Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Oh, my favorite kids are always the rebels."

Sure they are.

All sorts of teachers say this. Even more say that they value creativity in their students. They genuinely believe this. But as we know, what we serve with our lips is not always what we treasure in our hearts.

A new study, which I found via Mind Hacks and The Frontal Cortex, reports that while school teachers self-report that they love creative students, when they actually describe the students they deem their own favorites and least favorites, it turns out to be the least favorites who sound for all the world like kids who in any other context would be called--creative.

There's more than one explanation for this, of course, but education theorist Sir Ken Robinson thinks it's in part because we educate our children to be "successful" or to "compete" in today's world, rather than to create tomorrow's. Robinson's presentation on this topic at TED is a bit on the laugh-a-minute side, but the substance is there and worth thinking long and hard about.

Peter Gray has another take on why public schools are as they are. After my last post on education, Richard mentioned an article by Gray. I've read Gray before but hadn't read this article. The readers' comments, as is so often the case on the web, are a frustrating mixture of mutual-admiration and catcalls from the peanut gallery, with the occasional well-thought-out (though hardly dispassionate) demurral. There were even one or two from people who said they'd gone to Sudbury Valley and felt it hadn't been the paradise it's sometimes said to be (imagine). But one, which I paraphrase, struck home with me. Yes, schools are more or less prisons--this is merely the consequence of not dodging the real meaning of "compulsory education"--but to really fix this would require extraordinary changes, not just in schools but in our whole societal structure. It is not simply a matter of better teachers, or better curriculum, or even replacing public schools everywhere with something more like Sudbury. The educational system is of a piece with the alignment of our national economy, our political systems local and national, our whole vision of ourselves as a society. To challenge it is to call for very deep-ranging practical steps that would (if ever implemented) change the way we live.

Beyond which, of course, it is also to challenge people's values--and God knows, nothing will get you in trouble faster than implying that people could do with rethinking their child-rearing decisions.

And, of course, it challenges our self-images. This, too, is a practical and not just a theoretical question. After all, if I don't really value the creativity in children that I say I do--if I don't know myself well enough to know what I really value--then how well do I even know what I am teaching?


  1. I tend to not assume that our education is failing, but rather that it is doing exactly what it is meant to, for each of the classes that encounter it. It is this way with things that become entrenched against change or "improvement". Such things are probably already doing their job very well, its just that we don't have a very clear picture of what that job is.

  2. John Taylor Gatto has a pretty clear notion of what he thinks the job is. But you're right, I think, that the job is different depending on social class. Gatto's critique is mainly focused on the middle and lower classes.