Sunday, November 21, 2010

Creative Courage - Blogging for Real Reform 11/22/2010

Waiting in a long line to ride a roller coaster is not something that is found on my bucket list. Though I always enjoy the ride, I detest the wait. That is as true today as it was in 1982.

Back then, our summer vacations were usually marked by trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. This one, though, marked an "Ah, ha!" moment in my thinking about children and creativity, about my own creativity.

The lines seemed especially long for the roller coaster rides that year. Noisy children, sweaty everyone, loud music were intensified in those lines. The music, though, seemed especially loud. I looked for the loud speakers, wondering if I could cut a wire or two. I found them, but they weren't speakers at all. They were television sets.

Mounted to poles about every fifty feet, were the huge black boxes. Each was tuned to the same channel, a new channel created the previous year, MTV, music television. I watched, not in awe or wonder, in the line, there was really nothing else I could do.

MTV was originally created to show music videos. Music videos were a relatively new phenomenon. Rock singers, primarily, and their bands made movies about their songs. Kids were easily enamored of the videos. They were all the rage. My own kids had been watching these videos from the beginning of the channel. This day, this moment, was my first experience with the medium.

Standing in that interminable line, I began to recall a growing number of times my kids said they were bored, the times they said they couldn't think of anything to do when they had free time. I also recalled a conversation with one of my son's teachers. She remarked that he didn't seem to be very creative.

My thoughts wandered back to my own school days. I mulled about creativity. I thought of a geometry teacher who helped me make sense of the subject by comparing it to a game of pool. I fondly remembered a teacher who played classical music. He would have us listen for the different instruments and describe how thy contributed to the piece. His best lessons were when he had us close our eyes and imagine that the music was describing a story, a story that we got to make up in our heads. Everyone's story was different. Everyone's story was uniquely his.

That's when it occurred to me that these newfangled music videos were robbing my kids of their creativity and their curiosity. Their senses were being filled with someone else's vision. My kids' imaginations were being stifled and numbed. The imagining was done for them. They could not create any meaning beyond what the producers wanted them to know. Later, I told my kids about my thoughts. They told me I was probably too old to understand. Music videos were cool.

Does the fault lie with the media? Is blame to be found in its messages? Or is it to be found with those who control the messages? And what does this have to do with education?

It's about control there, too. Control, we must remember, is nearly always about money. Business manipulates politicians to favor their products and practices. Politicians manipulate administrators to help them keep the promises they made to businesses. Everyone at that level is rewarded with more cash. Administrators manipulate teachers to achieve the standards set forth by those further up the food chain. To ensure compliance, they mandate curriculum, time on subject, methods of lesson delivery, and more. In their efforts to comply, teachers try to manipulate their students. As freedom of thought and professional initiative are systematically pruned from a teacher's skill set, is it any wonder that creativity and imagination are little more than a whisper in the wind?

As a sixty-year-old with a mere five years in my classroom, I clearly see the need for teachers to be courageously creative in their classrooms. I rail against the mind-numbing sameness with which we are expected to teach. I teach my students that meaning is to be discovered, made, or invented. Meaning demanded by others must be questioned and appraised for its value.

I have joyfully discovered that my students love learning how to create. They thrill at the opportunity to imagine. They dance when they discover dreams do come true. The flourish when they realize I care more about how they think than I do about what they know.

So, now I wonder. I wonder how many others teach their students to create and imagine? Are younger teachers to much a part of the system to understand the need? Are older teachers, much-maligned and weary of political criticism, simply putting in their time until retirement? Where will the support come from? Who will stand and be creatively courageous in their classroom?

Rick Glass

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