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A/Musing: On Creativity
She entered with a flourish – a leather suit, staccato stilettos, and a hand-held computer device with which she may have been commanding the International Space Station. No time for bullshit.
To be fair, there wasn’t much time. Last week was Parent-Teacher Conferences and, in all, I talked with around 100 parents in 5-minute conference slots.
Most of my conferences were love fests (Thank you. No, thank you), but from the get-go this woman was strictly bottom line: “Will she be ready for college?” (I’m fine, thanks. Won’t you sit down?) I talked all we had done this year (five short creative nonfiction essays, several poems), how her daughter had become deeply introspective, how she had really begun to write with voice by mining her personal experiences.
“Look,” she said, unimpressed, “These creative assignments are all fine and good, but what about college and the real world?”
An 80 mph fastball in my wheelhouse. I talked passionately about how her daughter’s life right now is the real world, how she was starting to carve out her own identity, making and re-making her life and the world in which she lived. That’s the power of creative writing.
I thought I had gone yard, hit this softball straight out of the park, maybe even into the cold, dark orbit of that space station. But when I was finished I looked up to see she had long ago stopped listening. She extended her hand, smiled and said, “So, she’ll be ready for college? It was nice meeting you.”
The following day I led a session on creativity at our annual Teacher Institute day. This is not an assignment I chose. Actually I had been voluntasked (too late for Word of the Year consideration? Do you even read blogs, Noah Webster?) The irony of being asked to slap something together on creativity in a mere week was not lost on me, but it’s a topic I care about, so I braced myself and got to work. Luckily I got to work with two terrific teachers (photography and social studies), so my task was less daunting than it might have been.
We decided to show not tell, inviting the 60 or so colleagues in attendance to play – making poems out of the letter shapes, making story sense out of photographs, creating captions for cartoons. In short, we invited these teachers to make meaning through play. Everyone had a good time, and some people even raved (though these gushes were usually couched in invidious comparison: Normally Institute Days immediately make me wish someone had stabbed me senseless with a pitchfork, but your session was not too shabby).
At the end of the sessions, teachers wrote some incredibly insightful comments their obligatory reflection sheets. In particular, we asked what role creativity played in school. Here is a smattering of their replies:
“There is no time for creativity in schools. Everything is geared to getting into college. Schools pay lip service to creativity, but the sub-text is ‘teach to the test.’”
“In schools there is a tendency to keep the good-enough idea rather than to constantly push for different solutions.”
“Schools reward teacher creativity more than student creativity.”
“There are so many ways to measure creativity, but schools only measure a tiny fraction of these.”
“Schools measure student progress against a single standard. This makes creativity almost impossible.”
“If we practice creativity we become more creative. It we practice routine we become robots.”