Here is a guest post from my husband Ryan Carney on creativity in schools. He is a middle school guidance counselor and advocate for finding ways to positively engage students in school by fostering their own innate talents.
Are students bored in school? Or perhaps the more appropriate question might be: has student attention declined with the surge of technology? After watching the video, “Changing Education Paradigms”, from Sir Ken Robinson I turned to Google and put in a search for “the rise of ADHD in children”. ADHD is described as an epidemic by many, with approximately 6 million children in the United States diagnosed with the disorder since 2011. I found a significant number of articles from reputable sources such as CNN, NBC, etc. citing that between 11% of children aged 4-17 are diagnosed with ADHD. These articles seemingly all cite technology as one of the main issues. They argue that students are facing so much screen time that they are unable to focus and pay attention in class. However, I do not believe that technology is the “problem” here.
It is human nature to crave and absorb information. The children of the 21st century are not an exception in that regard, they have just found new mediums that did not exist when we were growing up to find their information. Children are excited and engaged when they are with friends on their phones or computers looking at videos on YouTube, but when it comes time to pick up a textbook, they can’t focus. As a school counselor, I struggle to label this as ADHD. Teachers need to find creative ways in which to engage students so that As Sir Ken Robinson says, “ I am not saying that the condition does not exist, however I am suggesting that this “epidemic” of ADHD as described by the media is not as it seems.”
As a school counselor I work closely with many students that present with symptoms of ADHD. These students are generally among the most innovative of their class. The late Robin Williams once said, “We are all only given a little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it”. In a culture where conformity is valued, those who do not fit the traditional mold are alienated, medicated and isolated. They are told to pay attention like everyone else, when they are incapable of being anyone except themselves.
As we move forward in education we must be diligent in our dedication to treat creativity in education with the same regard as mathematics, social studies, or any other discipline. It is far too easy to lose sight of our innate talents in a world as fast paced as ours. It is our collective creativity that brought America to prominence. We mustn’t lose our spark of madness.
Today I watched President Obama’s speech that took place to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama. President Obama stood proudly at the foot of the Edmund Pettus bridge where 50 years ago hundreds marched to protest for the constitutional right to vote. The march on the Edmund Pettus bridge was one of three planned marches that would galvanize the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As I stood in my kitchen watching the speech live on CNN, I was struck at how far our country has come in terms of overcoming obstacles. On a day to day basis the time for a deep reflection on our nation’s history is not taken. The President so eloquently captured our nation’s most trying times and focused on the positive changes and growth we have made as a community of people.
The speech was powerful and poignant. The central message encompassed the work of not just a few, but of all Americans. The emphasis on the collective power of a group showed that together we can make amazing things happen. I know that today’s speech was directed towards all Americans on a day meant to commemorate the history that took place there 50 years ago, but it was the President’s call to young people that really struck me.
“You are America. Unconstrained by habits and convention. Unencumbered by what is, and ready to seize what ought to be. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.” -President Obama
I plan to keep these words close to me as I find them extremely inspiring. Empowering ourselves and empowering our young people to take the first steps toward positive change will undoubtedly affect the greater good of humanity.
Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms
It’s time to go back to the drawing board. The critical time has come for a much-needed overhaul of the education system to take place. The education reform movement has created a period of disillusionment for parents, students, and educators. Rather than praise, the education system has taken some very hard hits from all arenas in an attempt to figure out what works best for students. Ironically, we are not reforming education, instead we are moving towards a more standardized view of what learning means. Rather than reform we conform.
Educators are being reduced to a label in regards to yearly evaluation practices and as a result our teaching practices are being watered down. The expectation to be excellent is defined by results on yearly student exams in only reading, writing, and mathematics. There is so much more to school than these three academic areas, albeit important ones. I find all of this so puzzling. Within the existing paradigm of education, is there a way to change the culture of the learning organization to value creativity without functioning exclusively away from learning standards? It may seem unlikely to foster creativity and innovation in a world surrounded by assessments and standardization but I like to think that anything is possible.
The purpose of schools should be to prepare children for their future, whatever it is that may be. The future being indiscernible makes an educator’s profession challenging, but not impossible. Educators need to enhance their students’ strengths by providing opportunities for social, emotional, mental, and academic growth. Classrooms and schools need to place value on all kinds of knowledge because there is no one single form of intelligence nor do we know what kinds of knowledge and skills will be valued in the future. It is up to us to understand who our students are on a personal level and what motivates, excites, perplexes, and challenges them. In order to do these tasks correctly we can use digital resources to help us know our students on a more personal level.
As adults we need to recognize that technology is a massive part of our lives whether or not we want it to be. It is almost impossible to avoid using some form of technology on a daily basis. Jeff DeGraff in his article “Digital Natives Vs. Digital Immigrants” defines the generational gap that exists between these two groups. Adults are now being labeled as “digital immigrants” – people born before the advent of digital technology and their counterpart is being labeled as “digital natives” – the generation of people born during or after the rise of digital technologies. While there are major difference in the belief and value system of these groups there is a tremendous lesson to be learned when both groups are open to learning from each other.
Yong Zhao, a scholar on technology and globalization in education offers some staggering statistics based on children’s use of media tools on a daily basis. Today’s young people (8 to 18 year olds) spend on average 7 hours and 38 minutes a day with media: watching TV (TV, videos, DVDs, pre-recorded shows), playing video games, listening to music, talking on the phone, and chatting with friends online. Alternately, children spend 25 minutes a day reading books, 9 minutes for magazines, and 3 minutes for newspapers. Zhao believes that as parents and educators, rather than trying to minimize the exposure children have with social media and technology tools we should embrace and understand their curiosity and happiness with all forms of technology.
If children can create pathways to better understand academic material through the use of technology then as educators we need to re-examine our skills and practices to meet the needs of our students. To accomplish these goals, as adults we need to make ourselves accessible to our students and create with them a collective sense of an open understanding and learning environment.