I was born into a long line of teachers, and with my mother and grandmother as key influences, I had a childhood very much focused on creativity and education. As I grew older, I learned that the two went hand in hand, that success was born from creativity, and absorbing the world from a wider lens was an integral part of learning and forming my own opinions. Fast forward twenty-three years later, and I now consider myself a creative person who looks at the world with an even wider lens, and I have carried a deep appreciation for learning even after finishing school.
Growing up, I believed that creativity was essential in education, and I believe it even more so now. But back then, as I progressed through my years in primary and secondary education, I was disheartened by the fact that group activities were replaced by lectures, hands-on learning was replaced by textbook reading, and homework levels meant literally four-plus extra hours of school after the school day ended. Then came the introduction of scantron forms, and testing made up solely of multiple-choice questions. I would come to find out that the only skill needed for such tests was memorization, and that the actual knowledge faded from memory shortly after the test was handed in. This is what education now looked like, and it seems to be heading in a continual downward spiral.
Here’s the thing, though, the teachers have no more say in the way things are than we do. Sure, there are those teachers who have thrown up hands in defeat and read education standards from textbooks every day because even the minimum expectation is hard work. Though, there are also those teachers who have a passionate desire to get students excited about a subject in their own creative style but do not simply have the time to fit the creativity in after being forced to check education standards off a list. Because if those standards are not checked off, then students do not perform as well on standardized tests and the effectiveness of the teachers themselves is put into question. When the effectiveness of a school system is measured by these tests, it is no wonder that less thought is given to creativity. It is a cycle that seems to have no end, at least in the public education system as it remains.
Students are the ones being failed in this system. As someone who truly enjoys learning, I admit that when teachers in the later grades were apathetic, so was I. By senior year, I was dozing off in half of my classes, because those classes were taught by teachers who did not care. When teachers spent every day lecturing on a state-determined textbook, and then my classmates and I took said textbook home for hours of more reading, there was a significant disconnect in the hope of information being internalized and the actuality of it. In fact, the only information I really remember from middle school and high school is from classes where my teachers went above and beyond to transform the standards into exciting and engaging material that I was able to internalize because they made me care. My passion was influenced by their passion; my creativity spurned from theirs.
The most heartbreaking part about all of this is that it seems to be affecting students at a younger and younger age. My mother, who recently returned to teaching elementary school after taking a break to raise her children, has often commented on the differences between teaching now versus fifteen years ago. When beginning her newest job, she was struck by the number of standards she was expected to reach with her 3rd graders. When I suggested a fun creative art project to use for one of her history units, she responded, “That would be great to do if I had the time.” In fact, because of technological advances and a simple lack of time when most is spent preparing students for electronic standardized tests, schools are no longer even required to teach cursive anymore. Having worked in after school care for over five years and seeing the defeated look on elementary school students’ faces after hours of finishing homework, I can say that this is not what education should look like, especially for kids so young.
So here is where the system stands: Educational standards determine what teachers teach and the amount of time to teach it. Students are then tested vigorously on those standards, mostly in the form of multiple-choice scantron tests. The results of those tests are sent to the state to measure the effectiveness of the teachers. But at that point, students have been exposed to such a rigid form of education that the only thing being ingrained in their minds is the importance of memorization and how to fill in bubbles. No longer are students measured on their creativity. No longer are they given the chance to explore a subject with a wider lens, because the only lens that matters is the one structured by the state. By the time students reach middle school and high school, the importance of this standardization continues, as it becomes imperative to prepare for acceptance into college—which most often is determined by, you guessed it, a test!
We need to find a way to introduce creativity back into education. We need to get back to a place where the individuality of a student is just as important as passing a test for the benefit of the state education board. Coming from a family of teachers and a personal background in after-school enrichment programs, I believe it is not enough for enrichment to only come after school. Students should have the opportunity in school for creative enrichment and learning information for tests. The success of students should not be based on their ability to remember facts they will likely forget the next month; it should be measured by how they learn from both their environment and their education to become functioning and creative individuals. An eight-year-old should not have to remain studying hours after school has ended (while glancing longingly out the window at other children playing) because the state education standards are on a time crunch. I understand that homework is important as they get older, but sacrificing the short time children get to learn and explore naturally outside of school is not okay, because it then limits a child’s ability to create original thoughts and ideas.
A country of future thinkers, inventors, creators, artists, businesspeople, and educators can not thrive from all students thinking the exact same thing and learning it the exact same way. The creativity learned from the world outside of a textbook is much more vital than the memorization techniques that make for a hollow brand of knowledge, a brand focused more on standards and less on substance. So raise awareness, find alternatives, and emphasize the importance of individuality in students who may only otherwise find importance in tests. Substance is necessary. Creativity is necessary. Students should be given these opportunities for creativity, and it is up to parents and education professionals to offer them.
Evans, J. (2013, November 4). Problems With Standardized Testing. Retrieved November 16, 2015, from http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Test_Problems_Seven/