Are Creativity & Standards Opposed?

I started my weekend at ASCD listening to Yong Zhao tear down the idea of standards in American education in favor of fostering individual creativity and ended it listening to Robert Marzano build up the idea of standards in education to foster individual accountability. While it feels at first as though these two well-established voices in education are opposed, upon further processing, I started to develop a deeper understanding of how and where the two meet.

Marzano’s session focused on data that supported his research in systems-based education. The opposite of which is time-based education, not creativity. When I had just seen Zhao speak, it seemed to me that standards were clearly his enemy. Listening to Marzano made it clear his concept of standards included no intention of destroying creativity (whether they actually do or don’t can’t really be seen in a simple comparison of their sessions).

There are many of you who already have notions of each of these ideas, but I as new teacher, I am still trying to find all these walls in the dark.  I like the idea expressed by Wayne Dyer (thanks to my colleague Olivia for pointing this out to me) that:

“The highest form of ignorance is to reject something you know nothing about.”

Another colleague ( a veteran science educator), through a comment conversation on Facebook, pointed out that the opposite may be true as well; we shouldn’t accept ideas which we know nothing about either.

This axiom gives great weight to the pursuit of personal truth. You cheat yourself if just listen to soundbites, quickly agree with emotional appeals, or deny unsavory responses to your thoughts. A good teacher is one who understands–what should be–the careful process of adopting new information.

I think in this age of information sharing at great speed, we need to continually be made aware that the ideas which we so emphatically deny and accept through our lunchroom chats, tweets and retweets, and other social media, were usually carefully crafted by someone.

I like to think that the only true absolute is: There Are No Absolutes, and I chuckle thinking about the paradox, but the point is there are always exceptions. There are “bad” researchers collecting seemingly meaningless data, sloppy bloggers espousing ideas loudly, teachers and principals who value their job over student learning, and corrupt politicians focusing only on reelection. These things are what make us angry, inspire us to be better at what we do, and help build awareness of ineffective practices.

When I think back to the differences between Zhao and Marzano, it’s hard for me to say they are opposed, and it gets harder the more I read about each of them and their ideas. They both care about pursuing education for all kids. They both care about discerning a system where best practices are shared and disseminated. They both make a living working for teachers and schools–ultimately–on behalf of students.

When I consider the nature of creativity and standards, the temporary conclusion I keep coming back to is that they have more in common than I previously thought.

You can read my thoughts about Zhao here.

Please leave a comment and some insight on these authors and their ideas!

10 thoughts on “Are Creativity & Standards Opposed?

  1. Steve,
    You actually answered your question in the post. Check out your sentence written in bold. Creativity dies when we believe there are limits on what we should know. Standards in schools not only tell us what we can learn, but what we can’t.

  2. Still thinking…we are entering a unit that will be referring to the time period in which factories began to standardize parts. The result? Every product coming off the assembly line is the same. Do we really want that in schools? Every student coming out being the same?

  3. This axiom gives great weight to the pursuit of personal truth. You cheat yourself if just listen to soundbites, quickly agree with emotional appeals, or deny unsavory responses to your thoughts. A good teacher is one who understands–what should be–the careful process of adopting new information.

    This is precisely the teeter totter that educators seem to have a hard time abandoning – it is easy to jump on the bandwagon, it is difficult to give careful and thoughtful consideration to educational ideas when everyone around you seems to be saying “get on with it” and for me, not only does this affliction plague educators it plagues Americans. We dislike moderation, we abhor the idea of something taking a long time and a lot of tweeking – there is nothing “sexy” about slow, carefully considered change, and because of that, we hardly ever take that route, even though using what is good from all of these researchers and philosophers and educators would be “best practice” it is not easy nor is quick processing time, so to speak. Just my take….thanks for the interesting commentary, as always, Steve.

  4. That’s close to the mindset I came into Marzano’s session with, but his system for measuring learning did not seem to limit learning because it was modular. It’d be like having a graduated cylinder with attachments to go upward forever.

  5. RE: Assembly lines and factories – I would argue the two aren’t the same: factories have the same inputs which are used to produce the same outputs.

  6. Standards are an end goal. While creativity is a process. A student who is trained to approach life with creative solutions, will also meet standards. They may not approach the standards as you expected. Standards are a means to assess how effectively a problem was solved.

    Without creativity, standards based education often produces button pushers who can only follow directions. Without standards, creativity based education may produce daydreamers who are pleased to never produce anything.

    Creativity and standards cannot thrive apart.

  7. I love the teeter-totter analogy you use, it is something we go back-and-forth with. If we deviate too far from the center, we lose perspective. Thanks for yet another insight Olivia!

  8. Thank you for writing that Justin. I think you’ve just helped string together some of my disparate thoughts on the topic!

    I took a peek at your paintings as well, excellent work! I bookmarked your Etsy page.

  9. Pingback: Considering Sines of Learning | Hi, I'm Steve Moore

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