Thursday, December 2, 2010

the creativity crisis

I went to a workshop last night (which meant not going home after school, not seeing my boys, and not kissing anyone goodnight) that was amazing. The workshop was called "Connecting to Learning - In, Through and About the Arts" about integrating the Arts (visual, musical, and performing) into the daily curriculum.

As Arts Educators, we know how much we touch on academic subjects. We know we teach culture, history, mathematics, reading, and creative thinking. In an academic classroom, however, are the Arts being infused? No, I'm not talking about "drawing" out a scene or chapter from a book, or chanting a rap about math facts. I'm talking about academic teachers actually integrating the Arts into their teachings to make children creatively think about what they are learning and how they are able to apply it to their life.

It's all about the creativity. It's being lost in these days of standardized testing. Kids are learning facts, not formulating opinions or creatively deducing a question to come up with an answer. Nothing was more apparant to me than last week during a Keith Haring discussion that the "art" of creativity was being lost in the educational system. I put a Keith Haring postcard on each of my tables and had third graders come up with a quick story about the picture. I gave them 5 minutes to work in groups of 3 to come up with the story. The result? about 8 of my 9 tables "retold" me what was going on in the picture (ie: "the UFO is flying in the sky and the woman is running".) Was I asking too much of them to tell me a story ("the flying saucer from the planet Xeptune was hovering over Earth. The pink lady ran from the cheesy pyramid to escape their wrath")? Why could they not come up with a creative answer?

It is because they are not allowed to think creatively anymore. They must be cookie-cutter. They must get the right answer. They must not stand out from anyone else. They must perform to the test and they must pass. They must show "growth".
My attention was brought to an article called "The Creativity Crisis" , an article in Newsweek written by Po Bronson. This is great fodder for all those who think the Arts aren't important. And let me tell you, there are a LOT of people (though they'd never say it to your face!) that think this way. We must get back to allowing kids to think for themselves. I am making this my new year's resolution.

The keynote speaker was Karen Erickson, a Kennedy Center teaching artist. She took us out of our comfort zones and we did some great activities that I will most definitely use in my classroom when we conclude our unit on Keith Haring next week. She inspired me to get out of my "norm" of teaching, to infuse more disciplines into my teachings (though I think I do a pretty good job of it already, there is always room for improvement, right?!). I will blog next week about my findings on this one!

One last thing to think about: Karen Erickson gave us several definitions of what "arts integration" was to different organizations (the ASCD, the Kennedy Center), and then her own personal definition of arts integration. The ASCD definition was wordy and vague. The Kennedy Center's definition hit a little closer to home...but HER definition hit the nail on the head.

Arts Integration is like James Bond's car. It's multi-faceted. When you look at it, it's "just" a car. When it falls off a cliff, it becomes an airplane. When it falls in the water, it becomes a boat. It's not "just" a car.

This is what many classroom teachers feel arts integration is. A truck pulling a boat. The truck is education. The boat is "the arts". When we're short on money? Unhitch the trailer and leave the boat at home. When we're short on time? Unhitch the boat and leave it at home. When we just don't feel like boating? Unhitch the boat and leave it at home.

We are the ambassadors for arts integration. Let's make our voices heard.


  1. I read that Newsweek article last summer when I was in Montana visiting family (all teachers). We spent quite a bit of time talking about it -- especially the 5th grade project on their library. It's a thought provoking article good for anyone who is obsessed with test results!! Thanks for sharing. I look forward to your future posts!! Sounds like a worthwhile workshop.

  2. As a former academic classroom teacher (history) and AP Art History teacher, I'm with you! I "wrote the book" on this--I actually wrote the departmental book for social studies on arts integration.

    The problem for a lot of academic teachers is that we are given SO MUCH ground to cover in a year. Imagine...teach all of world one year! It is easy to feel a little envious of teachers who can spend more time on depth and creativity in their classrooms.

    There are ways, of course, to still try to build a well-integrated curriculum if you can get the teachers and the administrators to cooperate and the parents to buy-in...but that's a topic too long for a comment ;)

    -- Candace