Sunday, March 25, 2007

Boxed-in creativity

When educationists don't want to impart knowledge (which they don't by definition), they mumble something about "critical thinking" and "creativity".

In the Comments section of Education Week and in response to an article in Education Week, writer SteveH argues persuasively that you cannot think outside the box if you don't know what's inside the box:

Creativity is even more poorly defined, but many toss it out like everyone knows what it means. What is creativity in math? It's something that is only possible when it is built on mastery of a whole lot of basic skills. It is not something learned top-down. You have to know what is inside the box before you can think outside of the box. There is nothing worse in the scientific world than a technical report whose authors do not cite (or even know about) other work in their field.

Here is a problem that I had to solve a number of years ago. Find, as fast as possible, the intersection line segment of two triangles. The triangles are each defined by three [X,Y,Z] points and you have to be able to eliminate triangles that are not close very quickly.

Employers do not want "creative" employees who want to rediscover the wheel. They want employees who know the literature and can look it up. When they have to look it up, they need to know where to go and they need to implicitly know the difference between a dot product and a cross product. They need to know what a box check is; not creatively discover it. Only after reviewing the literature and finding no solution that meets the need, do you begin to get creative. But creativity takes knowledge and mastery of the basics. Real creativity is only possible by standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before you. Creativity is not sheer dumb luck. Knowledge and mastery do not reduce creativity, they enhance it.
With a fine touch for the comical, Education Week encourages readers to comment on the effect of "school reform."

What do you think? Does the current approach to school reform favor the regurgitation of random facts over the development of critical and creative thinking?
It doesn't say which school reform but I am assuming Education Week is referring to NCLB's accountability schemes. If holding educationists accountable for educating kids is likely to result only in a "regurgitation of random facts," then the state of education is in even worse shape than I had previously assumed. The conclusion I reach is that educationists simply don't know how to educate, if holding them accountable for minimal standards results in a regurgitation of random facts. I suggest they vacate the field and leave education to others.

1 comment:

NYC Math Teacher said...

Does the current approach to school reform favor the regurgitation of random facts over the development of critical and creative thinking?

Are the writers at Education Week educated themselves? Do they recognize a biased question when they see it? What layperson would prefer the "current approach" over "development of critical and creative thinking"? Sheesh!