Friday, July 17, 2009

Things That Make Us Say "Hmm!"

“My teacher made me stupider.” I read it on a bumper sticker. Is it true? As teachers* do we contribute to our children's intelligence or are we making them stupider? Creativity is the ability to produce original thought. Is there any higher level of thinking than creativity? At what age does our creativity soar? When my son was three, he constantly questioned, he explored, he delved and he burst forth with original thoughts. Some of his thoughts were not original to the world but they were all original to him. Now my son is thirty. He is an intelligent man but he does not have the same thirst for learning that he had when he was three. Why? Do we naturally lose our thirst for learning and our creativity as we mature and make sense of the world or is that creativity squelched by well-meaning adults? When we say to a child, “Sit down. Shut up. Now unscrew the lid on your head and stay still while I pour from the pitcher of knowledge.” are we making the child smarter or stupider? To what degree should our children be coddled and organized by adults and to what degree should they be free to explore and discover? At what point does it become counterproductive to instruct and guide a child? How can one be a teacher or responsible parent without extinguishing the flame that glows within a small child? Under what conditions could my son have grown up to be more creative at thirty than he was at three? Comments, anyone!

*Teachers = Anyone who instructs (i.e. parents, grandparents, school teachers )


  1. If it makes you feel any better, I find myself to be considerably more creative now than I ever was in school. I think my teachers tried to equip me for creativity but I wasn't really interested then.

    I can now fall back on the things I learned then to have confidence in trying new stuff. I'm pretty sure C is the same way. He's doing things like woodworking so I think he is probably still creative, just in different ways.

  2. This comment was emailed to me by a friend. I wanted to include it here:

    Consider the ways students, if left to make sense on the situation, combine quantities above 10 so get a total. They have all kinds of ways of keeping track of the tens they create. Then teachers come along and tell them that the way they make sense is WRONG. There is only one way to 'see' this situation; the teacher's way. The student MUST learn the teacher's way to do addition with regrouping/carrying, whether or not it makes sense. Then teachers make students practice something that may in fact be not only counter-intuitive, but even not make any sense. Students must practice it over and over until they can do it 'right'. If they struggle, teachers make them do it more times, and often accompany the practice with somewhat frustrated reattempts to show the student how to do it 'right'.

    The result is that students learn at a very early age to NOT make sense of their world, that it is okay, even desirable, to do things that do not make sense to them, and that if they cannot 'get it', they should find some way to 'get it right' [cheat?] SO THAT they can regain the love and approval of their teachers.

    Do teachers make their students stupid? Yup. Who (let alone what 6 or 7 year old) would have the guts to be creative amid such disapproval?

  3. Dear Rhonda,
    In my opinion, British schools allowed my children to be more creative. Teachers would routinely say, "Now, go have a think." When we got back to the US, it was all about filling in bubbles on standardized tests. I ached for my kids. Teachers in the US say, "Now, go get to work." In the school where I teach, daring teachers teach creatively. But, it's a scary way to teach because you lose control of the outcome and that state standardized test is coming in March. The teachers who are nervy enough to teach creatively actually tend to have better test scores than the "sit and get" teachers. But you must have good teacher mentors to have the nerve to teach creatively. Judy

  4. In my opinion, ideas should be allowed to have a life of their own. It is when several known things are combined, re-arranged in the mind, and the results expressed that creativity takes place. This playing with ideas inside the mind takes time. Going and having a think requires time. Allowing time for reflection, or even legitimatizing such an activity, is where we fall short.