Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Stifling of Creativity vs. Rules and Standards

I keep seeing articles online about how we must encourage creative thinking in our children by not expecting them to do "busy work".  I read an article by the grandmother of a five-year-old boy, complaining about the developmentally inappropriate and stifling homework he was given by his teacher.  When I first read it, I was in complete agreement. 

Then I read the comments, several of which came from seasoned kindergarten teachers who explained the reasons for such homework.   As I read the woman's article, I nodded in agreement, but then I read the comments and agreed with those as well.

It is a complicated issue.  Where is the line between practice, which can at times be tedious and even boring, and the true stifling of creativity? At what point are kids expected to hone skills, such as the fine motor skills of writing without it being considered as squashing their creative juices? Must they always have leeway to color outside the lines?

I understand the complaints about how creativity is stifled.  They interpret the routines and structures of public school as taking away the freedom to be creative.  They argue that creativity is stifled because of these rules and these standards.

But I can also understand why there are such standards and rules in place.  If there aren't standards, then how do we teach groups of children at each age level?  If there aren't rules regarding the standards and the methods, how do we assess them and determine if they are learning what we believe they should learn?  In the lower grades, kids need a foundation on which to build.  They need to develop basic skills of writing and reading so those skills become so routine, they don't even think about them later, they just do them.  Is it truly unfair to require a 5-year-old boy to develop the fine motor skills with which to write words?  Is it ridiculous to teach him what a sentence is and once that has been taught, continue to reinforce it by requiring him to use proper punctuation?

This makes education, specifically public education (which involves teaching more than one student at a time by one teacher), a difficult challenge.  While we want to encourage creativity and instill a love of learning in the students, there must be standards and rules to give structure to all of it.

I disagree with large amounts of homework for very young kids, but I also understand why some of these teachers argued in favor of this homework. It is an attempt to get families to be involved in their child's education, since many families in certain socioeconomic groups do not get involved as much as the educator wishes they would.

But that is a separate issue.  Asking a child to draw thirteen boxes might seem meaningless and time wasting, but is it really that burdensome?  Most similar homework packets are assigned on a Monday and returned on a Friday, so if the child does a little every day, they get it done without it being a burden.  Will they be punished if they turn the boxes into robots?  Not likely.  Does drawing thirteen boxes really stifle creativity?  Does practicing penmanship force creativity out the window?  I don't believe that it does.

As in all other areas of life, there is a time and place.  In my experience, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to express themselves creatively in most of today's public schools.  If most parents who complain about this would spend a few days observing, they would see that there are opportunities.  You don't always see that on a homework assignment, especially at the kindergarten level where kids are learning those basic skills of writing and reading.  That doesn't mean they aren't doing activities at school that encourage creative thought. In my experience as a classroom teacher, an aide, and a parent volunteer in four states and several different schools, I have found that most schools, while they push hard for academics and testing, they also allow time for creative outlets.

While there are probably schools and situations where creativity truly does get stifled, I don't think something like a homework assignment requiring that a young child draw a few boxes is the problem.  Kids need to learn these basic skills and practice them so they will be prepared for more difficult learning in the future.  That doesn't mean they won't have other creative outlets throughout their day.  What we need to do is make sure that they do have those opportunities but not confuse the time that is necessary for practicing basic skills as taking away from the creative play of childhood.  Both are necessary components of child development.

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