The American education system is quasi non-existent as an institution, but very prevalent as a style. Perhaps we need to reconstruct the question to:
Is the American style of public education system taking away creativity?
That being established as a more provocative question, we can now get down to the nitty-gritty, so to speak, about what teachers are experiencing and about what is happening as the results of the efforts. Teachers have the task to educate, enlighten, and to apprentice their students to foundational education. Administrators have the task to provide a supportive school culture atmosphere in which teaching and learning can take place productively. The problems as I have experienced and witnessed from being a provider and consumer of public education is that the conflict arises in the tests and measurements as growth indicators for learning, and how these instruments are used to promote accountability as the schools’ official profiles.
When the administrators are leaned on from their supervisors and superintendents to raise those test profile scores, the administrators pass the word and the pressure on to the teachers to do the same. The modes now adopted are the assembly line modes of teaching, which has been already pointed out, that are not productive with today’s students. The productivity in this assembly line approach of drill-kill gets immediate results, not long term results. Long term results carry over into the next grade level. Immediate results look good on the current state mandated exams per grade level. It is all trickle down. The results is that you have a mix of teachers who pass the pressures on to the children, and the children lose interest because learning is no longer fun. Given the current situation of when No Child Left Behind was instituted, we now have elementary schools and middle schools filed with children who look forward to drill kill, and their own mental constitutions can’t take it! We are working with a different strand of children. The students in their later years of senior high school are the last of the breed that escaped NCLB.
For some reason, there is a prevalent thought that creative teaching, and allowing creativity as a learning motivator does not work. Hence the substituting for the drill kill modality of teaching and learning. Drills have their place. However, it should not be all over the place. Just as one would not use a hammer as the tool for every job, so should the use of drills be employed accordingly. At the same time, let’s not get overwhelmed with total creativity. There needs to be a balance in the framework a teacher uses in the classroom.
As a teacher, I can say that those of us who really know what works use the renegade method regardless: We use what works for longterm gain. The upside is that these students will remember what they learned when they reach the next grade level because there are enough hooks of prior experience with the subject matter to make further excursions of learning more meaningful. The downside is that the immediate state standards testing per reporting quarter might not reflect that. How often have students returned to me in the 7th grade to remind me of what I had taught them about a moment in history, science, or in reading strategies, so say that it really was true, and that now they really understand more. These are the types of knowledge bytes that are not measured on a standardized test.
In the college education courses teachers and prospective teachers are taught and motivated to create lessons that inspire the creativity of students in order to learn specific skills, and apply specific skills. However, on the job, we put those skills sets on hold to do the drill kill. Teach it (lecture), drill it, test it.
As a reward, take away recess (documented all over the place in various school districts across the nation, with no other physical activity increased.)What happens to the child who does not learn well with drill-kill alone? What happens to the child who learns best by application then synthesizes the information targets based on the guided creative learning experiences? That child scores poorly on the mandated testing because the mandated testing tests on only one modality of learning.
This is what is happening in public education! It is up to us, the teachers on the battlefield, front line learning, to continue the revolution of teaching. Unfortunately it is a difficult and very risky business to teach this way. We have to balance the amount of time in which we have to actually teach with the other items on the agenda that have been abandoned by parents, all in the regular 6 hour school day. Those items now in our jurisdiction as teachers include snack time, parent dropping in unannounced for conferences time, health checks for head lice, counseling and behavior modification services, character education services, negotiations of emotions and civility lessons, lunch time and after school tutor, as well as baby sitter for students who missed the school bus at 2:30, and the parent cannot arrive until 5:30, not to mention referee of brawls that were set up on the playground and continue attitudinally in the classroom after any recess of unstructured activity; space environment issues from classrooms crowding in more students that the classroom was built to contain comfortably, jostling with space for multiple learning centers and comfy conference centers for collaborative discussions. We have students who are the parents at home, parenting their adults. We have students who are from homes where education is still in the assembly line mode and the parents want to instruct the teachers on how to teach.
