Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Confessions of a Former Elementary School Teacher: Part 4

Part 4: The curriculum and the structure of the school day work cohesively to stifle and destroy the natural creativity and curiosity of children. And as if that wasn't enough, the teachers and other children would effectively smother it anyway.

I'm sure that writers and researchers who are far smarter than I am have written epics about how children are naturally curious and how important creative play is for their development. My own experiences with my children would actually prompt me to say that the opportunity for creative expression is as fundamental to child development as learning how to walk and talk.

My children can spend hours with paper, scissors, glue sticks, glitter, markers, stickers, pipe cleaners, play dough, plasticine, paint, popsicle sticks, toilet paper rolls and anything else that they can turn into art. They paint pine cones. They glue dried beans and seeds. They cut wrapping paper, magazines and cereal boxes. They make cards for their cousins and grandparents. They make presents for their imaginary friend 'Woonkie'. They drip glue and they spill the glitter. They get messy.

The point is, they do it because it is fundamentally in them to do it. I don't make them sit at the table and do a craft. I leave them alone to do whatever they want with whatever materials they choose. Very occasionally Anna will ask me to make something with her or to help her make something that she has seen on TV. Mostly they do not want to me interfere.

And isn't this the opposite of what would happen at school? In a Kindergarten setting, Holly would have access to about 1/100 of the materials that she has at home. And she would be lucky to have 20 minutes of 'creative time' before she was told to clean up because she and the rest of the class would have to move on to 'library time' or 'gym time'. So much for creativity.

And in the higher grades (I have taught Visual Art in Grades 5 - 8) there is no opportunity for creative artistic expression at all because the curriculum dictates what type of art the students must produce. Students are rarely motivated to produce the required pieces because the assignments are boring and trite, or else they are so sophisticated that the students don't even want to try to produce them for fear of not meeting the 'standard'. There are no other opportunities to be creative in the form of visual expression. Even projects are judged and critiqued for their relevance to the curriculum, and their creative expression is given no value.

And what about curiosity? Teachers have no time to answer the questions of curious children. And besides that, the teachers have curriculum to cover; they simple cannot have 20+ children all doing something different regardless of their individual curiosity, interests, strengths and inclinations. Also, the other students are inclined to ridicule the children who show 'too much' interest in school and certain subject areas. The social 'rules' of the classroom restrict a child's natural enthusiasm for any area of study.

The term 'creative writing' is one of the biggest oxymorons that exists in school. How can a child write creatively when she knows she is writing for one purpose only? So that the teacher can mark what she has written. The Literacy Coaches and Consultants are always talking about how to motivate kids to write. My suggestion would be "Leave them alone."

It's a wonder that any person leaves highschool and goes on to become a graphic designer or a visual artist or have any other type of career that involves creative visual expression. I have heard so many adults say "I'm not very creative" and I now know that that's because their natural creativity was destroyed in their early years in school. Creativity that is unappreciated or that is treated as irrelevant is soon hidden away by its owner.

I imagine my sweet little Holly in school being told that she has 1 paper, 1 marker and 10 minutes to 'be creative'. Poor baby. It's not gonna happen.

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