blue skunk blog

Blue skunk blog

In response to Seth Godin’s manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams: What is School for? back in 2012 I suggested 10 big questions that as educators we spend too much time avoiding and too little time discussing that deal with the purpose of education:

  1. Should education be more than vocational training? If so, can or should schools measure how one’s quality of life increases because one is more thoughtful, more skeptical, more creative, and/or more humane?
  2. What is a good balance between learning content and learning processes? How much do I want my dentist to know about best established practices and how much do I want her to know how to keep learning new best practices?
  3. At what age should a child be able to determine for himself what is in his best interest to learn? How important is exposure to a broad (and possibly irrelevant) range of experiences, opportunities, or ideas? If a child develops a passion for a topic early in life, should all her learning revolve around that passion?
  4. To what extent do we honor individual learning styles and needs? Is learning how to deal with problems (a teacher or topic one dislikes, for example) an important part of education?
  5. Should technology be used to support all educational practices or only those which are constructivist-based?
  6. Should we insist teachers who are effective without using technology be required to use it? Yes, I really do think that is a necessary question, as unpleasant as it is for many of us.
  7. Do libraries and librarians have a role in the era of digital information? Yes, I really do think that is a necessary question, as unpleasant as it is for many of us.
  8. How many of us are less enthusiastic about libraries or technology but are simply excited about alternate ways of learning – and libraries and technology offer means to those ways?
  9. What kind school experience do I want my own grand/children to have? How should that guide me as an educator?
  10. How should educational organizations demonstrate their efficacy? If we don’t believe in test scores, what do we have to show those who fund us that we are doing good work?

Increasingly I think about question 4 “Is learning how to deal with problems (a teacher or topic one dislikes, for example) an important part of education?” The most memorable challenges my own children dealt with in school were along the line of:

  • What can I do about this teacher I dislike?
  • Why do I have to learn this subject/take this class?
  • How do I get others in my group project to do their work?
  • How will I get everything I need to do done?

How are these questions much different than those we ask as adult workers?

  • What can I do about this boss I dislike?
  • Why do I have to learn this new work skill?
  • How do I get others in my team to do their work?
  • How will I get everything I need to do done?

What if the best education is simply one that gives us a chance to practice the skills we need to use everyday regardless of our profession or stage of our career? Is school a place to make “safe mistakes” from which we can learn?

Oh, my standard answer to my children when asking some of the questions above was “Formal education is primarily a weeding tool used by society to determine who is willing to play by the rules, willing to conform, and willing to delay gratification. For those people, there will be a place in an ordered work environment that is somewhat secure.”

education technology libraries humor web2.0 school

Blue skunk blog

I have an old iPhone I keep in a drawer at home just to use when I travel abroad. As soon as I get to a international destination, I head to the nearest cell phone store and purchase a new SIM card and a pre-paid data plan – usually about 5 gig. Total bill is around $20-$30 and the data lasts for at least a couple weeks.

I only realized on this last trip to Europe just how dependent I’ve become on this old device.

Its primary uses are for navigation and photography (which needs no explanation.) I do feel totally dependent on GoogleMaps whether walking, driving, or even taking mass transit. (A librarian in Tokyo taught me how to use GMaps to use the city’s complex metro system.) I love how GMaps will predict walking time and has the directional indicator that shows which way you are facing. For me, one of the most confusing parts of a subway is figuring out exactly where you are when you come up on to the streets. When I do a lot of driving, I have a commercial app called CoPilot that I like because the maps are downloaded and one can still navigate without having a cellular data connection.

