Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Discouraging Genius: Is College Prep Killing Creativity?

"Students know how to play the game, and the current game doesn't reward creativity, risk, or choice."

   When will institutions of higher education support creativity and innovation? The current selection process for admissions emphasizes grades and test scores, while teachers are talking about moving away from grades and standardized testing has never been more unpopular, as evidenced by the opt-out movement this year. What does "college and career ready" really mean? How does a GPA or SAT prove that you have humanity, humility, or leadership skills? It may prove expertise, but according to Google, this is the least important of five attributes they are looking for in a new hire.

   This is my Sasha, and she has been playing this get into college game since middle school. 

   She was identified as "off the charts" gifted early on in school. She was a high-achieving "teacher-pleaser", and a "maker" before it was a movement. In a parent teacher conference, her 3rd grade teacher complained of the garbage she would collect in her desk and all of the creations she would be making out of said garbage. Her room at home was even worse; boxes and containers of castaways waiting to be given new life. When a tool is missing, I go to her room to find it; and it's often accompanied by parts of a dismantled electronic device.

   Now approaching her junior year in high school, she has expressed an interest in coding. With the AP class load that she is taking to get into college, she must choose between continued growth in an area she loves, art, or exploring a new interest in coding, because taking fewer AP courses isn't an option. She does like the AP courses, especially the sciences. I thought I could find her a summer course to learn coding, but these AP courses require a great amount of "homework" during the summer; making exploring learning opportunities, during what was once free time, more difficult. During the school year, after school time is completely consumed with sports and homework-no free time there. 

   I try to discourage "grade chasing" over dream chasing, but I am fighting a losing battle against high school counselors that are pushing this college bound agenda. At times, I also feel like I am fighting my child, as well as a culture that tells her that getting into a good college is the defining moment in her young life. She was worrying over what classes she was taking in middle school to be on track to get into the right classes in high school in order to be college bound. I'm unsure where this comes from, she isn't getting this pressure from me. If anything, I discourage college by sharing resources like these with her. 

   I don't buy into the idea that college is the key to success in life, or even that it's necessary. Yet I feel the pressure for her to attend college, like I have failed as a parent if I can't figure out a way to come up with $40,000 a year to pay for it-on a teacher's salary; while still paying for my own college loans. It's not that I don't want my child to go to college, but at what cost? Set aside the rising cost of books and tuition, is college worth the price of a childhood? Why is she so willing to set aside the things she loves in exchange for a degree that may or may not open some unknown door to future success?

Update: The Cycle Continues

   A few days ago, my two daughters and I were having lunch and Sasha says, "I have to take SATs this year." 
   I said to her, "It's summertime, are you really going to start worrying about that already? Come on." She spent months worrying over the PSAT last year.
   My younger child asks, "What's an SAT?"
   Sasha explains is to her in the simplest terms, "It's a test that tells you if you are smart, and if you get to go to college." I wanted to bang my head on the table. She read this post; I wouldn't publish something about her without her approval. She knows how I fell about it; and now she is passing these ideas to her sister. 
   I came across this video while reading a blog today and it is a better response than anything that I could come up with.

   Her painting is finished now, and I am encouraging her to set up her own Etsy shop and sell her artwork.


  1. This is the exact concept that we are working through at my work place. Incorporation of the 21st Century skills is now core. As educators we spent 2 days of PD attempting to design a learning scale so that we can observe how each student is going with on or two of the skills and how we can facilitate students to move toward achieving them.

    It was challenging and we only have scratched the surface. However, if the questions you have asked here are not debated and brought to light, then there is never going to be a change.

    Thanks for asking the hard questions and being confident to question our educational systems that were designed for a different time.

    I have introduced Genius Hour to my Year 4 students just this week. There reaction toward choosing their learning and their realisation that I believe they have genius potential...priceless!

    1. I read this book as part of my planning to implement some form of genius hour this year; either as an elective class or an after school club. Wettrick mentions in his book ("Pure Genius") that about 80% of his students implode. He offered an analogy of a parolee that was struggling with his new freedom and having to make his own choices and he said, "Freedom is hard." I have experienced this push back from students that just want clear directions for what to do alongside what grade it will get them. Nothing frustrates me more than hearing, "How many sentences does this have to be?" I am nervous about the how it will go. I am especially worried after watching this video and reading the comments from students: I hope they don't hate it.

      I am moving forward and hoping for the best. I'd be interested in how it goes for you, what you try, what you learn, and what you would do differently. I'd also love to hear about projects that your students do.