America is not the best country in the world. We are 7th in literacy, 27th in mathematics, and 22nd in science. We know that we’re imperfect: we all saw that one clip from The Newsroom. However, I think we have the capacity to change.
To test this, I say: how many uses can you think of for a paper clip?
In a recent study, a group of 1500 Kindergarteners were tested using that one question. If they scored beyond a certain level, they were titled “geniuses of divergent thinking”. How many American kindergarteners were geniuses?
The answer is 98%. 98% were considered geniuses by the researchers who put together that test. However, this was a longitudinal study – as time went on and kids grew up, their answers became fewer and fewer. The five year old who thought of the paperclip as extendable and made of Styrofoam – who didn’t confine himself to linear thought – now cannot think of it as more than a back scratcher. And so, five years later, their answers became more narrow, less inventive, dropping from the hundreds to the single digits.
So, why the tapering of human thought? There is one thing this test shows unequivocally: that we all have the capacity for creative thinking. But, creativity, like a neural pathway, decays and deadens without use. Our education system is the fatal stroke.
As the fresh-faced kindergarteners entered their first year of schooling, they still had the ability to think divergently – the paper clip could be any size, made of any material, could be twisted into any shape. However, after a decade in the system, new and innovative answers are nearly non-existent. Why is this? Because they, like you, spent 15 years in school being told there’s one answer, and it’s in the back of the book. Don’t look.
Mark Twain said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” And this is what our generation is at fault for.
Our generation, and our post-industrial education system, values the idea of academic ability: the abilities of deductive reasoning, knowledge, and sometimes memorization over all. We know this very well. We know our GPA, our SAT score, our numerical grades; they are our economic worth. And it’s not our fault – our universities built themselves on that image, that very conscious public image of academia, achievement, and success – the success that comes with it. We were taught that this is the route. This is the answer.
But there’s no one route to success. When I was in middle school, there was a fateful time in which my peers were being evaluated – either to go onto be successful and respected in the accelerated track, or to shuffle into the “normal” classes, or even the remedial ones. This division kept us separated throughout high school, two distinct groups. However, this left many of my not-so-memorization-oriented friends behind – including brilliant artists, tremendous orators, and creative entrepreneurs; all who believed they were stupid because they didn’t hold up to the test – and many tests – that followed. Since when is intelligence based upon one kind of learning?
Ken Robertson says, “the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatized.”
Note: I am not advocating the overthrow of all schooling – for example, I think it is important to memorize certain historical dates to get a sense of our identity as a country. But I do think that we maintain a razor-sharp focus on a specific type of learning in which only a specific type of person can succeed, therefore alienating millions of students. I do not know how to quantify or qualify creativity, but I do know that there is an invaluable type of learning that is lacking, and that is keeping America from progressing.
Our education system is failing. We all know this – we know the facts on it. But it doesn’t have to. In order to progress, we need to think differently about intelligence, academia vs. non-academia, and success. We need to be all-inclusive. We need to test beyond a book or an answer sheet and realize that there are infinite answers, infinite ways to find the answers, and infinite questions. We imagined that fifty-foot paper clip once. Let’s do it again.
The Newsroom. The Newsroom “America is Not the Greatest Country in the World Anymore” 2012 Television Series. Youtube. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q49NOyJ8fNA>.
“Quote By Mark Twain.” GoodReads. GoodReads Inc, n.d. Web. 30 July 2014. <http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1427-i-have-never-let-my-schooling-interfere-with-my-education>.
Robinson, Ken. “How Schools Kill Creativity.” TED. TED Conferences, LLC, n.d. Web. 30 July 2014. <http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity/transcript#t-51000>.
RSA. Ken Robinson Paperclip. Youtube. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzBa-frc2JA>.
RSA, and Ken Robinson. RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms. Youtube. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U>.
Image Credit: LJA Learning Diversity. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014. <http://ljalearningdiversity.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/differentiated-assessment.jpg>.