Sidenote: This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote last year for my educational psychology class. I posted it on another blog last summer which is why it may seem familiar. I would also like to say that I am, in no way, blaming teachers for the flaws of the system. They work within the constraints of the system in the same way that students do. Most of them do the best with what they are given and I am truly grateful to all of the teachers who allowed me to express myself creatively. I wouldn’t be who I am without them.
On a day to day basis we are told to be creative and to ‘think outside of the box.’ We are told that only through creative thought can we find a single iota of true unblemished originality. We are told to be different and to reach further than anyone has ever reached before. We hear this repeatedly throughout our lives from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood; the problem, however, lies within the words that are left unspoken: creativity is acceptable and encouraged as long as it is within society’s rigid constraints. The moment we step beyond these constraints, creativity and original thought become the enemy and those who foster it are traitors and zealots.
In today’s world we are assaulted with rules and regulations that not only standardize the way in which we teach others, but the ways in which we think about and process the world around us. We are given specific guidelines for education and told to remain within them to avoid penalty. With the advent of standardized tests we find that teachers are forced to focus more heavily on grades than the creative development of their students. Test scores determine federal funding and federal funding plays a prominent role in the ability of educators to reach their potential with regards to quality. Without access to the tools necessary for a functional classroom setting, teachers are forced to provide a subpar level of education. In recent years not only have we witnessed numerous cuts in federal spending within the school systems, but also a gradual increase in the drop-out rates of adolescents, driving more schools to pressure their educators into raising test scores above all else.
Throughout our lives people tell us to be creative and to give life to our imaginations, but there are always conditions attached to such instructions. There are rules to be followed and expectations to be met. As we grow older it becomes abundantly clear that creative thought is only as valuable as the money it brings in. Time and time again our ideas are swept aside and ultimately discarded because they do not play a role in how we perform on standardized tests or in the workplace.
Educational speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, states that “we are educating people out of creativity” and my own personal experience compels me to agree with such a statement. Our standardization of the school system has diminished original thought and doomed us to a state of uniformity. Robinson maintains that much of the problem lies in the notion that students are not prepared to be wrong because they are bombarded with the notion that they must be right. While I cannot deny such a statement, I believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg. It hasn’t become a matter of whether or not students are prepared to be wrong; it has become a matter of whether or not they even have the opportunity to be wrong.
Trying is no longer an option; there is success and there is failure. All shades of gray, where creativity is born, are stripped away and discarded, leaving us to wonder about the individuals who cannot conform to such a system. How can we even begin to ignore the notion that some students may invariably suffer from this system? Studies have shown diversity among students on every possible level, from the physical to the cognitive. They have shown that students learn in a variety of ways and tactics that may work for some do not work for others. Students excel in various subject areas and the standardized tests we have become accustomed to barely touch upon some of these areas.
As an artistically-inclined individual I find it laughable that any school within this system could argue that they promote original thought and creative development. I spent the better part of my life ‘thinking outside of the box’ and being praised for my ingenuity while simultaneously being told that it was beyond the constraints of the assignment or the curriculum. I was forced to dull myself down and live within the lines that the school system drew for me. If I hadn’t been able to conform to society’s standards, I would have been left behind as so many others have.
When all is said and done, the fact of the matter is that we have created a school system that favors optimal standardized test scores over the creative maturation of its students. Instead of thinking outside of the box, we are left to fear ingenuity and originality because they do not align with what we have been taught. The question we are now left with is how to fix this problem before it has an even greater detrimental impact on students whose skills lie far beyond the realms of math and science.
First and foremost we must openly acknowledge that creativity has taken a back seat to test scores. We must also consider the fact that this may negatively impact numerous students that do not fit the school system’s mold of success. Finally we must strike a balance between the importance of standardized tests and individual thought. If we cannot work to eliminate the damage we have already done, we are left with a flawed system that impedes progress, promotes unyielding uniformity of thought, and reduces the flexible nature of creativity.
Until next time…stay classy.
– C.M. Berry
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