By Megan Rohner, Curriculum Specialist
In the Merriam-Webster’s Student
Dictionary, the word
creative is defined
as “showing or requiring imagination.” So, are we allowing our
students to be creative? Are we ourselves teaching with creativity?
Let me tell you a quick story.
My son started kindergarten this year. At our first parent-teacher
conference, we were told how well he was doing in letter recognition,
counting, and pattern making. His teacher then shared her frustration
that he, like other students in the class, was struggling to color animals
and fire trucks the correct colors. On the drive home, my husband was
adamant that we work really hard with him to do this correctly. I found
myself pushing back. I was saying, “Maybe he is just being creative.
Why can’t he color the fire truck orange?”
Has creativity ever been at the forefront of education? I remember
back when I was in school, I too was required to color things correctly.
As I grew, so did the stifling of creativity – teachers assigning specific
writing topics, expecting to solve problems in a specific way. There
was no discovery, no imagination, and no creativity. Think back
even further to the three Rs. Where was the creativity then? What is
so terribly saddening is that the idea was out there. Jean Piaget, a
nineteenth-century pioneer in childhood learning, said, “The principle
goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new
things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done –
men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.”
Now, we are all aware of the extensive pressure put on
educators to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP). Is this the
reason we avoid allowing our students to be creative? I think so.
These yearly assessments of our students not only expect rote
knowledge of basic skills but also expect our students in some
cases to explain how they arrived at their answer.
So, we can’t just teach the skill, we have to teach them to explain it.
And the only way we feel comfortable teaching that is by having them
memorize the way we explain it. This is a huge disservice to students.
We aren’t allowing them to become problem solvers. Sir Ken Robinson,
author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, states, “The
only way to raise overall standards is to engage the energies and
imaginations of every student in the system.”
This leads to another very disheartening fact. Not all of our
students are being stifled creatively. The gifted programs in schools
across the country excel at allowing free-flowing creativity in their
classrooms. I saw this as a student and later as a teacher. It’s as if we
are only comfortable allowing creativity in students who already excel
at the basics. But, as Robinson also says, “Creativity is as important in
education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”
You can make the argument that letting a kindergartner color a
lion pink and green isn’t going to make him a problem solver. But are
you sure? Until we allow our students – both early in life and as they
develop through the system – to show creativity and imagination, we
will never know for sure. As an educator and a parent, my biggest fears
are that education will never realize the full potential of creativity in the
classroom and that more schools will begin to follow in the footsteps of
others where coloring doesn’t have a place in education at all.