Is it me, or does it seem like much of what we’re doing in education these days is trying to fix what we ourselves break when it comes to kids and learning? I mean, what does it say that our kids come to us as creative, innovative thinkers when they’re five or six years old, but most of what we’re now rubbing our hands about in education is how to get kids in school to be more creative and innovative? I know that in the most watched TED talk of all time, Sir Ken Robinson asks straight out “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” But if you wondered even for a moment as to the answer, the evidence isn’t hard to find that says schools must be doing that.
Recently, I landed on The Teacher’s Guild site, which looks like a group of educators who are exploring the use of design thinking to improve the school experience. All good. Their first “challenge” for educators from anywhere in the world to solve through design is this: “How might we create rituals and routines that establish a culture of innovation in our classrooms and schools?” Interesting question that is, it appears, meant to fix the problem of schools and classrooms that don’t have cultures of innovation. As I write this, they’ve narrowed their ideas down to 51 from 210 original submissions. As I scrolled through them, I couldn’t help but start asking why these “solutions” were needed in the first place. I’m not being cynical here. (Well, maybe a bit, but not nearly as much as I can be.) I’m seriously wondering. Let me give you a sense of what I mean.
One “solution” is to “Teach Children to Ask Their Own Questions.” Why do we have to do that? My wife and I certainly didn’t “teach” our own kids to ask questions when they were four years old when nearly everything that came out of their mouths was, in fact, a question. If we just let kids continue to ask questions when they got to school, would we have to “teach” them how to do this when they got older?
Another example: “Passion-based learning.” Look at any preschooler and tell me that they aren’t passionate learners. So why might it be that “passion based learning” is a “solution” for creating a culture of innovation?
Or, rethinking classroom spaces, which shows up a half a dozen times in various forms. Imagine the shock that kids experience when they show up to school on day one and their learning spaces move from playgrounds and neighborhoods to four walls. I know that for some kids those four walls may offer more than they’d get in their own neighborhoods, but there’s no doubt that as kids progress through school, those four walls get less creative and more constraining as they go. So now we need to “rethink” them? What if we’d never rethought them in the first place?
Again, I’m not jumping on these teachers for offering these “solutions” as by all accounts, they are sorely needed. I’m just making this point: we struggle with and need for solutions for establishing a “culture of innovation” in our classrooms and schools because we’ve done such a good job of killing that culture in the first place. If we find ourselves asking how to “fix” schools, we may want to start with what broke them in the first place when it comes to learning and innovation and creativity and the rest.
All of this circles back around to the question of what motivates us most powerfully when it comes to the structures and systems we build and employ in the service of educating our children, what is best for them in terms of developing as powerful and creative learners, or what’s easiest for us in terms of managing and administrating their education? I understand that the demands of traditional schooling force us to keep our focus on efficiencies and standards and outcomes, and that it’s more than difficult to break that focus when the state and parents and to some extent the world is watching and measuring and ranking and rating. But it is not impossible. More and more schools are moving to powerful visions of learning given the modern affordances that technology and connections offer. And more and more schools are staying true to what we know in our hearts and minds makes for great learning.
The irony here is that we spend so much of our time and energy and money in trying to fix things that weren’t really broken until we broke them. And those that suffer most from all that breaking and fixing and refixing are our kids. We should know better.
Image credit: M.G.N.