This is a news story that every parent and teacher should read. Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., is described as an expert in creativity, innovation and human resources. While I don't know the details about his credentials for all those areas, I think he is dead on regarding his assessment of what is wrong with our schools today. In the CNN story "How Schools Stifle Creativity" he talks about how standardized testing is the opposite of creative teaching. He talks about how we're all born with natural creativity and our institutions, such as schools, stifle this creativity.
What is most interesting to me is that his experience is world-wide and he sees the same things happening in schools around the world. He sees schools teaching to the bottom rather than lifting up the top. He notes that the problems of today and tomorrow will require immense creativity and talent, and that we're not developing the future leaders who can solve these problems.
We have all seen it in our public and private schools. Classes are geared towards getting good test results. This goes on even through high school and college. Anything not "focused" is considered a waste of time. You want to take an art class just for something different to do? You want to take European history because you think it is intersting? Wasteful. You should be learning more about the things that will get you into a good college and/or job.
People seem to forget that most of the time, the answer to a problem starts with someone sitting around saying, "What if we did X?" In medicine, it's called basic research. This means that researchers test different theories just for the sake of seeing what happens. It's not focused and driven towards finding a cure for a specific disease or condition. It's all about the "what if" questions.
In our test-driven world, it's not considered productive to wonder "what if" unless there is a specific point to the answer. You can apply this to different age groups. What if I spend another hour each day working on her letters? Will this make her a better reader? What if I spend another hour each day working on math? Will that improve his ACT score? What if I take this advanced business course? Will this help me land my dream job?
Why does the "what if" question always have to be so focused? How about we try to change the conversation so the preschool parent says, "What if she spends some time in nature looking at different plants and animals?" Or if the high school student says, "What if I spend a few hours volunteering at the local library?" Or the college student says, "What if I take the art history course just because I've always been interested in the topic?" These are simple ways to improve creativity in our children and young adults. They take nothing but our understanding that this kind of "slack time" is actually very important to a child's future happiness and success.
All we need to do is give them permission to be children and explore their (often fleeting) interests. Unfortunately, that's a very big leap from the way most people view education these days.