Dana Gorman is a preschool teacher at the Community Cooperative Nursery School in Rowayton. She is the winner of Stepping Stone's 2010 Playful Practices in Teaching Award. Visit her blog: playfullylearning.blogspot.com .
It seems like once a week or so, virtually every newspaper and TV station does a story on standardized test scores and strengthening academic rigor. Kindergarten classrooms look more like first grades, with teachers being told not to buy materials for dramatic play centers, sensory tables, or block centers. Four- and five-year-olds are required to sit in chairs at tables and do seatwork for long stretches of time. Older students spend days and weeks preparing for standardized tests at the expense of rich, diverse, and open-ended curricula. And yet we want these children to grow up and work in highly creative environments, solve problems in innovative ways, and invent or discover cutting-edge technology and solutions to problems that will keep our country productive.
It has long seemed apparent that America is facing a creativity crisis, and now we have proof. A July 2010 Newsweek article, "The Creativity Crisis," cites a research study evidencing that scores on creativity tests have been steadily declining since 1990. It purports that the children who have been the most affected are those in kindergarten through sixth grade.
At the same time, according to this article, "A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 'leadership competency' of the future." Indeed, the research links creativity to future success. "The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ," states the article.
Despite this, creativity-building experiences are the first items to be cut from American schools. In contrast, European and Asian schools prioritize understanding creativity development and changing the face of educational institutions to deliver models of problem-based learning opportunities -- learning based on inquiry. This is something that good preschools have been doing for many years now via the emergent curriculum and the project approach.
Many educators, policy makers and scientists scoff at America's traditional -- or stubborn -- insistence on fighting for a system of standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. Scientists have conducted the brain research and proven how the brain develops, and yet we cling to models of learning that continually fail to take these discoveries into account.
Studies like these have to be published in every newspaper and make headlines. Parents need to realize what is truly best for their children. Standardized curriculum and rote memorization should not supplant creative discovery and authentic learning. I have always believed strongly in the importance of learning through play and meaningful experiences. With this study and others like it reporting the damages of our educational system the way it is now, I can confidently say that our future is at stake.
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