I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it. ~Pablo Picasso
I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of interviews lately from innovators and “geniuses” of our time. I’ve also been listening to a lot of people discussing the failings of our education system in the US. What I find coming up again and again is the lack of opportunity for students to take risks. We encourage students to be creative early on, in kindergarten, but some time between then and high school, student are mostly expected to learn facts and apply those facts to problems on standardized tests.
Now I don’t want to debate the importance of standardized tests today, so lets assume they are important. Students do need to have some important facts and procedural knowledge in their heads in order to function in society. But the truly fulfilling and life changing experiences require risk taking. How can we encourage students to take risks when we are focused on getting them all to bubble in the same answer on a multiple choice test? There is a distinct message that is being communicated when the only value we give in student assessment is the standardized test. Even the AP college prep track expects this sort of mentality. Every AP student in the country, takes one day to answer questions that will determine IF they get college credit for a class they took in high school. That test, though not all multiple choice, doesn’t allow for much originality, it only looks for the pattern that the student learned. If the pattern is missing, they “failed”.
This is necessary when dealing with the kinds of skills/questions being asked of our secondary students today. But are these the only skills that we need to be assessing? What do truly successful people have in common? Risk taking, and some other undervalued skills such as social, physical, or artistic. The skills that make for true innovation and for people to have the opportunity to set their own course are not communicated in the curriculum or assessment methods implemented today. Students need to be encouraged to explore their creative side. To imagine “what if” now so they have experience doing that in a safe environment. Once they are adults, the “what if” kinds of questions are far more important than “chose your answer from the list below”.