Education was a luxury of the aristocracy, but in the 18th century the revolutionary idea that education should be offered to the masses began to take hold, leading to a rapid growth of schools colleges and universities. While education has been a fact of life for most of us for the past three centuries, our concepts of intelligence and of intellectual success (in school) have not undergone a major transformation since then. However, the world has.
Our education system has its roots in the age of enlightenment. The goal was to create an egalitarian society by educating citizens to reason for themselves. This was a pretty big idea, and must have been threatening notion to the nobles and Church leaders of the time who up until that period were the main disseminators of “truth.” Knowledge really IS power.
So, our modern college curriculum evolved from this period of thought. Later, with the dawn of the industrial revolution in the early 19th century, concepts like problem solving skills, business acumen, and innovation (which came from people like Henry Ford) were introduced to help support the evolving industrial market.
If you think about what your children are being taught in school today, they are all taught the core fundamentals: mathematics, science, literature, language, vocabulary, composition, and history. Art, music and foreign languages have been around, but usually rank secondary in importance. And these non-core subjects have become increasingly under scrutiny in today’s time of budget cutting. So it seems that our curriculum is decidedly aimed at the LEFT side of our brains. This is what we measure on the SAT and ACT tests, and how we mainly define success for students across the land.
The priorities, reflected in our education system, match our value systems as a society, too. The jobs that rely on these analytic skills pay the most money. (Just check out this list of the 15 highest paying jobs in 2011.) Dancers, actors, musicians, and artists do not make the list. While we all want our kids to pursue their dreams . . . whatever they are . . . don’t most of us cringe a little when our kids say they want to pursue an artistic career path?
However, in spite of our LEFT BRAIN bias in our schools, the evidence suggests that at least US kids in the US do not perform well. In the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) comparison, American students ranked 21st out of 30 in science literacy among students from developed countries and 25th out of 30 in math literacy. On the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math tests, 4th graders showed no signs of progress for the first time in many years, and 8th graders tallied only modest evidence of progress.
In response, there seems to be a renewed call for more and better focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The White House calls the initiative Educate to Innovate.
As a person with multiple degrees in engineering, I certainly appreciate the ideas behind this new call for education reform, but I wonder if something else is missing?
Today, more is being written about the need for more innovation, and why innovation and creativity are suppressed in our schools and our society. If we truly want an age of innovation, then don’t we want to educate the RIGHT side of our kid’s brains as well (where creativity is thought to reside)?
That’s exactly the conclusion the State of California may be coming to. In his article It’s All About Creativity, San Diego State University professor John Eger describes new initiatives in California intended to transform classrooms by incorporating the arts and creative education.
Eger reports that there is currently a bill before the State Senate (number 789) which calls for the Governor to create a school “creativity index” on the premise that if you can’t measure it, you can’t tell if you are making progress.
The thinking in California is not about adding more arts classes to the curriculum, but about integrating arts into the remainder of the curriculum. This seems a revolutionary idea, and California does not seem to be alone.
Professor Eger writes, “This movement by California matches the legislation signed by the governor of Massachusetts last spring, and is much like a bill working its way through the state legislature in Oklahoma to also establish a creativity index. Equally significant, Maine, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Colorado and Wisconsin are beginning similar discussions and Nebraska is getting itself organized, according to CreativeChallenge, Inc., which monitors creativity discussions worldwide. The group notes that Seoul, Korea, and Alberta and Edmonton in Canada — and probably other cities and nations around the world — are following these efforts closely.”
Perhaps this makes sense. Some of you may recall reading the book called The Jobs Revolution: Changing How America Works, former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley predicts, “The top 10 in-demand jobs in the future don’t exist today. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”
It seems like time to rethink what and how we teach.
Other related articles: