During last week’s class, we talked about how school and society are limiting and squandering student creativity. But first, let’s discuss what creativity means in education. Creativity is boundless; it’s the fine arts (art, music, and acting). It’s the use of talents to achieve a goal or express oneself. It’s giving students the autonomy and freedom to think outside the box and present what they’ve learned in their own ways. Creativity gives students power, helps them own their learning, and makes the work more meaningful. It works in tandem with the logical side of the brain, giving it power to try knew things and think outside the box. So why are schools trying to stifle it?
Part of being creative means taking risks and learning from them. But are curriculum standards constantly tell students that there is only one answer and way to solve a problem. In short, if you make a mistake or try something new, you are wrong. By teaching in this way, we are mechanizing our students, creating measureable copies to fuel our science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) workforce. Little do we realize that the STEM field is over populated, grossly competitive, and many STEM majors end up working jobs outside their degree. But that’s discussion for another day. Since schools encourage, and often enforce multiple years of STEM courses, we indirectly (and sometimes directly) tell our students that they cannot afford to pursue other interests.
All across society we tell students that jobs in English, anthropology, journalism, fine arts, graphic design, religion, history, and the like are foolish pursuits because they won’t get a job or be paid high salaries. Not too surprisingly, these majors all have creative and philosophical value. The reason society frowns on these degrees and insincerely tells pursuers “good luck” is because we label and monetize everything. We say success is determined by the numbers on your paycheck. We ignore intrinsic desires and interests, squashing dreams and creativity left and right. Just search the internet for “worst majors” and you’ll see the evidence right there. Words like “least valuable”, “unemployment”, and “earnings” litter the page. Stereotypes and policing like this kills students’ dreams. They are not treated as humans with individuality, but as human capital.
So what can teachers do to bring creativity back into the classroom, despite society’s attempt to kill it with scripted curriculums and standards? For starters, using our voices to shed light on the problem will help critique it. While one teacher cannot change a whole school, let alone a whole system, a network of likeminded, collaborating teachers can. The process will be slow, but creating a platform and movement to give our students choice and creative freedom is a great way to make the work meaningful, give them a chance to express themselves, and discover their talents and interests. This can be done by giving students multiple ways to present their learning (for example, a skit, presentation, essays, project, etc.). As teachers, it is not our job to tell students what career they should go into, but help them conceptualize the real life applications of their interests. If the school district gets on board, you can even give students opportunities to try out their interests in internships around the community.
While bringing creativity back into American schools will be a battle, especially with political talk to cut out the fine arts and physical activity all together, it is a cause that will intrinsically better the lives of our students. Schools should help them enter the careers they want to pursue, not the careers society tells them.