As an educator in the high school system, I’m often faced with challenges in helping students complete the prescribed curriculum,while encouraging an engagement, on their part, with the wider world. It’s one of the hardest tasks a teacher can attempt, but when you gleam isolated pockets of success it’s certainly the most rewarding. A large part of this engagement with the world is tied, I believe, to creative thinking and problem solving ability, but all too often students, rather than attacking issues head on, tend to shut down or disconnect themselves from whatever is happening in the classroom in favour of a focus on their own lives and interests.
And, really, how can you blame them? They’ve been taught since they were young and wide-eyed that there’s a right and wrong answer to each question and that their value as a problem solver relies on them finding one particular, pre-determined solution. If they haven’t found that response, no matter the effort or outside-the-box style thinking they do, they aren’t considered successful, or at least not as successful as their peers, who did get the “right answer”.
By the time these children reach high school, they’ve been conditioned to think that they will probably be wrong in giving an answer, or that it’s probably not worth the risk to put themselves out there and participate actively in discussion. Somewhere along the way risk-taking and understanding that mistakes are crucial in discovery and learning have been “educated” out of them. How sad is that?
I’ve been interested in this topic more and more lately and don’t want to suggest that I have a magic solution to the problem, but I do believe there are people out there, education thinkers, who are attempting to grapple with this problem. One of the most engaging speakers I’ve heard is Sir Ken Robinson, who has been studying creativity and education’s role in it with an eye towards the future. He’s done a series of talks on the topic and I’ll share one with you from the TED conferences. Decide for yourself if he’s on the right track, but one thing for certain is that something has to change for the good of students and their futures.