I just finished reading Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. The book definitely lived up to my expectations. As I was reading I’ve been putting post-its when something jumped out at me. I’ve got about 40 post-it’s on everything from creativity, 21st century learning, world history, & economics. His specific, but meandering style makes it hard to summarize his complex tapestry into a “nut shell.”
One of his threads that I was most interested in was how we use standards in education. In an era where NCLB can make or break schools, and students & parents are willing to pay thousands of dollars for ACT prep classes I don’t think many would disagree with how important tests/standards have become. Oftentimes policy makers and even educational leaders can be very shallow. I cringe when I hear leaders promote ‘raising standards.’ Robinson seems to agree:
“standards should be high….There is not much point in lowering them.” -p. #50
As Robinson points out, the more difficult questions are how do we chose good standards, what policies & teaching methods will actually help students reach them and how do we know when students meet standards? Instead of approaching standards as some sort of mythical silver bullet, Robinson takes a more objective approach. While standards will certainly be a component of 21st century learning, their current negative effects almost outweigh their value.
As science person, I obviously value the sort of reasoning, logic, & objective knowledge that standards and testing tend to emphasize. As a teacher though, the “so-called ‘soft skills’…[including] being able to understand and express personal feelings; being able to get along with other people, to communicate clearly and with empathy for the listener” (p. #175) are no less important to me. The unintentional damage standards have done to the arts & extra curricular actives is well known. I don’t believe education is a zero sum game. For students to understand physics doesn’t require they give up theater.
As Robinson points out, there’s no more reason we can’t be building interpersonal skills and creatively in physics as mathematical reasoning in art. Unfortunately, physics has this reputation for being a rule-book laden algorithmic nightmare. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even when there is only one correct answer to a question in physics (which is often not the case) there are always at least 5 unique ways to reach it. One of the standards I hope my students reach is seeing physics not as an equation list, but as an elegant puzzle.