Monday, October 11, 2010
I was reading a post on the Startl blog site. It contains a valedictory speech from a student named Erica Goldson. In it, she takes some pretty good shots at how schools drum the creativity out of students. She claims that she excelled at school, yet learned very little. She wonders if the students who doodled in class went on to be famous artists, leaving her as an "obedient, non-creative learner" (my words). Excelling for the sake of excelling instead of learning as she writes.
It reminds me a lot of my first year educational philosophy class. We were asked to read papers on the purpose of schools. One paper in particular stated that the purpose of school is to socialize a work force that would work according to an acceptable social structure. I have posted a blog post with a video describing a similar view.
Erica's speech has made me think of my quest to empower creative, self-directed, critical thinkers in my classroom. Is it possible for students to be all of the above without at first developing "educational obedience" and great work habits, reaching superior standards of effort and performance on lower level foundational skills? How much work can be done on collaboration, creativity and critical thinking if the knowledge base and habits of mind are not hammered in first?
Malcolm Gladwell, the author of "The Tipping Point ", talks about the 10000 hour rule. This rule is one that states to reach excellence at any task, you must spend three times a week for a decade honing your skills. Gladwell seems to be supporting the need for schools to be places where much of the time is spent on foundational skills and knowledge.
The other day I was talking to a grade two teacher about how she could use technology to teach higher order thinking. Her first comment was that her class needed to learn how to write a sentence and could use a computer to do that, in the process learning how to save files and to type. Although this hardly seems to justify a tool as powerful as a computer, this seems hard to argue with, in part because I know so little about teaching grade twos.
Of course this story doesn't negate the necessity of teaching higher order thinking, creativity and collaboration to grade twos. It simply reminds me how difficult it is to practice these skills if the student knowledge and skill base is low.
Many, many years ago I went to an inservice put on by a teacher who was visiting from China. At the end of the day, I approached him and asked him if he thought that the North American educational system taught creativity differently than in China. He responded by telling me about how children were taught art in China. They were required to practice writing their characters for literally hours per day, for years. Brush strokes and subtle differences in texture needed years to perfect. His point was much the same as Gladwell's, that great artists spend time on the tedious before they accomplish the glorious.
I wonder sometimes if I get this backwards.