Danville Express

Living - October 19, 2007

The 411: Can crushed creativity be revived?

by Katharine O'Hara

I am sure by now most seniors have at least glanced at the essay prompts for their college applications. While the college admissions essay elicits fear, anxiety and a frantic sense of urgency in all college-applying seniors, it is the blunt reality of applying to UC and private schools that has snuck up on the lot of us.

How-to books have been published, seminars have been held, and college advisors have been hired, all with the common goal of instructing students on how to write the best possible college admissions essay. The main object: Be creative.

However, it seems unfair to expect students to suddenly revert to creative thought, when it has in a sense, been banned for so long. What is now supposed to get us into college - creativity - has been carefully removed from most aspects of school curricula year upon year, rubric after rubric, and has left students in the dark, feeling around for a hint of something clever or unique.

Many teachers require students to conform to a strict rubric that leaves little room to be creative, and teachers often base their lesson plans only in strict accordance with tests. This has the potential to happen especially in AP classes, where teachers base everything they teach off the probability of its showing up on the final AP exam. This method, however, seems to strip students of the passion and true enjoyment gleaned from learning, and provides little room for creative digressions, all in the name of being "well-prepared" for a test. Teachers have the dangerous capacity to make what once was an interesting subject to a student, a tedious bore.

As Albert Einstein once said of his late 19th century schooling, "one had to cram all this stuff into one's mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problem distasteful to me for an entire year."

For a final project last year in my U.S. History class, the teacher assigned students a limitless, purposefully vague assignment regarding American historical trends, where students were free to express a thesis of their choice in any medium they desired - a poem, painting, essay, musical piece or otherwise. My teacher was met with dumbfounded, and soon, angry students who did not know what to do with this absence of guidelines and limitations. It seems students are so used to a litany of rules they must abide by when given an assignment - anything from font size or page length to structural or content requirements - it is impossible to simply revert back to a creative, boundless way of thinking.

Sir Ken Robinson, a world-renowned expert on innovation and creativity in education, leader of the "The Arts in Schools Project" and author of "Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative," has toured the world speaking about the Western educational method of training children to be workers rather than critical thinkers. At his talk at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference in Monterey in February 2006, Robinson emphasized the need to mold creative, questioning kids - the hope for the future - in order to further human inquiry, and thus, progress. He points out that we are all in a sense "educated out of creativity."

"Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status," says Robinson. "My contention is all kids have potential talents, and we squander them, ruthlessly."

Picasso once said, "All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up."

Children educated in Western society have been adamantly trained to stay away from the passions that will not bring them the most money. Youth are often urged against art and music as careers because these passions have a low probability of turning into a stable profession. While some level of financial stability is certainly important, whatever happened to the saying "do what you love and the money will follow"?

Robinson also emphasizes that in the Western world, we are educated to think it is not OK to be wrong. However this fear and stigma around making mistakes has a significant possible danger: If always stunted by the fear of being wrong, there is no potential for one to come up with anything original - the human being's greatest legacy.

With college application deadlines quickly approaching in the next couple months, I can't help but wonder if (and only hope) the institutions of higher education from which we all so desperately seek acceptance can possibly salvage the vestige of creative thought deeply rooted in all of us.

Correction: The Oct. 5 column should have said San Ramon Valley High School (exclusively) is implementing an experimental plan that requires first time offenders to promptly attend three counseling sessions with an approved therapist that will be paid in full by the school in hope that the student and family will move forward themselves with further treatment.

The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a junior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at ohara5@comcast.net.

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