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No, the title is not a reference to my students, though they did talk a lot today. I will come back to that at the end of this reflection, which instead begins with two ‘professional’ evaluations of modern education. I place professional in quotations because the professionals themselves poke fun of academia and perhaps would not want to be cited as the ultimate opinion on education, but I myself (and the decidors behind Ken Robinson’s knighthood) consider their views to be esteemed ones.

The first breakdown is a TED talk by the renowned Sir Ken Robinson, a British educationalist who was knighted in 2003 for his services. Here, he asks “Do schools kill creativity?”, and then provides a resounding affirmative answer.

Some of my favorite quotes from Robinson’s talk:

  • “My contention is all kids have tremendous talents, and we squander them.”
  • “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
  • “Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go; they’re not frightened of being wrong. I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
  • “We’re educating people out of their creative capacities.”
  • “Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects: At the top are the mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts.”
  • “If you were to visit education as an alien and say, “what’s it for?”…you’d have to conclude that the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors…[who] look at their body as a form of transport for their heads. It’s about getting their head to meetings.”
  • “The whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance, and the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at in school wasn’t valued or was highly sigmatized.”
  • And, for comic relief, “Shakespeare was in someone’s English class, wasn’t he? How annoying would that be?”

In my work as an English instructor over the past five years, I’ve seen two main styles of teaching: those that correct every single error that students make in the hopes of perfecting their English, and those that let up on grammar in favor of conversation. Don’t get me wrong, grammar is highly important in communication, especially at advanced levels, but at the base, we need to know how to learn with each other on a much more exploratory level. Verb conjugations don’t necessarily help a child effectively communicate his emotions, though they can be useful in articulated speech.

Knowing that the mere thought of error tends to mummify students, I personally prefer lively discussion without putting too much emphasis on grammar. I also, however, recognize that this year my role as ‘assistant’ does not make me solely responsible for test scores, thus granting me more freedom for exploratory education. And that acknowledgement makes me wonder if our classrooms need a rebooting away from national exams and towards holistic education. How does one implement such a program? How does one change long-standing educational tradition? Perhaps Robinson has the answers, though they do not appear in this particular TED talk.

On a separate but vaguely similar note, NPR recently highlighted the psychologist who coined the term ‘grit’, Angela Duckworth, and her term’s use in education. There is controversy about whether or not ‘grit’ should be spoken of in schools as being an exceptionally admirable quality, for fear of isolating more temperate spirits, but instructors generally agree that the easy road is not the best one for students.

My preferred ideas from NPR’s feature:

  • “But I’ll say from our experience in the school, I see [kids learning to be grittier] all the time. … You can create a classroom culture in which struggle and risk-taking is valued more than just getting the right answer.”
  • “One of the sayings that you hear around here a great deal is, ‘If our kids have graduated from here with nothing but success, then we have failed them, because they haven’t learned how to respond to frustration and failure.'”

I don’t know how to teach are kids to be creative and ‘gritty’; that is to say, I don’t know how to convince them that grades, are unimportant in the face of self exploration and realization (I myself not accepting this idea until ‘adulthood’). I am certainly happy that the debate is open for discussion. Where industrialization once drove us to produce assembly line schoolkids, modern industry is moving away from cookie cutter suburbia and towards creative entrepreneurship. Ignorning all the other implications of our changing society, it has at least caused us to question how we educate future generations. I’ll leave you with a quote I learned this weekend: Jean Renoir (the film directing son of the famous painter) in reference to his father’s philosophy on creativity and childhood.

-Comment? Vous laissez raconter à votre fils des contes de fées, des mensonges?
Il va croire que les bêtes parlent!
-Mais elles parlent!, repondit mon père.

-What? You tell your son fairy tales, lies?
He is going to think that beasts talk!
-Oh, but they do talk!, my father replied.