I’m not sure how clearly this post has come together, but I had to get it out so i could get some other work done 🙂 creativity good. how does a standards based approach contribute to this? it doesn’t.
THE question in Education – Why are we educating students
I have annoyed many people in the last five years or so asking the same seemingly simple question… “Why are we educating students?” I’ve asked kids this, I’ve asked teachers, administrators, theorists… I usually get four kinds of responses. 1. That dave guy is just being a smart ass and that’s not a real question. 2. We’re teaching our children so they can learn (a tautology that usually ends with me frothing at the mouth) 3. We educate our students to normativize them to society (teach them the way our society behaves). 4. So they can know things.
The truth is that I really want to know what people think about this question. I think that much of the discord in the educational community is premised on our not having a clear sense of what we are trying to accomplish by locking our children in classrooms for 12 years. Over the last few years I’ve come around to what i think I want Oscar and Josephine to get from the education system in order of importance.
- The desire to engage with ideas, combine them and make new ones
- The belief that they are allowed to do this
- The skills and literacies they need to do it.
I say in order of importance, because with the first can come the second and with the first two the third is pretty much inevitable. Those first two are tricky however, and they are easily confused with ‘knowing things’. I lay NO stock in knowing a particular thing. This is tricky, because I happen to think that knowing a great many things can be very valuable… I’m just not terribly fussed about the knowing of any given thing. It is of no great consequence if Oscar knows the NAME of the not a planet anymore but was a planet of my childhood thing that is really an asteroid and is a great example of how the naming of things is not the same thing as the thing itself thing. Or he might not know the backstory on Pluto, but he might know the name Pluto. If he has either of these things and the three things I”m hoping he will learn, he can get the rest of the story. Keep our friend Pluto in mind as we go forward…
I once had a long debate with an administrator about the value of standards testing, in this case for students. He spoke quite eloquently about how we need measurements, once you reach a certain scale, to be able to tell if our educational policy is working. It’s all fine and good to talk about qualitative assessment when you’re looking at 25 people in a classroom, but its something altogether different when the numbers reach the thousands (let alone millions) that are associated with the bureaucracy of education. I get that. People are trying to do their job well. They are trying to be responsible and accountable (you could say cover their @$$ as well, but either way, they are trying)
The problem lies in what you have to do in order to measure. You cannot easily measure something like creativity, or desire, or interest. This means that we tend to measure specific things. Most standards testing cannot measure for both of the descriptions of pluto described above, and they certainly can’t measure for a deep interest in Neptune, that completely ignored all the other planets, but led to many interesting discoveries about the math of orbits. A responsible teacher, then, needs to prepare a student for the knowing of specific things. The knowing, in fact, of all things. Or, at least, the things that are likely to appear on a test that is standardized by a government administrator who is trying to be accountable to the education system.
This is the difference. The knowing of many things is very productive for creativity. The process of inquiry, of researching, of learning, of being curious leads to the knowing of many things deeply and the awareness of many more things in a superficial way. The knowing of specific things, particularly when we are talking about the memorizing of specific things, is a very different process. It involves repeatedly following the same lines of thinking until they are committed to memory, and in a world where we are thinking of standards testing that means that ALL THE STUDENTS are going over the same things and committing them to memory. Success is measured by the remembering of specific things, a remembering, i will add, that the internet can do for us.
The Creative Economy
So uh… I know that this is a buzzword. But work with me here, and lets take it at face value for a minute. The presumption that i keep hearing about our educational system is “if we don’t have a good education system, we’ll fall behind *enter other country of choice in the news today*“. Lets leave aside all the strange xenophobic nationalism implicit in this kind of talk and think about what it means for education. In the creative economy, ostensibly, the way we would stay ahead would be to innovate, to create, to think of new things and ideas and find ways to bring them to the marketplace in an clever, cost-effective manner.
Creativity, as i understand it, is the combining of things in new ways. It is achieved by being interested in an existing thing, getting to know it better and then finding new ways to combine it with other things. You need, as i described earlier, the curiosity to look into something, the ‘permission’ to poke around it, and the skills to combine it with new things.
If all of our students are remembering the same things, the things that they learned for their standards test, the collaborative work between those students will only differ insofar as they have lived different lives OUTSIDE of school. In this sense, the education system plays NO part whatsoever in contributing to the creative economy. The things they have learned are known, perhaps deeply, perhaps not, by everyone. Creativity is something that is done despite the way the system is constructed. (many educators, of course, find ways to build this in despite the system)
The standards based system will keep us safe from the creative economy. A small number of people, mostly privileged, will continue to create despite the teachings of sameness. Students, like so many i’ve seen hit my university classes, will see education as something you can PASS, a process of remembering and delivering key bits of information back to an instructor, soon to be forgotten. This will continue to have no relationship to the real world and A students will continue to graduate out of our school system to a world where they are not graded, and where they are expected to be creative in a space without clear solutions or guidelines. The factory fit very well with a graded education system. I can measure how many times you turn a lever, or how many bolts you add to a car. I cannot grade your creativity, your willingness to question the system as it is, you ability to overcome stagnation… these are the things we are going to need.