Sunday, June 20, 2010

Reflection Entry # 1 Art VS Creativity

The word Creativity is misleading.

When I was in elementary school, my teacher always needed help with a project. She would look around the class, smiling; and proudly declare "I need five creative little helpers". Before she was able to finish her sentence, every hand in the room would shoot up, in hopes of getting picked for this very important mission. The teacher, of course, picked the girls who always had A's in art class and got their finger painting masterpieces displayed on the classroom wall for everyone to see. After all five girls have been picked, they would obediently follow the teacher into the faculty lounge, leaving the discarded thirty girls to copy two blackboards full of conjugated verbs, multiplication problems or historical dates.

While my teacher's five girl plan is understandable in a practical point of view, where does that leave the other thirty girls in the class? Did it automatically mean that those who could combine colors well and who could draw pictures that could rival Picasso were the creative ones?

Yes, the word Creativity is quite misleading.

In Ken Robinson's article, he discusses one common misconception about creativity; that it deals only with special things, like the arts. This is quite a striking notion. I have found myself agreeing with the exact same thing he talked about. Although I believe that there is not enough emphasis and importance in the current school system given to the arts, we cannot just point an accusing finger at math, science and language and yell "creativity killer!". After all, a lot of the greatest thinkers of our time like Einstein, Newton and Darwin built their ideas around these three aspects. Before scrambling to change curricula everywhere to include painting and photography as regular subjects in school, maybe we should take a look at something else first.

I am a teacher.
I used to be a high school teacher.
I taught about subject and predicate, punctuation and verb order.

Everyday, I would go into the classroom, call the roll and give the students practice sentences with instructions to "Underline the verb", or something of that sort. All of this was outlined in a lesson plan that every faculty member had to submit for checking, to the principal. Every action from the greeting to the actual lesson was carefully recorded. I loathed it. Soon, I was just merely passing my lesson plans for the sake of it, and started doing my own thing.

One day, the principal barged into my classroom. Before him, students ran around in chaos, chasing each other, trying to write on a piece of paper that was stuck to their classmates’ back. I was doing an activity on identifying adjectives. This didn’t go down so well with the principal and he took over, settled the class to his expectations, and began: “Now class, where is the adjective in this sentence?”

Alternative methods of teaching were frowned upon by the principal. His master’s degree in Education dictates how his faculty teaches students. That meant multiple choice quizzes, ennumerating steps and copying notes on the blackboard. The students then get robotic with the answers that were already programmed into them. This didn't seem like thinking at all. Much less, creative thinking. This particular experience taught me something. In order to promote creativity, one has to teach creatively. This, eventually, led me to quitting my job.

Bringing creativity into the schools doesn't mean that we have to make a major overhaul right away. It won't matter which subjects we put emphasis on. If society one day decides that music and painting are the core subjects of a school, it will not automatically mean that we have suddenly embraced creativity.

A more important thing to focus on, I believe, is to look at methods. How do we coax those ideas out of our brains? Never mind what the subject matter actually is. In some parts of Norway, for example, children are exposed to "play learning" until they reach the age of 8. Test scores didn't suffer, as their marks rivaled that of traditional schools around the area.

What we need to overhaul is the methods in the way we think. We always hear the expression think out of the box. But we forget that there's also a top, side, bottom and even, inside of a box.

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