money that will flow to testing agencies and gadget builders. Who needs a shiny red apple for the teacher when Apple Inc. looms large?
Oh, wait. That’s not what this blog is about. This blog is about Cognitive Independence, one of the 4 Keys to College Admissions Success I describe in my book of the same name. I don’t specialize in kindergarten, although as a mom of three I know a thing or two on the topic. As an educational expert in secondary education, however, I can tell you one thing for certain: the marketization of education is trickling down to alarming trends in reduced student engagement a la Dawn of the Ever-Loving Dead.
I know that like me, all parents remember art projects coming home by the arms full. I lost count of how many magazine images were torn and carefully glued to honor various themes of the week with my three kids as they were growing up. What was really smart about all collage work that was that in essence, those types of projects provided the framework for what needed to come later in my daughters’ lives for inspired thinking. What did ripping up little bits of paper have to do with teaching teens to be cognitively independent as they approached their college years?
Just as collage is the art of overlapping images from seemingly disparate sources, brilliant teen thinkers learn to collate, compare and contrast material from inside, outside, and nowhere near “the box.” They do what my favorite verb of all time describes (yes, oftentimes we geeky teacher types actually have favorite verbs, and this one is mine). They juxtapose.
When students recognize the fact that they are not merely being asked to “fill a bucket” of facts, they come alive. I’ve seen it again and again. Some teens just “get it” –their body language in the classroom, interactions with their teacher, and written responses all reflect personal investment. In order for teens to build this fire inside themselves, though, parents and mentors need to stoke the embers. Sadly, between Common Core confusion and manic lurches toward SAT, ACT, and other standardized test scores, students nowadays are less and less likely to be led to inspiring school work and personal growth.
Why do you think so many people today see creativity and critical thinking as diametrically opposed? Don’t we all realize the inherent creative urge hidden within every new scientific theory, piece of dance choreography, new breakdown of a mathematical equation, or literary analysis of newly published nonfiction? You can be creative in anything. That is, unless the entire urge to create has been systematically removed in a race to nowhere.
Educators today long to encourage kids to innovate and to explore, but federal initiatives (that feel like mandates to cash-strapped states) like Common Core hogtie the better angels among us and students are the ones who suffer as fewer and fewer truly inspiring educators enter the field. As much as students need structure and inarguable facts, they need to experiment and find their voices, not asphyxiate within finite rosters of supposed “answers” to prescribed subsets of curricula. Real teachers, the kind you loved when you were in high school, know this. Sure, in math class 2 plus 2 will always equal 4; however, within many areas of study, championing innovation is not only better for students, it’s better suited to the real-world applications needed by large and small businesses across America who need creative thinkers, not just answer-givers.
What do you think? Is allowing standardized testing mania to run rampant really the best we can do for America’s students?