Teaching Innovation

This article on eSchoolNews, “How – and why – to teach innovation in our schools” by Alexander Hiam, details solid solutions on how to go about achieving President Obama’s charge to start creating the future innovators on the global stage. The discussions of how standardized testing and similar methods de-stress any kind of imaginative thinking are solid and supported here with his explanation of the Five I’s: Imagination, Inquiry, Invention, Implementation and Initiative.

The article also reminds us the extent to which classrooms are teacher-dominated, a structural and institutional model that discourages creative thinking. I remember reading bell hooks’ book Teaching to Transgress when I was a relatively new teacher and having my eyes opened to the fact that I didn’t have to control my students in order to teach them. A teacher does not have to be dominant authority in the room, but more of a facilitator and mediator. Yes, that teaching style does cause me some disciplinary headaches sometimes and from some students, but being a strict authoritarian would be a constant and daily headache of trying to maintain machine-like compliance from the students.

The sad truth – and this article goes into it – is that current educational models, which are created (at least indirectly) by the policy decisions and stated goals of legislators and media outlets with no experience or training in the field of education, discourage creative thinking and often hamper the real “best” students. Our education system takes consequential action against students who defy the rigid practices – ranging from giving low grades to students who don’t give the “right” answers to punishing students who “misbehave” in class – which alienates students who don’t thrive under rigid conditions. Unfortunately, many of those unorthodox students go on to view themselves as outsiders and to view the world around them as hostile.

In a recent issue of NEA Today magazine, the NEA president wrote in her introductory remarks that we say we want a “rigorous” academic system, when we actually mean that we want a vigorous system. The word rigorous means hardened and inflexible, as in a dead person with rigor mortis. The word vigorous means full of energy and vitality. The eSchoolNews.com article is making similar assertions: if we want our children to become the innovators of the future, then we can’t continue using a system that trains the automatons of the future.

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