How Systemic Control Stunts Creative Growth

“Catch your bubble. Stand in a straight line.” by Braeden Carroll

Last week our cohort of students began designing their making/coding engineering projects and as exciting as it was, we still had a moment of pause in which we thought that perhaps we needed to insert a little more control and guidance.

…for the sake of time and because it would’ve been much easier.

I’m glad that we didn’t.

In the aftermath of “plan day” and amidst the exhaustion of coaching and continuously trying to promote more “yes and” in lieu of “but”, I’ve thought about the diversity of ideas that kids had and the joy in their eyes as they were creating.

One of our groups is making a Scorpion-Dragon and another is making a combination of a Rube Goldberg machine with diet coke exploder. While I have no idea what the latter is, I am so excited to see it and am honestly still mortified at the thought that I even considered an outcome where kids would not have had such choices.

You see, I am one who is fortunate enough to have a front row seat to the power of creativity through my role as a nurturer for my nephew. I watch him experiment with a plethora of artistic choices and am constantly in awe of how much he learns just because he feels like it and most often because his project of choice demands it.

I’m also painfully aware how much a majority of his creative freedoms occur at home because school is most often not a place that is open to such thinking/doing…unless it is “holiday week”, early release day or the weeks after state testing is done.

This is the reality for so many but in all fairness, this is how we’ve been conditioned to “do” school in the face of accountability.

…and as much as teachers get a hard time for their lack of creative ventures, especially considering technology, it’s unfair to blame those who have no choice but to do as the system was created to do.

Too often, the de-creativeness of kids begins as soon as they enter the doors of early childhood. Creative play is replaced with scheduled assessments. Individuality is replaced with school uniforms of one color. Gender roles define everything from activities kids get to do, to who they sit with at lunch and who stands before or after them in line.

…the line where kids learn early to stand in silence with “bubbles in mouths” and hands behind backs

We still misinterpret quiet classrooms as the best classrooms.

If kids do get to create, they are all creating the same thing because the thought of “different” immediately triggers adult fears concerning time and we all know that in every classroom, time is a pretty hot commodity.

There just seems to be not enough of it.

I remember the first day in my high school algebra class when I decided to stop teaching according to the “lesson cycle” formula that our program seemed to have adopted. Kids lost their minds!

They wanted the template. They wanted the steps. They wanted me to do the thinking for them. They did not have the skills to creatively problem solve because in all the years that they had been in school, we did a great job of slowly but surely stripping this important ability away.

…an ability inherent in kids since birth as they utilize their senses to figure out the world around them.

…most often through curiosity driven play.

Braeden, my nephew

Right now, I’m sitting beside my nephew as he draws the header image for this piece. I spent yesterday watching him design and make an animatronic Christmas scene and over the last few weeks he’s been creating digital images and uploading his creations to redbubble so that for a small price, others could experience his vivid imagination.

This…in addition to his extensive work in puppetry, minecraft, oil painting, clay molding, music and just about anything that he feels like learning.

I’m not worried about my nephew though. He has us to support and guide him.

Not every kid has that and perhaps school should be the place that cultivates creativity in lieu of controlling it.

Dreamer, Blerd, Educator, Disruptor of Ridiculousness, STEM & Digital Access Advocate