Education and the Element of Creativity: a response to Diane Ravitch

As I sat in my chair listening closely to the famous scholar Diane Ravitch speak about education in United States, I could not help but agree with most of, if not, all of what she had to say in regards to the flawed educational system presently established in the United States. For example, she confessed that the reason behind the inadequate test scores of students across the United States has less to do with their individual ability and more to do with inadequate funding and a dependence on standardized testing which is supplemented by a faulty curricula. She first highlighted that poverty is a main cause of low test scores because it influences all aspects of a student’s life, then explained that standardized testing combined with the continuous reliance on the Common Core Initiative has negatively influenced the growth of students, as well as the perceived occurrence of bad teachers.

Instead of constantly over-testing students, Ravitch believes that we must begin to foster the type of student who asks the right questions and questions the right answers. These students should not be assessed based on whether they filled in the correct answer, but, instead, on whether they are kind, creative, and willing to think differently.

In response to her empowering beliefs, I found a strong connection between her perspective of education and Ken Robinson’s (2009) notion of the Element. Robinson explains that the element is the manifestation of one’s potential that is individually unique yet a universal variable that exists among those who discover what they love to do and what they are good at (p. 27). By examining the individual journeys of notable societal figures such as Matt Groening (creator of the Simpsons), Paul McCartney (member of the Beatles), and Gillian Lynne (accomplished choreographer), Robinson emphasizes the need to educate children not through a rigid hierarchical formula that elevates the importance of socially compliant behavior and standardized content but rather using a flexible, individualized framework that favors creativity and divergent thinking to help find that special, life-enriching element. As Ravitch explained during her lecture, as well as in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, we must provide universal childhood education, reduce class sizes, provide a well-rounded curricula that emphasizes the arts, must teach more and test less, and allow teachers to decide the standards for standardized tests.

In her response to the Common Core Initiative, Ravitch (2011) believes that instead of emphasizing the vague notion of “analytical skills required for success in college, career, and life”(par. 2, Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2015), it is more important that “A well-educated person has a well-furnished mind, shaped by reading and thinking about history, science, literature, the arts, and politics. The well-educated person has learned how to explain ideas and listen respectfully to others” (p. 16). As she touched on during the lecture, music can be an ideal tool for accomplishing this goal because it promotes the need for individual improvement and work ethic, working as a group to achieve a single goal, and allows for experimentation and creativity.

Based on my personal experience of having been nurtured in a local school district, but also taking part in my high school marching band, I absolutely agree with Ravitch’s claim. After graduating high school, I believe that music has improved my work ethic and further fostered creativity to a far greater extent than the rigid schooling framework I experience within the Common Core curricula. In the end, as both Ravitch and Robinson emphasize, education should foster creativity in the development of one’s character and the goal of education should be shaping an individual who is not only capable of thinking critically but unafraid of thinking differently. Therefore, I agree with their perception of education to the highest degree. 

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2015). English Language Arts Standards. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/ 

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. Basic Books.

Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. The Element: How finding your passion changes everything (2009), pg 15. New York (USA): Viking.

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Adopting a Holistic and More Liberal Approach to Education

On 10th of February, Lehigh University hosted Diane Ravitch’s lecture “School Reform: Finding Common Ground” at the Zoellner Arts Center. As a graduate student in Comparative and International Education, I felt pretty lucky to have the chance to attend this lecture and listen to Dr. Ravitch’s speech about the U.S. public education. Her arguments were really thought-provoking and eye-opening.

First, I would like to start with Dr. Ravitch’s statement about poverty. Underlining the fact that poverty and inequality are very prevalent in the U.S. society, she argues that holding public schools – including their teachers and administrators – accountable for their relatively low test scores is neither fair nor realistic approach. She suggests that we need to get to the root of the problem. It is a common mistake to state that education is the answer to all of our problems and expect that education will sort all our problems. It is more like a fantasy projection as indeed many of the problems that we have in education today stem from existing social and economic structures. As Ravitch concluded, we need to tackle the broader problems of poverty and segregation first.

Secondly, I would like to touch on Ravitch’s arguments about test scores. As Ravitch suggests, if a test does not have a diagnostic value, it is nothing other than a score. There is an increasing obsession with test scores worldwide, which compels countries to perceive that rising test scores are a sign of success. However, placing more importance on test scores and pushing for more testing make students focus on testing only rather than learning. Indeed, such an approach to education may not leave much room for imagination and creativity. In addition to that, strong push for standardized testing creates a sense of competition among students, which hampers interaction, collaboration, and effective learning. When high test scores become the final goal in education, then the question comes to mind – ‘What is education for?’

At this point, I would like to refer to Finnish education system, which usually ranks the highest on the PISA test. Contrary to common approach to education, Finland has taken a very different path. As Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg highlights in one of his speeches:

“I want nobody here in the room to leave thinking that Finland has the best education system in the world, that’s an illusion that has been created by foreigners. Because in Finland we don’t think of education as a global competition. We actually don’t care if we are better than anyone else. Education for us is for individual enhancement and for the common good.”

I think the secret of Finnish success lies in the way education is perceived. Education is not a global competition and should not be perceived as commodity in the labor market. Rather, education should be a common good and prepare students for life. As Ravitch says, we should have more zeal to make our society better through education, which is much more important than high test scores.

Finally, I completely agree with Ravitch’s recommendations regarding well-rounded curriculum, arts education, and physical education. Narrowing the curriculum and putting more emphasis on math and science have negative consequences on students’ learning. Education consists of both intrinsic and instrumental values and it should enable students to grow not only professionally but also personally. Therefore, a holistic approach to education would be more beneficial. For as long as students are not exposed to suitable conditions, which can foster their imaginative function and spark creativity, it will be unrealistic to expect that school graduates will reach their full potential, be aware of what they would like to do in their lives, and be motivated in their careers.