Imagination is more important than knowledge –Albert Einstein
Art teacher Merry Lanker moved around the room reacting, commenting, helping fourth graders with their drawings, and drawing out the creativity in her students. On the smartboard in the front of the room was a photo of the Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” (1893).
The assignment Ms. Lanker had given them was: “Using oil pastels or colored pencils create your own unique and creative Scream parody that shows us why the figure is screaming… what is he/she scared of?” The final instruction was: “Come up with something NEW.”
Asking fourth graders to create a parody of one of the most highly acclaimed and studied works of art in the western world? What does the assignment say to the students?
It says: “I respect you.” It shows respect for children as humans with a brain capable of creativity. It says: “I see you as creative people who can relate to the adult world with empathy, imagination and thoughtfulness. I believe in your ability to create something humorous, meaningful and new.” Showing them this kind of respect tends to makes them sit up straighter in their chairs; it tends to cause them to rise to a challenge. A steady diet of this builds self-confidence and the habit of seeing any challenge as an opportunity. This was Merry’s notion of what it means to have high expectations for her students.
But is this what is normally meant when we talk about “having high expectations” for our students? Are these challenges related to the academic curriculum? How are these activities related to what we usually think of when we think of intelligence?
The 25 nine-year-olds in this inner city public school reacted with industry and enthusiasm regardless of their sense of their own competence as artists. When it comes to creative thinking most nine-year-olds are still brimming with enthusiasm. The opportunity to use their imagination to connect their life with the life of someone else is just sitting there waiting to be drawn into action. (All kids are artists until some judgment makes them feel incompetent.)
In three different schools Ms. Lanker has over 900 students each of whom has art for a scant half-hour a week. My concern isn’t so much that they get so little “art” but that these 900 students are expected to think creatively, use their imagination, translate their empathy into thoughtful action and develop their problem solving skills for only 30 minutes out of a 30-hour-week. Oh, I almost forgot about recess. Recess also gives them time to work on these critical life skills, so let’s make that 3 hours out of a 30-hour week that they learn to use their creative minds.
True. Perhaps my concern is premature. I have not visited enough of classes to make an informed accusation. My concern comes from the fact that I don’t hear teachers and administrators, school board and community leaders talking about this kind of educational objective. I would change my tune if I started hearing things like:
“We expect the students to graduate from high school confident in their ability to create original ideas that have value.”
What if parents were proud when the comment on the report card said:
What if all teachers were held accountable to get kids to think creatively? What if Merry Lanker’s educational objectives represented the educational objectives of all teachers, regardless of what subject they taught? Would our high school graduates be better educated? What is your guess?
Knowledge is important. An educated person can spell parody, define it and use it in a sentence, but imagination is required for this knowledge to make a difference. Whether our discipline is mathematics, physics, biology, writing or doing research, creativity is required. The problems we face in this world require not only mastery of the knowledge we already have, but the creativity to solve the myriad of problems that are still unsolved.
Our old mindsets are obviously not working, and creativity should be a graduation requirement. Creativity is an ability all adults should expect all young people to practice and to apply in every aspect of their lives from getting into college to dealing with a customer to resolving conflicts with their friends.