Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Child Left Behind: Educating our Children out of their Creativity

As a creative person living in America, which has seemingly become a society that squashes creativity by camouflaging indoctrination as education, it baffles my mind that people are bewildered as to how our country arrived at its current state of anti intellectualism and creative decay. It seems to me that we have built an entire education system predicated on good grades and the regurgitation of knowledge, which, if you've ever watched HBO's Assume The Position with Robert Wuhl, you know that most of what is taught as American history is at best sensationalized and at worst wholly fictional.

The problem with creativity in America is that most people don't know what creativity is. Creativity is usually defined as: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc. Sir Ken Robinson, who has spent a great deal of time pointing out the short comings of an outdated educational system, defines it simply as, “the process of having original ideas that have value.” The common misconception is that creativity is localized, that it only exists in certain “gifted” people. The reason we have this misconception is because our educational system isolates creative thinking to the humanities, and fails to see that creativity is utilized in all schools of thought. Any individual at, or striving toward, the pinnacle of his discipline must be an innovator. They must create original ideas in order to evolve within their disciple and within their society.

We've indoctrinated people to think that only some people are creative, and that “I'm not one of them.”. It breaks my heart when I'm drawing out in a bar and someone tells me they can't draw, or that they use to draw but now they can only draw stick figures, and that, “You’re very talented”. Usually I'll respond that what they perceive as “talent” is nothing more than the ability to let go. The most important part of the creative process is taking chances. When I draw I take a chance, I experiment by trying something new and unknown. This is a process that comes naturally to a child. Children aren't afraid to take chances, they're not afraid of being “wrong”, because the concept of right or wrong does not exists in their pure state of enchantment.

In psychology there is a state of being called the “Oceanic Feeling”. This idea came to fruition during a correspondence between Sigmund Freud and Romain Rolland. After reading The Future of an Illusion Romain Rolland wrote to Freud: "By religious feeling, what I mean—altogether independently of any dogma, any Credo, any organization of the Church, any Holy Scripture, any hope for personal salvation, etc.—the simple and direct fact of a feeling of 'the eternal' (which may very well not be eternal, but simply without perceptible limits, and as if oceanic).

This feeling is in truth subjective in nature. It is a contact." Rolland believed that this feeling was the root of all religious energy.

I would like to expand on Rolland’s idea by purposing that many of our external spiritual practices may be an attempt to fill the void that the “oceanic feeling”, which we possessed as children, once filled. And it is this specific sensation, which Rolland described as, “an indissoluble bond, of being one with the external world as a whole” which may motivate many of our spiritual practices. I would also speculate that what may make artists unique is their ease at reconnecting with the purity of this spiritual state of consciousness, allowing them to commune with something wholly unknown and possibly eternal. This may be why visual artists feel compelled to draw, writers write poetry, and religious folk pray and attend church. Likewise, as appreciators of art we may be connecting with this feeling whenever we attend a gallery, read a book or watch a film. The methodology may be different but the emotional and spiritual content may very well be the same.

As a result, Freud mentions this correspondence in his book Civilization and Its Discontents, and postulated that this oceanic feeling may dwell within in the primitive ego and, as a result of assimilation; it inevitably fades to a "shrunken residue" as a child is indoctrinated to accept consensus reality. The development of the ego is necessary for a child, but I think the western tendency to overvalue the ego has lead the west to lose touch with the unconscious inner world, which is just as important. So it is possible that practicing any spiritual discipline be that drawing, writing, meditation or prayer, may aid in balancing these two worlds. Our insistence on teaching children to pass the standardized tests such as those erected by “No Child Left Behind” have superseded any space given for such pursuits and allowed creative outlets within our school system to disappear like rain forests, and as a result have robbed the children of this great nation of essential outlets for their inner existence.

I guess you could say I'm a optimist because I feel that everyone can be creative, but this is not an opinion this is a fact. We know that everyone at some point in their life has drawn, sang, danced or acted. The problem is that we've been indoctrinating people to believe that if you can't do something exceptionally well then you shouldn't do it at all. All children draw, color, sing and dance but as they grow up we steer them away from these activities by stigmatizing them with the idea of the starving artist. We narrow a child's focus by preparing them to direct all of their energy toward a career, more specifically a financially stable career, without realizing that the creative skills someone is taught in the arts can be applied to other disciplines as well. Academics and standardized testing often do little to teach a child to think outside the box and tend to terrify them into confining themselves within said box.

In his now famous TED talks Robinson told the stories about Gillian Lynne, a choreographer who is famous for "Cats," and "Phantom of the Opera", and a firefighter who transcended his teachers dissuasion. In the first story Lynne explained an experience in which her school thought she had a learning disability because she couldn't sit still in class. Thankfully the doctor that her mother took her to realized that she couldn't sit still because she wanted to dance, and that the action of moving actually helped her think. That was in the 40's, and Robinson pointed out that in this current educational climate a child in Lynn's shoes would probably be diagnosed with A.D.D. The story of the firefighter is about a similar adversity, in this case the firefighter already knew what he wanted to do with his life, but a teacher told him that he was throwing his life away if that was what he chose to do with it. The firefighter went on to tell Robinson, during a book signing, that 6 months ago he saved that teacher and his wife from a car wreck, and stated that, “I think he thinks better of me now.”

These stories are the precursors to how our current educational system has descended into a banal and outdated system, that is slowly becoming irrelevant. If a school can't teach our children to read, rationalize, and think creatively, while at the same time helping them to discover their true talents, not the ones we try to map on to them, then what good are they? Robinson said that “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”, This statement seems to reiterate the fear that on our current course, creativity and innovation, will slowly become a residue in this culture, something that we use to possess but has now faded away; a residual effect of a once prosperous and advanced country. It seems as though, even though we may have good teachers out there, that the system is set up in a way to promote failure by encouraging people to go to college for all the wrong reasons. One of which, ranked highest in a recent poll, was to make a lot of money. So now we have young adults going to college, selecting majors that don't emphasize their talents, and leaving our country with more disenfranchised students becoming dropouts, unemployed with a 50,000 dollar bachelor's degree or unfulfilled by a job they may excel at, but which fails to feed their passions in life.

We can keep doing the same thing over and over again, reform after reform, or we can create a new model, a new paradigm, that encourages people to discover their talents and passions, before they attend college. I've always found it quite disconcerting that our system seems to have no payout until you pay in, but, hey, I guess that's America. What I mean by that is, to a degree, it seems as though primary schools are more occupied with getting students ready for college then getting them ready for life, and for good reason. Let's face it, with the price we pay with degree inflation, you have to start as early as possible, right? We all know by now an Associate degree is worthless, and a Bachelor's is becoming worthless, it’s really just a matter of time, as is always the case with inflation. It’s as though we've created a system that digs its own grave on a day to day basis by applying ideologies about education that are over 200 years old. Is this what this country has become? Nothing more than a banal unoriginal landscape of conformity built on perpetuating a model of unquestioned ideas and ideologies, which prevents any real paradigm shift from ever taking place? Or have we just lost focus, and don't give a shit anymore?

-The Dead Guy

1 comment:

  1. I do agree that we need to encourage kids to find their own creative sweet spots and abilities, but perhaps the idea that college is a pursuit that should be at the service of a specified job which is chosen before one walks through the door is outdated as well. What if we returned to a more traditional undergraduate system where the focus was on helping students to be well rounded in their undergraduate education? Maybe a system which encourages exploration instead of specialization would be more helpful to students and societies as a whole.