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Exploding Creativity

December 13th, 2008 at 9:46 pm

Education Reform and (Lack of) Creativity

In the Introduction to Creativity episode I touched a bit on education, and I’ve been reading more recently about education reform:

  • Lessons From 40 Years of Education ‘Reform’, Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2008, by Louis B. Gerstner, former CEO of Intel and former chairman of the Teaching Commission, “which reported on ways to improve the quality of public school teaching.” Gerstner writes that after decades of reform efforts, America’s K-12 schools as a whole have not improved in terms of high school and college graduation rates, test scores, and the number of college students majoring in science and engineering, and he’s worried about what this means for America’s future workforce. He then writes about things that can be done to improve education: abolishing all local school districts, establishing a national standard for a core curriculum (starting with reading, math, science, and social studies), establishing national testing days, establishing national teaching standards, measuring student and teacher performance, and extending the school day and the school year.
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Go Back to School, Fortune Magazine, December 8, 2008, by Claudia Wallis. Wallis describes Bill and Melinda Gates “crusade to fix schools”. Mr. Gates is quoted as saying that the reason “America has been so successful with such terrible education” is that we pamper the elite 20% who attend the top colleges and the best public high schools and private academies. (Does anyone else find that as insulting as I do?) Gates says that has to change now with low-skill jobs vanishing and global competition on the rise. Mrs. Gates said their goal “is to double the number of low-income students who earn post-secondary degrees or credentials that let them earn a living wage” in order to make a dent in poverty in America. The article then describes their ideas to do that: performance-based scholarships, business-college partnerships, and rapid mediation. They also talk about a common set of standards and teacher quality. Intel chairman Craig Barrett is quoted as saying global corporations like Microsoft and Intel are already finding the talent they need off-shore, and that they “don’t need the U.S. to be successful”; I guess it’s implied that they would still, however, like the U.S. to be successful.

Here’s a creativity exercise: open those articles in your browser and search for the words “creativity”, “individual” (in the context of treating students as), “leadership” (in the context of teaching to students), “entrepreneurship”, “art”, “music”. What?? Can’t find them? Neither could I. Hmmm…

I wonder what Gerstner, the Gates, and other billionaires/business titans/masters of the universe/education experts are teaching their own children. Do you think they’re preparing them with plenty of math and science so they can join the workforce and work for other billionaires/business titans/masters of the universe? I would bet not. I suspect they’re teaching their own children such things as the importance of meeting people and maintaining relationships, entrepreneurship, leadership, finance, and marketing. And where is their concern for the creativity and expression of the individual, or even freedom, for their global workforce?

If I was cynical, I would say the business elites are advocating a system for creating interchangeable, inexpensive, and disposable employees — those who are one minute away from termination and one paycheck away from homelessness. However, I’ll be charitable and assume they really do have the best interests of our children at heart. Yet, unfortunately, this really is the best we can expect from business elites in looking out for our childrens’ best interests. Thank you for your concern, o holy masters of the universe with huge bank account balances…now step away from our children!

And also, unfortunately, based on my own observations and personal experiences, I don’t think the education establishment has it right either. It seems to me they want to have an assembly-line educational system where the good eggs go through and the bad eggs are identified, disciplined, and disposed of. Teachers want a room full of good “girls”, who sit quietly and listen, don’t make a fuss, and don’t talk out of order. Their education on education seems to be one of keeping their thumbs on the students in order to maintain control at all times; students are shepherded through classes, and woe be unto the uninterested, disinterested, talkative, disruptive “boy”.

I don’t have all the answers, but I think it would be good to start with the basic principle of treating our young people as the individuals they are. Out of that could come curriculums and schools tailored to the interests of the individual student, ultimately leading our young to the heights of their potential, causing an explosion of creativity in this country. And that means not everyone comes out of school readied for an employee-at-will position at intel, Microsoft, etc. We’ll also have musicians, painters, dancers, and other artists, along with the mathemeticians, scientists, and engineers…and doctors, lawyers, politicans, teachers, business leaders, etc.

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