Additionally we have parents who defy the teachers and want to beat up the teacher because they are teaching their children to think differently than from what the parent was used to when the parent spent troublesome times at school as a child.
We have parents who want to come and illegally snatch their child from the school premises to get back at a spouse or significant other. We have children coming in with more documented special education issues, that need to be identified officially, but their parents refuse because they don’t want their child labeled.
We have more children with identified specific special education and emotional issues, who require counseling services during the school day. It seems as if the population of regular education children is shrinking in the public schools. We have less time available during the school week, the school day, to work on the academics, yet we are still using the same system of evaluation (not assessing) for children’s benchmark progress. The students coming in today are from a totally different environment of electronic mental stimulators than from 10 years ago: computer games, electronic hand held immediate gratification games; kill the opponent electronic games; babysitter TV. Their attention spans are different. Their communication skills are different, and in many cases, lacking. Their attention to task spans are shorter.
I think this remind us too often of the blueberry story in which a businessman presented his view of how teachers need to teach, in the fashion of which his blueberry business turns out impeccable products. The difference being, in public education is that we have to take whatever blueberries that come to us, rejecting none. And working with what we have, we are expected to turn out impeccable products of totally brilliant test scoring students.
The move to more inclusion of special needs children into the regular education classroom is now afoot. These students must now work at the same pace as the regular education children, and meet the same expectations as the regular education children on the same time schedule. We are using a system that defies and contradicts itself across the board. The reporting system of amassed results that constitute a school’s profile perhaps need to be reexamined. We are using a baseline of the assembly line culture for a different learning process that gives different results.
Perhaps we as educators need to be looking at what we want to see as the end results in terms of the patterns of what is now a differently or newly established baseline.
Are students still learning and retaining the same benchmarks of education at the same rate or are there markedly different results that repeat each time? In our teaching practices, are we encouraging creative thinking strategies and problem solving for the long term, or only focusing on the strategies that get us through the immediate testing at hand? Are we saying one thing to save face, and practicing another just to cover our basis? Contradictions of theory and practice abound, and have us in the pickle we are in.
Are we measuring the overall achievement per grade level across the grade or per content area in a given span of time in school? Learning is now more of a smorgasbord. Stay in the smorgasbord room long enough and you will sample all of the foods on the menu at the pace in which you can digest it. However, to define that stay to say you didn’t meet the standard of the smorgasbord in under an hour day after day, is defying the purpose of the smorgasbord menu.
The psychometrics of testing needs to be developed and presented differently to address the diversity of learning strategies multiple learning intelligences. More importantly adding to that, we need as a public education system to employ the tests and measurement strategies that do now soak up the teacher’s time in grading the tests but in assisting the teachers to deal with the results in the ways in which we know will get more productive and positive learning results. Every school district has learning results to address, the expectations of learning outcomes of different levels of education. Of course, those also must be re-examined as the bench markers of progress.
Lastly, in the American public education system, test makers, school board members and superintendents need to spend time in classrooms as substitute teachers for at least 3 days. The first day, the students want to create a good impression. The second day,the students have a good read on the substitute teacher already. The third day, the honeymoon is over and the real students come out. That’s when the substitute teacher or visitor gets to see the real classroom in action. They need to spend time in the reality of the teacher’s world in order to effectively consider how their policies will affect the education industry. The American system of education allows for a great diversity of learning styles, learning goals and targets, and learning outcomes. It is the American public education system that needs work, that needs to listen to the teachers. As I was told, one time, teachers don’t have the authority to make policy, only deliver practice. In the public education arena, unless administration listens to teachers, unless teachers are permitted to go beyond teaching in the box, we will get the same old results, and more frustration. Unless the ancillary activities such as counseling and instrument lessons are held outside of the school day into an extended school day, we will have students present at school, but absent for academics. Interesting: students are not allowed to miss gym, but can be pulled out of class at other times. Gym art, and music. Those are another essential set of good items to explore, with their own series of issues good, bad, and ugly.