Recently, my English 11Honours students read an excerpt from A.A. Milne's classic Winnie the Pooh story, Rabbit's Busy Day. Before anyone gets too excited about my literature selections for grade 11s, they should consider that this story has a very grown up subtext about education, its value, and its impact on imagination. In it Rabbit wonders where Christopher Robin has disappeared to in the mornings. Piglet and Eyeore each observe and express opinions about a letter A. Piglet thinks it might be some sort of a trap. Eyeore regards it as "A great and glorious A" something of tremendous value to the educated, until he is disillusioned by discovering that A "is something a Rabbit knows'.
Class discussion on this reading raised the idea that formal schooling often stifles imagination and creativity. Several students submitted written responses on the theme that public education in the 21st century needs to promote creativity, not smother it with more formal or outdated instruction.
With the students permission here is a listing of some of their ideas.
1. School pressures children to grow up too fast. The expectation that they should know what they want to be in life by their teens comes way too soon.
2. In kindergarten students write stories and draw pictures. By grade 8 the stories have stopped and students are thrown into the bitter world of the 5 paragraph expository essay. School starts creative fires just to choke them out again.
3. Schools need to provide alternate pathways to learning. The accomplished artist isn't always great at math, but aren't both skills valauble?
4. Students are to told to grow up and put away their arts and crafts and yet some teachers still treat them like children. Perhaps the system needs to get its messaging straight!
5. Educators need to stop forbidding drawings or art that depicts violence or death. War is a modern reality and death is part of life. Pretending these things don't exist does little to prepare students to cope with them.
6. Teachers need to let students think for themselves rather than always tell them what to think. Sometimes even well intentioned instruction can close minds rather than open them.
7. Grading practices need to change. The current percentage letter grade system of ranking can cause a student to feel stupid when potentially they could be a genius in another way.
8. Bring more music into classrooms while students are working. Some learn better to a rhythm, others find it a calming force and still others can find inspiration in a familiar or favorite song.
9. Allow more sharing of lives like the show and tells that happened in primary. Not being able to share and connect with teachers and other adults can lead to the build up of tremendous personal pressures, sometimes with tragic circumstances.
10. Students should not be pressured to feel worthless or to feel they need to change their views on creativity. Students should not be called out based on grades, race, gender or physical attributes. Such interactions make students feel like its not ok to be creative and just themselves. By urging conformity teachers can suppress the urge to create for years.
The students have some notable supporters. Scholars like John Abbott and Sir Ken Robinson are also spreading a similar message. In a recent visit to Fort St John, John Abbott spoke of the instinctive need for adolescents to do things for themselves. His views are outlined further in his book "Overschooled but Undereducated". Sir Ken's views can be seen by viewing the TED talk Schools kill Creativity, where he speaks to the challenge of using the methods of the past to sort out an unknowable future. These creative thinkers are recognized world wide for their innovative ideas. It should be exciting to know that we have access to minds every bit as clever right here in our own schools. Our students have strong opinions on how to better their education. Our challenge will be to listen to them and act on their advice!