Other apps on which I depend when traveling include:

  • Speak and Translate – real time lanuage translation
  • Spanish Anywhere – Spanish dictionary
  • Fly Delta – boarding passes, updates of flights
  • GlobalConvert – currency conversion, but also does metric length, weight, temperature
  • Mobile Pass – easy go through immigration returning to US
  • Uber – works around the world. Taxi drivers are corrupt in many places.
  • HostelWorld, TripAdvisor, Kayak – on the fly booking for rooms, tours
  • AllTrails – maps of hiking trails
  • Bed Time Fan – creates white noise to help one sleep
  • Facetime, Skype, GoogleVoice – calling home
  • Compass – when you really just need to know what direction is actually north
  • DropBox – storing and accessing pdfs of reservation confirmations, copy of passport, and other travel docs

I explained to a friend recently that one of the reasons I like to travel is I consider it a test of my aging brain. Can I still figure out how to get from A to B? Can I make myself understood when neither of us speak a common tongue? Can I still a book a room, rent a car, or sign up for a tour? He observed that travel asks us to use different parts of our brains than out daily life, and suggested that is perhaps why it feels like an effective test. I like that.

I’ve long wondered whether our devices are enhancements or replacements for our thinking processes. When the affordable pocket calculator came out in the mid-70s, I liked to think that I could use my mental processing power to solve problems rather than to remember multiplication tables. Does the GPS allow me now to learn more about where I am going rather than worry about how I get there? As language translation apps become more powerful and realtime, will I now be able to craft more effective communications with my host country friends?

Or maybe, just maybe, my phone being smart helps compensate for me not being quite so smart myself.

BFTP: Big C and little c creativity

Csikszentmihalyi differentiates between big-C creativity and little-c creativity. The big-C creative person is eminent, a person whose work is well known by people in a particular field. The little-c creative person is not. Big-C creativity leads to the transformation of a domain. Little-c creativity is used in everyday life, as in problem solving. Jane Plirto Duke TIP

Why do so many teachers think that creativity belongs only in the art room? Why do so many parents simply write creativity off as frosting on the high brow cultural cake? Why do so many of us feel intimidated when asked if we ourselves are “creative”?

It’s because we don’t differentiate between Big C and small c creativity.

Psychology professor and popular author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi divides creativity into two types: big and little 1 . Big C creativity is that which most of us think of when we think of creative people: those who break the norms of art like Picasso, Presley, or Tharp. Those innovative scientists like Galileo, Edison, or Einstein. Those who invent new technology models like Ford, Bezos, and Jobs. It’s those folks who influence what Csikszentmihalyi calls an entire “domain.”

But Csikszentmihalyi also recognizes the small c of creativity – the everyday, often personal, problem-solving all of us do. We are all of us small c creative when we find that we’re missing an ingredient in a recipe and need to substitute. When two of our children need to be at different places at the same time. When the lesson we planned can’t be taught because the Internet is down. When we need to write something romantic in the Valentine’s Day card to our sweetie.

We monitor and adjust.

I think of this as “duct tape ingenuity.”

As much as I admire the Spielbergs, the Warhols, and the Beethovens of this world, I appreciate the really good small c creative people with whom I work everyday even more. The problem-solvers. The initiators. The teachers who do something a little crazy hoping the crazy thing may just capture the attention of some kids who weren’t paying attention before. The tech who devises an ingenious work-around. The librarian whose library policies treat library users as people.

We need to honor small c creativity in our schools and classrooms – and we should be demanding our students demonstrate small c creativity instead of relying on adults to routinely provide the solutions – to personal issues, of course (I forgot my iPad at home) but to classroom issues as well.

Shouldn’t we be asking our students for solutions for these sorts of problems?

  • We have only 20 books for 26 kids in the classroom.
  • When school dismisses early on snow days, some kids’ parents can’t come to get them until regular dismissal time.
  • Jerry and Tom are always arguing.
  • Alisha is getting cyberbullied.
  • The chapter on the civil rights movement in the textbook is boring.
  • The librarian only lets kids check out two books at a time.
  • The wireless network is slow.
  • Our newest student doesn’t speak English as her native language.

Teachers should recognize that not all forms of creativity are demonstrated through big projects with formal assessments for a grade. Thinking of creative solutions to a problem is a habit of mind, a disposition, a personality trait – an integral part of personal responsibility.

That only gets stronger with practice.

1. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. Harper, 1997.

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