Sunday, November 9, 2008

Creative Stuff

Something Ken Robinson writes about in his book Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative has been in my head since I read it about a year ago. He describes the curious aspect of research in English studies as compared to research in say, as he does, physics. At least at the university level, physics profs are expected to do science, whereas English teachers are expected to research about English.

"Professors of English are not employed to produce literature; they are employed
to write about it. They spend much of their time analyzing the lives and
drives of writers and the work they produce. They may write poetry in
their own time: but they're not normally thanked for doing it in university
time. They're expected to produce analytical papers about poetry.
Producing works of art doesn't count as appropriate intellectual work in an arts
department: yet the equivalent in a science department, doing physics or
chemistry does" (65-66).

Point taken. At the high school level it's much worse, isn't it. As a teacher do more talking about English, than do English. That is, I research, and mostly secondary source research at that, on texts, authors, composition, grammar, etc.

Most of the time the curriculum I teach in asks my students to do the same--except for a semester or two when I might have section of Creative Writing or for the occassional assignment in my literature classes when I ask for a script or narrative piece.

A colleague of mine, Mary Culbertson-Stark, art teacher, and working artist, once asked me about my stuff. By this she meant original writing, presumably fiction or poetry, particularly what I going to be working on writing over the summer. I was flattered by the idea that she thought I had stuff. But I shrugged it off. Truth is, I've had a few poems and some short stories, and a couple of essays. Not much stuff.

Of course what concerns me is not only how little writing, acting, storytelling, and videoing my colleagues do ourselves but also how little we ask of our students. Much of literature study is done as a study without any attempt at writing, outside of a personal response of a paragraph or two, or a once a year ritual called the reseach paper. A dearth of writing of any sort by most of us English teachers exists. Some don't even read for pleasure.

I can hear the cry "where the time!" (I'm not sure I have the answer. It's been nearly three weeks since I've even posted to this blog.) We're are already teaching too much, and "covering a subject in instruction" is frequently just that covering, as in hiding and opaquing. Yet, I feel a bit of a hypocrite if I am not reading and writing while asking my students to do so. I challenge you, dear teacher-reader (as Dickens would say), to consider your own practice, in regard to yourself and your students. Begin to fit in the creative work in your life and your teaching and you students' lives and learning.

For every authentic project of writing, acting, or other creative work, about three other units must hit the dustbin. Isn't trade worth it? Our students are going to be called to be creative as much as they are going to be called to be analytical, so teachers might best get on with it and celebrate both. After all, can we teach creativity without critical thinking?

Surely, we've thought we could teach the analytical domain without the creative. And succeeded. On the other hand, creativity skills may, in fact, supercede anything on Bloom's taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). Adding doing your discipline to your own practice as well as to your curriculum can only lead our creativity and that of our students to deeper, more meaningful places of inquiry.


Laurie said...

I really enjoyed this post! As a former English teacher, I have often asked myself why I don't write more. Now my blog offers me that place and even an audience, but I am still reluctant to put myself out there. This is why I am participating in Steve Dembo's 30 days to being a better blogger and leaving you this comment! :)

I also thought your comment on some English/literature teachers who don't even read for pleasure themselves doesn't bode well for teaching our students to love reading and to be life long learners. I always have at least one book going and sometimes several and an audio book. Time is an issue, but not reading would seem like not breathing to me.

Thank you for your thoughtful post.
Please check out my blog if you get a chance at

Laurie Fowler
Tuscaloosa, AL

ceyo said...

Thank you, Laurie. Your blog is definitely on my reading list now--not only for your kind words but for the great ideas to be found there.