Many students and their parents think Deerfield High School is great; we have rigorous courses, teachers that care, and funding to support the little things that help our learning. Yet, we so rarely talk about the ways that we can improve DHS. One thing that is largely overlooked in most academically-based classes is developing students’ creativity. As someone who dabbles in creative ventures quite frequently, I believe that DHS’s ability to showcase and help develop each person’s creative side is actually appalling. Serious consideration needs to be taken as creativity is a vital skill for the rest of life regardless of what field a person may venture into. If the school truly is going to prepare us to be college and career-ready, then they need to help students understand how to be creative.
The problem starts with the fact that people don’t want to learn. Not much around here pushes people to actually enjoy learning new things–let’s face it, we all just want to get the grade and pass the class to get the graduation requirement. There’s very little incentive to actually learn what we are interested in. The classes and staff at the school are by no means bad, but if students are only taught by DHS staff in a DHS approved curriculum, they will only learn to think and understand how DHS wants them to. Exposure to teachers from different areas–be it through internships, shadowing, external classes, etc.–allows students to think about subjects in different ways. Furthermore, students then are only exposed to information that the high school wants them to know, but these fields of study have many different ideas and facts that a student should be encouraged to seek out. Independent studies, external credit opportunities, and other similar activities are poorly explained by the school and are seemingly discouraged, but these are the activities that builds a student’s desire to want to learn. And even if a subject is non-academic or the student wants to learn without a teacher, they are still expected to maintain a course level rigor that eliminates a large majority of the time that they could dedicate to learning the topic or skill. Imagine how much more interesting your class schedule would be if you took classes because you enjoyed them instead of just getting the credit.
You may be thinking that wanting to learn has nothing to do with creativity–but in reality it does. Beyond just having a base of knowledge to use when problem-solving, creativity also requires us to explore what we don’t know. We are trying to understand what happens when we do something out of the ordinary. By building our drive to learn more, we build our desire to explore.
Not only do students need to have that desire to learn, but they also should have opportunities to actually try–and fail–in creating and trying out their own ideas. For as much as this school wants to prepare us for the future, it seems to hate the prospect of students potentially failing. It’s laughable when you think about the lengths that this district will go to to avoid students from failing but then juxtapose this with how well they “prepare us for future success.”
The problem with this is that people come up with new ideas by failing and learning from their mistakes. I mean, the creative process essentially goes:
1. Amazing idea
2. I’m working through how difficult it is
3. This is a pile of trash
4. I give up
5. Maybe I’ll give up…after this try
6. Hey, I kind of like this
7. Yay! I’m done!
Notice how the middle part is basically almost failing. From all of the creative ventures I have encountered, this is the most vital part about the process. The almost-failure reveals new approaches and ideas that you didn’t even think of before. However, not every project will go beyond almost failing and will just be incomplete–or essentially failing. It takes a few failures to actually find the project that leads to success.
How do we allow students to fail though? Well, we need to restructure how projects work within the curriculum. Teachers are amazing at helping students learn content of the subjects they teach. But when it comes to the synthesis of ideas, students must be able to do this without the crutch of tutors, parents, or teachers that might remove the student from their original thoughts, ideas, and developments. And this crutch can come in many forms: from providing examples of how a project should be accomplished, to guiding students specifically through how they should think about a topic, to editing a rough draft of a student’s assignment. While it may be uncomfortable for both the student and teacher initially, it ultimately will help students develop independence in their thinking that can provide unique thought. We need to take away examples or interference from teachers to really see what students actually think. I, for one, find it extremely boring to sit through class upon class of basically the same slideshow, only slightly different from others to fit the topic of discussion. Instead, teachers can rework existing projects, or even better, force students into an uncomfortable place, like a presentation without a slideshow or performing improv in a group based on research.
It’s important to note that there needs to be a paradigm shift in how teachers currently grade in order to see results. Many teachers currently grade formulaically which can end up penalizing those who take risks. For many assignments, regardless of whether the product contained quality information and analysis, being unique in your poster design, connecting seemingly opposing texts together, or presenting a slideshow in an innovative way can be the equivalent of having one’s grade drop a whole letter. Grading certainly is time-consuming; there’s no doubt about that. But deducting students for bringing in a piece of work that was unexpected should be rewarded, not penalized. The student spent the time to come up with original thoughts and make the work their own. Pushing students to think like machines and produce the exact same content not only hurts the creativity of the student, but also reduces the amount of thinking the student actually does. I know that quality of work is imperative, but that should be separated from creativity. I’ve found throughout the years that teachers really struggle with making these distinctions–and really it’s not a difficult thing to do–it just requires awareness of how a person is grading.
Yet teachers aren’t the only ones that need to change their mindsets: students are just as complicit. We focus so much on the outcome of a grade or our GPAs that we forget to actually be engrossed in the work and to do more than the bare minimum to get the grade we want. We strive for perfection in our grades so we forget to actually explore new ways to do things because there’s no reason to do more than we have to for a result. So if DHS were to implement changes to push for our creativity, we also need to be willing to risk our safety in normality and try something new.
A large part of developing creativity within students boils down to students gaining more freedom in what they do. For faculty and administration, this can be concerning because they are worried about what might happen should they give students this freedom. The students could get out of control and become chaotic. But this “chaos” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure, students running around and screaming through the halls is bad chaos, but don’t forget the good chaos that can promote student’s ability to be innovative and think about the world in a new original way. It’s this skill that creates out-of-the-box game changers that impact the world in ways we never would have imagined to be possible.