Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time is of the Essence: "Our Students are Showing Up Tomorrow"

Sir Ken Robinson, author of the must-read Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative and advocate for arts and sciences education that is inclusive, expansive, and collaborative, presents compelling arguments against standardized testing and for programs that encourage creative, imaginative, and innovative thinking.

I met him last week at the Regional Arts Collaborative, held near Pittsburgh. It was delight to meet a man knighted for his leadership of a national commission on creativity, education and the economy for the UK government bringing together leading business people, scientists, artists and educators.
Now living in America, Robinson points out that No Child Left Behind, with its regimen of assessments and funding "amounts to leaving millions of children behind" and kills their creativity, while demoralizing and stigmatizing students, educators, and whole learning communities.
He calls this crisis, "a scandalous misuse of human resources," at a time when we need to encourage performative skills in our children more than ever. When, as Sir Ken notes, "a college degree is not a passport, but a visa" to success in a future that we can't predict,it is absurd that educators and students must contend with standardized testing that narrows curriculum to traditional reading, writing, math and science. These subjects are certainly important, yet with high-stakes testing placing incredible emphasis on children being able to demonstrate knowledge that fits into bubble sheets, we see critical thinking, collaborative skills, technology applications, and aesthetic capabilities being pushed out of curriculum.
Sir Ken notes a waste of the most important resource our unsteady economy needs most--human potential, which can be realized in creative, performative pursuits in the arts and sciences. Furthermore, dichotomy arts and sciences is not only artificial but also--and more dangerous--obsolete in this new century. I agree that such tests do more to limit students abilities and potential for learning, while at the same time have the effect of making school irrelevant to our students.
The emphasis for the sort of education Sir Ken calls for, schooling that involves high level applications authentic work in arts and sciences, and that involves collaboration, creativity, problem solving, performance, would produce a relevance and rigor to develop active intelligence and cognitive development that are missing in our schools and needed for our future.
In good measure time and energy of teachers and students are being misfocused on a very limited skill and knowledge set that won't serve our futures. So call your representative? Wait out the upcoming election? No way, says Sir Ken. Legislation of recall or reform will take years. And he flatly points out that this can't wait: "Our students are showing up tomorrow."
We educators are the ones that must work to ensure our curricula are preparing our students for economic, cultural, and personal success. Sir Ken presents a rallying cry in his book and his presentations around the world. He reminds us that sustainable "human organizations are organic not systemic." The time has come--as always has been the case--for the centrality of teachers in educational reform. Curriculum design and assessement design cannot match the wit of teachers to make our schools relevant and rigorous for our students.
Sir Ken's knightly call for educational transformation reminds me of Postman and Weingartner's a generation ago. Effective teachers know of Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Some educational ideas are always right for the practice.

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