Creative. We Aren’t and We Won’t.

By July 18, 2014Education

Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”

Sir Ken Robinson

Since 1985, we’ve seen a slow but determined formation of an education reform movement that has taken on a life of its own. That’s a good thing. Anybody worth his salt in education knows that he has to fall in line with the idea of reform. Businesses are built around it. People are dedicated to it. Policy makers and politicians get out the vote by it.

The concept of reforming something that needs reforming is an honorable pursuit. And we do well when we admit that our education system needs reforming.

But, the ideas get tangled up with efforts when we confuse ‘reforming‘ with ‘creating‘.

There are some basic fundamental flaws in our educational system that have to be addressed. Yet to address these, we will have to stop reforming the system and start creating a new one, or several new ones.

While there are many identified problems existing in our current practice, some stand out the most for me. I’ll address more in later writing. Yet, for now, I think we can focus on one.

The most serious hindrance to true change in education is the time factor. We’ve built a system designed to run on time. While appreciating the efforts of some in education reform, I don’t see a lot of risk-taking out here that addresses the fact that we time our students. I don’t see curriculum being produced, published and distributed that addresses the fact that we have a strict adherence to a calendar.

We don’t leave a child “behind”. We lose that child. Even the word behind means that he couldn’t keep up and he needs to catch up. Keep up and catch up with who? You? Me? The majority of the class?

The fact that we have a strict date for a state test (and call it an End of Course test) proves that it’s all on a time schedule. I would think that end of course means when I complete the course. That may be today, tomorrow or a month ago.

Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior. Ask any high school kid and they’ll let you know, by using those time-based designations, how far along they are and how much farther they have to go before being handed their diploma.

We all admit that they don’t learn the same way but we still time them. We love to talk about learning styles but we need to start considering learning time. We’re so obsessed with an organized timed day, semester and year that we’ll even chunk in a lot of non-essential stuff that eats up time and stretches out that day, semester and year just so we can finish at the right time.

I’ve seen just as many disengaged students frustrated by the mind-numbing timed pace of a course as those frustrated because they just couldn’t keep up with their peers.

I don’t think we’re going to seriously put a dent in the assembly line time element until those who can create real change step up and do it. The problem is that doing it means shaking up the adults connected to the system, not the kids. It would be a game changer for the learner but it may be too difficult for the grownups to adjust. So, we don’t create. We reform.

I’ve addressed this issue before, and will most certainly harp on it again, but my purpose at this point is not to call our attention to the issue itself. My real fear is that we may eventually fashion a culture of reform, oneĀ thatĀ calms the masses at least, without ever really changing anything.

There’s just a lot of the traditional system that adults may not be willing to give away. By doing so, we would have to throw out so much of our training, so much of our beliefs and so much of our comfort. So, instead, we opt on looking like we are different, new, reformed.

It’s almost as if, knowing that our public demands reform, many schools, districts, campuses, and administrators do nothing more than just put on a new and different piece of jewelry to prove ‘they’re still pretty’ in this century. Sometimes that can even mean simply changing the name of something to sound new and classy. We’re trying to please our public. Throw the hardware in, change the name to tech-something and you’ve got a better looking date to the prom.

But, if you look beneath the makeup, it’s still the same.

Are we creative?

Let’s make a distinction. There’s innovation and there’s creation. Johansson makes a good case, in The Medici Effect, on the importance of understanding the difference between the two. Christensen, in Disrupting Class, definitely pushes us to recognize the difference between improving upon something (innovation) and actually creating something new and “never before”.

I think we see a lot of innovation. We are confined in traditional systems by the consuming idea of time and location. We hear about innovation but we don’t hear about systems that discard these ideas. So it ends up at the same place, at the same time. Except we now find we’re just coming up with ways to do the same traditional system with computers. Jewelry.

The reason we have to stop being innovative and start being creative has nothing to do with how much technology we put in our schools. The reason we have to stop being innovative and start being creative has nothing to do with how much technology we have in our classrooms.

The reason we have to start being creative is because of how much technology they already have and already use, and how that digital has changed them. They? The students. The digital native is different than anything we’ve encountered before.

Let’s face it. They are not impressed, awed or moved by the ever-increasing upgrade every month. They just expect it and use it as it arrives. They don’t consider any new app or program to be a lifechanging event. They yawn as they tap and swipe their screens.

It’s not the emergence of so much technology that creates the demand for systemic change. These are simple tools and we’ve always had bigger, better and brighter tools introduced consistently, continually and constantly from day one to now. The advancement of the tool doesn’t necessarily demand an entire transformation of a highly structured schooling system. We can adequately and effectively place these tools in our established culture of education and use them to make teaching better. And if we want to limp along, that’s good enough.

I think the wheels come off when we fix our eyes on these 21st century tools, believe that these tools are the definition of 21st century progress and we focus on decorating our schools with a centerpiece arrangement of these tools to somehow qualify us as a 21st century model of academic excellence.

Conversely, detractors don’t like the tools. So, they cast their lines way too far in their arguments. And, just like those who focus on the jewelry just to look pretty, opponents focus on the tools to instill fear in those considering change. Replacing teachers, minimizing the importance of teachers, dehumanizing the classroom. This all just focuses on the tool.

It seems that we glorify, idolize or vilify the tool. So the debate continues and time marches on. Somewhere in the background, they’re still tapping, swiping and yawning.

Again, it’s not the emergence of technology. It’s not the tool that demands, forces and requires a truly creative national transformation of the entire schooling system.

It’s the kid.

Digital natives are different than any previous generation of learners. They have a different approach. They start and end at different points than learners in the past. I get it. Kids are kids. That doesn’t change. But, these generations truly are different.

The car changed American life. The phone changed American life. Throughout our history, there have been true creations that dramatically changed the way we do life.

But nothing in recent history has made such a dramatic powerful difference in everything we do as the emergence of technology in just a few short years. Watching it force change upon us has been a cool experience. But imagine those who were born into it and are growing up with it now as a routine part of life.

These kids are different. They will, and do, think differently.

So we all know we need change. But this change demands creation not innovation. To improve a system that the kid three generations from now won’t accept or function in isn’t good enough. To just make it better or modified won’t cut it.

Somebody has to be creative now. We can’t afford to wait until the outdated system implodes, whether it be a financial, theoretical or practical implosion. We can’t just prop it up and hope it works out. To be innovative is nice but it will only survive the traditional 3-5 year life cycle until another bandaid has to be applied.

Creators, risk-taking creators who understand the systemic roadblocks to 21st century progress and learning, have to take those risks and marvelously fail until the home runs finally start taking hold. We have so much innovation but not much creation going on right now. Eventually, we’ll catch on and catch up.

Sadly, it may not be those of us with the power to make it happen now who take those risks. It may not happen until we finally retire, die or just go away and those behind us get their chance.

However it happens, it will happen. I’d like to be around when it does.