The important thing is not to stop questioning. – Einstein

Mind The Gap: Creativity vs. Content?

with 2 comments

Joanne Jacobs highlights a post at D-Ed Reckoning that questions the content of a hands-on “21st century” learning experience. Joanne’s second comment asks

“But why the endless “arts & crafts” fascination on the part of so many K-12 teachers, at the expense of true academic knowledge?”

The crayola curriculum has maintained a steady growth in the classroom at all levels. It is a subtle curriculum – not always visible to the naked eye as so obvious an activity as a poster or needless re-enactment. It also emerges as writing across the curriculum – science students in high school coached through a narrative in which they imagine themselves as matter experiencing sublimation, fusion, condensation, vaporization, etc., making cell models from marshmallows and pretzels, and so forth.

One of D-Ed Reckoning’s comments brings up the “creeping effect:”

Creeping effect is when teachers, some well-meaning and others or are simply lazy or ignorant, decide to borrow from the toolbox of less-than-age appropriate activities.

Worked for 4th graders? Let’s go 5th!

Worked for 5th? Let’s go 6th!

Worked for 6th? Come on, high school chemistry can do it!

It often seems as though education invented the idea of “21st century skills” based on a superficial assumption of technology-enhanced interaction in business – something viewed from afar by most schools. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor gives a little background, but it’s the graphic at the top of the article that strikes my interest. Labeled “What does creativity mean?” it is a poll of sorts weighing answers from businesses and employers against superintendents – you have to wonder how frequently the superintendents interacted as closely with their “employees” (the students) as the respondents in the “business/employers” category.

Jay P. Greene recently discussed The Global Achievement Gap, a book proclaiming the need for 21st century skills in schools which Fayetville Public schools bought 2,000 copies of, and quotes a critic who notes:

Unfortunately, Wagner dismisses measurable academic content while embracing buzzwords like ‘adaptability’ and ‘curiosity,’ which no one could possibly be against, but also which no one could possibly measure. Do we really care if our students are curious and adaptable if they cannot read and write their own names?

A visit to the book’s website reveals this testimonial:

“The Global Achievement Gap should be grabbed by business leaders to guide a much-needed conversation with educators.”

My question would be, will business leaders actually guide this conversation, or is education now dictating to the 21st century world what skills and abilities IT should expect, cater to, and remediate based on the stance schools are taking in teaching them?

UPDATE 2/3: The dam has broken. Joanne Jacobs highlights Sandra Stotsky, the critic mentioned in Jay Greene’s blog and quoted here. Jay Greene continues the discussion and posts his editorial, with Bugs Bunny imagery and bonus Dan Willingham comment.  Dan Willingham recently took on Alfie Kohn on various educational issues.  And the Core Knowledge blog is calling it “21st century snake oil.”

I still want to know: who is guiding the development of 21st century skills?  Are businesses informing education about what they need to  see more of, or is education telling business what it WILL see more of?


Written by eduphile

January 29, 2009 at 11:13 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Terrific post. I guess it explains why 6th graders demonstrate plate tectonics with cookie dough, and learn geometry with graham crackers.

    One of the hardest things to get past is that there is often something learned in these projects. Words like fusion or lithosphere are thrown around, so you think they are learning. And to some extent they are. But there is no cost benefit analysis done at any level — how much time? how much knowledge? what is given up? what else could have been learned?

    Professional educators seem to forget there are finite hours in a child’s life.


    February 3, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    • As an educator, I can say that I am more often aware of the finite hours in which I’m expected to teach an enormous volume of content to students who don’t have the prerequisite skills and abilities to master it. And as the years go by there are simply too many of them to pass off inability as apathy, home environment, or a few who slipped through the cracks. I think your questions are spot on – “how much time? how much knowledge? what is given up? what else could have been learned?” These probably need to be asked more often, with more emphasis.


      February 4, 2009 at 12:35 pm

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