Sunday, January 31, 2010

“Nurturing Creativity in Early Childhood Education: Families Are Part of It”

Blog entry N. 1

Augusto Monk

Social Psychology of Music

“Nurturing Creativity in Early Childhood Education: Families Are Part of It” by Kristen M. Kemple was published in Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2000. It is a informative literature review study that reveal how little attention we pay to creativity in education. Some of the most salient concepts, statements, or facts presented in the article are:

fewer than 10% of the questions asked by teachers require children to think creatively
To be considered creative, a behaviour should fit four fundamental criteria: originality, relevance, fluency, and flexibility
The three main components of the creative family environment are said to be: respect for the child, stimulation of independence, and an enriched learning environment.

Based on Dacey, the author states that “parents of creative children are highly interested in their children’s behaviour, but do not rely on rigid, immutable rules to control their child’s behaviour.”

One of the key claims of the article is that creativity in school –when and if that happens- has to be supported at home if it is going to have any significant effect. In regards to how this support takes place at home, the author states: “Families of creative children allow their children to make their own mistakes, with the apparent understanding that through flexibility and freedom the child can learn to correct and overcome mistakes.”

However, creativity and independent thinking is not always the result of a caring, supportive, and nurturing environment: “In addition to positive family characteristics, less desirable family features may also influence children’s creativity. In a retrospective study of college students, (Freeman, Siegelman (1973) found that both male and female students with high creative potential reported that their parents were more rejecting than loving when they were growing up, while more loving parents were likely to be described by students with lower creative potential. Siegelman hypothesized that parental rejection may encourage a rebellious attitude, leading to more independent thinking.”

We are depriving children from their childhood.

A few observations in regards to my teaching based on the above article and some learning theories:

The first thing that comes to mind is the difference between Kemple’s definition of creativity, or creative though or product, and the one formulated by creativity anti-christ David Elliott. At points, they are different, in others even contradicting. From my past experience as a teacher, I conclude that although there are exceptions –and if there are, they are few and far between- the school system does not provide a platform for creativity to take place. At this point in time, I even wonder if creativity should take place in the school given the fact that it is so removed from what the system has become. Somehow, some of us still try to squeeze it in, which implies going against what the school is set up to do. For instance, the principle of reinforcement as reward and punishment, was an issue that I always saw with great suspicion. In fact, what I observed, and personally believe, is that many if not all, the learning theories are applied within the school with the purpose of manipulation; teachers love this, and that is regretful. I guess that the worst thing for a teacher is the feeling of having no control over a class; therefore, they implement learning theory: punishment and reward. This procedure, at least in the UK, is considered good, effective, modern, smart, scientifically based teaching; this manipulation is a trick in the teacher’s tool box, many pride themselves on creative ways to implement such level of stupidity such as giving children stars, stickers, a G clef with a smile, chocolate. We do not really develop a sense of motivation for children that comes from within; we do not do much to develop the integrity of child as a human being. The fact that many of these principles, such as the reward, are implemented in the business and management environment, is enough proof for me, that they are not suitable for education; this brings us to the conclusion: it actually makes sense that the school uses these principle because the school is not education, it is domesticating workforce for the corporate world. A few years ago I had a summer job as a ballet accompanist for the London’s Children Ballet. It consisted of classes and workshops on ballet for children between 8-16 years of age. I was astonished to see that all the classes with the exception of one teacher only (who was a contemporary dancer , not ballet) were the exact sequence of exercises, in the same manner, in the same order; the only difference was how well the children could do the exercises given their age and experience. The contemporary teacher`s class, was totally different although it was supposed to be ballet to. It had elements of drama, of mime, of visual arts, of games. I thought that at that age, that was exactly what those children were supposed to be doing; ahead of them, there was a lot of time to practise the bar routines and the shapes. I personally believe that at the age of 8, a child should not be confronted with “going to work.”

Kemple’s statement that creative individuals learn independently and from their own mistakes, is totally opposed to the principle of reflective learning -which I detest, in which the teacher asks the student: “How do you think you did in this exam?” These guided reasoning is the opposite to independent thinking that Freeman and Siegelman point out in the individual “neglected” by the parents. I think we should “neglect” our students more and let them work things out by themselves more; that line of reasoning (“How do you think you did in this exam?”) will happen when the child needs it; for the moment, the eight year old wants to kick a ball rather than do philosophy. As teachers, we are constantly expected to show and prove and evidence, that we are invariably doing everything within our humanly possible range to the best job that we possibly can, and “the best job we can do” means to be on the case all the time. I think that “the best job we can possibly do” is good to justify the teacher’s paycheque, but it in reality takes away a lot of the platform needed for creativity and child development to take place. From what I have observed, children would benefit quite a bit from being left on their own to sort themselves out. Having an adult behind their back all the time is not conducive to develop independent thinking.

Parental support at home for creativity to flourish is the exception more than the norm. Parents have little understanding of child psychology; in most cases, they send their children to school so that they can have a good job in the future,... pathetic!! There is constant feeling of fast-forwarding the child so that they learn maths as early as possible, and they learn an instrument “to play maths” as early as possible. As a result of this, I have been lately speculating with the idea that as educators we should educate adults rather than children; when we “teach” creativity to children, the effect washes away in a few hours when they go back to the square world. My theory is that is we “teach” creativity to the teachers, the school principal and the bureaucratic entourage, and parents, children would be living in a more creative environment through and through.

Concluding. Many of these principles, such as the “anticipated reward” makes me think that the application of education science as a way to make learning more effective, which means faster, which means goal oriented, which means quantifiable, which means uni-directional, which means uncreative, which means standardised keeps shaping the child as a small adult i.e.: someone with obligations, with targets to meet, with deadlines, plans, regimes. Paradoxically, we also take away the freedom of the adult from children, so children get the worst of both worlds. And the worst of all this is that we as teachers believe that we are doing a terrific job. I remember last year, one of many bosses was giving us a training session and she mentions: “When you are teaching repertoire to a kid you should them two pieces; “which one do you want to do: A or B.” This is a great solution because the kids feel they are making a choice, and they are also committing to it.” Notice the “public commitment” in operation; but also, the guided and pressurized teaching method in which the child does not have the option of making NO choice: so it is either A or B, but not C, or none of the above. Let alone, “I want to quit.” I have heard many time, two adults in front of a child putting this show on saying: “Oh, no, we don`t like quitters here.” And I wonder, what is wrong with a child hating a terrible music lesson? Or even not enjoying a good music lesson? Are we training them already to get stuck for life in jobs they’ll hate?

Through Kemple’s reading, I realise that music is not that important for education; creativity is. But creativity can be implemented in many different ways. I would prefer a geography teacher that uses Kemple’s definition of creativity, rather than a music teacher who uses Elliott’s.

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