happy 12th b-day, sir ken



It’s hard to believe that this much-circulated talk is still timely. And that makes me a little sad, but it also bears witness to the fact that educational change is glacial.

I know lots of teachers (am a teacher, am married to guy who was a teacher), and I don’t know one who wakes up every morning and says, “Let’s go kill creativity today!” But I do know that often our hands are tied, or it feels as if they are. In talking with many educators over the past couple of years, I’ve learned that they feel like they’re luring their students toward creativity in spite of others who may have more power than than do in the system.

I began teaching since the turn of the century (ahem), and I had the same questions then. Around 1995, when I assigned Hard Times to my AP Lit students, we talked a lot about Thomas Gradgrind. Gradgrind is a wealthy industrialist who assumes the position of teacher in one chapter, and let’s just say his “educational approach” reflects his name. I asked my students to consider how Dickens used Gradgrind to reflect the ills of education in his time: What ills did they see? From there, we talked about their own experiences in school. How did it feel when teachers asked them to be creative now? How did they respond?

Many of them said that it felt like a glass of cool, clear water; others confessed they were fearful to take the offer, even when given the chance. What’s happened in schools? And how are we as teachers to respond to the powers-that-be that might discourage the innate human impulse to create, to the students who are thirsty, and to the ones who don’t believe they can do so anymore?


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