As a teacher of the gifted, I have been trying for years to teach children how to teach themselves. With a master’s degree in administration and counseling, I have not only been involved in the day to day operation of teaching children but also the academic enhancement of my field. Leaders of large institutions lament daily about the lack of creativity in today’s youth. This will be the downfall of our country. But, why is it so difficult to stimulate the creative minds of our children?
First of all, they have immersed themselves in the creative vacuum of commercialism. Rather than creating for themselves, it is being created for them, packaged, and marketed for monetary comsumption by big business. When I ask them to create something of their own I usually get something that resembles the latest craze whether it comes from the movies they watch or television that drones constantly in the background of most homes. In other words, they have not learned how to create for themselves.
In the gifted population, 60% of our children come from the concrete sequestial, organized, perfect child or student category. Every teacher loves to teach them and most schools welcome them with open arms and permits. They bring up test scores. If the gifted program is based on the curriculum only, they are the ones who are successful. But, there is one problem, they learn how to master multiple choice questions only. When you ask them to fill an empty page with something of their own, they freeze and so do their parents. The anxiety that comes from moving away from their comfort zone into the unknown is alarming. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to counsel a crying child just because I asked him or her to complete something that is new for them. Now, the slogan in my classroom is, “If we’re making mistakes we are learning”, because of the anxiety level experienced by these children. Sometimes I think they would be better off in the regular classroom at a higher level. If they are determined and not easily distracted, they might become a doctor but not a very good one. They will not have learned how to analyze and synthesize the information and then come up with a solution that is unique for each person. In other words, they have not learned how to create for themselves.
I will never forget a gifted student I taught at one school. He had already given up on the system by the second grade. His teacher moved him to the side or the rooom so he wouldn’t bother the other students and he was constantly in trouble. I came to the school mid-year, replacing a teacher that was on sabatical. This had been a gift to me bacause I began teaching at that school and the principal believed that I knew what I was doing. The first thing I did was ask the students to write and illustrate a story. My one requirement was, for the illustration, the entire page must be filled. I have repeatedly had to explain to the students that everything around us has a color. This is also my way to push them out of their comfort zone into the unknown of creativity. As an assessement tool, I can easily see where they are with their writing skills. It always elicits extreme anxiety in the concrete sequential child and allows my creative child to soar. They also learn from each other. Eventually, all of the students start taking chances with their right brain and find all sorts of surprises.
Getting back to my second grader. After a series of exercises designed to open them up to the vast recesses of their own minds, I took a yearly assignment from the teacher I was replacing and asked them to expand it. Every year she had them research information from the Encyclopedia and write a report. Keep in mind, there is a wealth of information on the internet that is accessible to us now. All of them were working very hard on their note cards writing down information. I looked at what the first grader was writing and was astounded at the level of the information. Deciding to find out for myself if she really knew what she was writing or just regergitating information from the book, I asked her what the information meant. In other words, put this information into your own words. She said, “I don’t know.” At that point I knew we had a problem. I promptly told the students we were going to do something different with the information this year. I instructed them to come up with a few facts in their own words and then create a powerpoint presentation with graphics to present their information. This was great for the technology teacher because it justified the wonderful computers that were just waiting to be used. Most of the students froze. I had to meet with one of the parents because she was so concerned about the anxiety I was creating in her two daughters. If my principal hadn’t believed in me the project would have ended at this point and I would have been reprimanded or even worse, threatened with dismissal over parental disapproval. This is common because anxiety in children usually comes from parents who also want their children to be perfect.
We were allowed to continue and once a week we got on the computers to create our masterpieces. All of the students except my second grader had chosen very general, ordinary topics such as bears or lions. He had chosen cartoonists. He already knew where he was going in life. When the projects were complete and we were showing them to other students, his was by far the most complex and detailed powerpoint. Although he didn’t have enough time to complete what he was working on, it was wonderful. I told his mother that the public school system was not the place for him. He needed a school that would allow him to develop his creativity with a hands-on approach to education. I hope she found a place for him and I still wonder what happened to this lost, little boy.
When I can, I teach summer school for the experience of working with a different population of children. I always find at least one gifted child who probably fits the category of my second grader, too active in the classroom. By the time they get to me, only intensive tutoring will get them up to speed with their skills. These are the kids who are dropping out of school. They no longer believe in themselves and neither does anyone else. Parents, if you have a child who fits this profile, have them tested at a young age and then find an educational enviornment that will help them find their path. They are probably the ones who will help us solve our energy crisis.