Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Creativity, Education, and Conformity

I was a gifted child.   There, I said it.   It feels good to get it out.   Adults looked at me and a few of my peers and said, "he's more gifted than the rest".    Felt good, honestly, as did the ability to get out of class for a few hours a week to explore my education.    The idea that I was special stuck, as did the idea that I didn't have to conform.    I could "think outside of the box" long before anyone coined the phrase and turned it into a cliche.    Learning could go in any direction and could be from anything.   It was okay to pursue life's passions. It was okay to be creative in an assignment and not just do it by the numbers.  While this lesson stuck in my head, over time that my own place in the social pecking order had changed from one of the cool kids (okay, perhaps that is a stretch, but give me a break, it was 34 years ago) to a "smart" kid.    But honestly, pursuing academic and creative pursuits was more important in my head than fitting in.  

I mention this because I saw the video Changing Education(al) Paradigms.   The video points out how a child's thinking changes as they age from kindergarten through the rest of their career.  The speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, mentions a test in which people are asked how many uses they can find for a paper clip.   The older you get, the more challenging it becomes to think of uses.  

Robinson blames it on the educational system, which may be partially true, but I have to wonder if the real answer isn't simply cultural.    Conformity is considered a value as you get older in the school system.   While smart kids, nerds, artistic kids, and other people get a pass for thinking differently (or more correctly, come to accept their place outside the social order), the vast majority of kids trying to find their place in the world simply start to migrate toward a center of conformity.  Friends, clothes, and other items that help you fit in are more important than trying to expose yourself as different by finding 200 ways to use a paper clip.   

Could I be wrong?  Perhaps.   But when you look at innovators and creators, you often find stories of people who are unconventional.  They were nerds, outcasts, and people who marched to their own drummer.   Often their personalities are described as abrasive, shy, awkward, or otherwise not fitting in with the social norms.    Is there something within these people that pushes them to the fringes of "normal" behavior, or is there something deeper within our culture that pushes everyone else to a homogeneous center?    Does peer pressure play a large role in our reduced creativity as we get older?   If you work in an office, think about meetings.   How many people spit out ideas when asked?   How many people take risks and offer "ear wax cleaner" to your boss' "how can I use this paper clip?"     What is the response when they do?    And if the response is negative, how long does that negativity have to continue before the risk takers stop?

Imagine if our educational system could not only change its educational paradigm, but also the cultural one within our nation's youth.   What if not fitting in was the new fitting in?   What if we focused not just embracing our cultural, religious, and racial diversity,  but also on our diverse ways of thinking?  Imagine how much more creative and productive we could be if everyone had a voice and was encouraged to use it without fear.   

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mom Sues Preschool For Hurting Daughter's Ivy League Chances

If you think spending $19,000 on a preschool is the best way of preparing your kid for an Ivy League future, may I suggest the problem might not be the school, but a genetic one?
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost