Updated: Aug 6, 2020
The greatest changes often take a leap of faith. A thinking that’s outside the box.
When we learn, and encourage students to learn, in a regulated and regimented way, we tend to disregard thoughts that don’t fit with mainstream thinking. We encourage the scientific investigation using the method, with its principles being laid down over 300 years ago, in the time of Isaac Newton. We use a standard model of enquiry, whereby we strengthen and build upon past endeavours. There is absolutely no doubt that both of these techniques have allowed us development to the lofty heights that we have so far reached. The lion’s share of our progress in academic study and research has much to owe to these two techniques either separately or combined.
Yet some of the greatest leaps forward by mankind have demanded the use of something else, and possibly the ability to ignore or put aside conventional thought. Many of our greatest feats were brought about by accident: penicillin, x ray, microwaves - all of which came around when their inventors had their back turned and following conventional methods of scientific discovery.
Therefore there is a quandary. How do we both encourage the development of method and rigour, and yet still allow for the creative free-form thinking that is needed for the truly brilliant leaps forward?
It must start with our children. There is a real problem for both the individual and the wider world when we pigeon-hole ourselves and our students as either ‘good at numbers’ or ‘creative’. We all know the children that seem to be brilliant at every subject at school, of course. But how much of this is down to raw talent and intelligence, and how much of it has perhaps been fostered and nurtured by parents and teachers alike? Some children will grow up to never have needed to question whether they are x, y, or z - they have been taught to believe that they in fact are capable in a huge variety of capacities. The creative and inventive exploration of thought must be given its space, and it may well come from the juxtaposition of the artistic and the scientific. We tend to split, divide and group people into simple sets but maybe we should encourage, as in a Venn diagram, the overlap of such traits. It is then we may encourage the thinker that does not limit themself to conventional or linear thought.
Why is it that we decide so early on that we are ‘not creative’ because our watercolour of the fruit bowl in art lessons went a little pear-shaped? Or that we are ‘no good at numbers’ because fractions got the better of us in maths? How sincere is it to grade a painting, the embodiment of individual expression, and how meaningful is it to dock marks in a maths paper because the child struggles to portray information in anything other than a pie chart? Is the information not still there, clear for us to understand?
Have we truly considered the longer-term impact this has on our students? The dyslexic child with the brilliant communication skills may dream of becoming a University Lecturer, yet based on the constant poor grades they received for their inability to effectively communicate in the written format, the marking system of which is hugely inflexible, their confidence is destroyed, and they decide never to apply for the position for fear of marking and writing emails. Is it not time that we make adjustments from the beginning with our children, and maintain them in the adult world too? A typist is perfectly capable of transferring verbal speech to paper, after all, and is likely a worthy investment for a business in order to harness the talent of a brilliant and natural teacher.
We must foster both creative and regimented methods in every subject that we teach, and from the get go. This can be the only way to truly improve upon the world we see today, particularly when dealing with the bigger health, equality and environmental issues that threaten our existence today; these challenges need big, creative solutions, that must be managed rigorously and unerringly.
And of course it is not the teachers we take issue with here, but the system at large. To create the future that we need to survive the very real and very severe existential threats that humanity faces will require unique and ‘unconventional’ teaching methods to be brought into our classrooms. It is such a shame that, as it stands, any aspiration for rocking the educational boat may cost students their grades, and teachers their credibility.