School: is it really destroying creativity?

Today I had to go to school, but I felt really bad: my famous back pain, faithful companion of many adventures, lately is quite angry and in these two or three days in particular he decided I wasn’t supposed to be able to drive, sit down, bend over, I mean… nothing. Unless you swallow anti-inflammatories like candies, which I hate but it’s the only thing allowing me not to be a zombie, even now.

So in this great shape, this morning I went in a middle school at the first hour of lesson, because the meeting I had there, I couldn’t really blow it: It was the result of a long and elaborate negotiation to work around a veto to the schedule I proposed for some class activities I was called to do, a veto by a teacher who had an irremovable class test… Out of this affair, I exchanged several emails with another teacher, in charge of this project, and apparently my emails were sent to all the teaching staff and the private comments that I made on this veto have become public.

In short, the teacher of the veto was very hard to me, and partly she was also right, since this fact of my email disclosed to everybody, I did not like it either; I tried to explain, but  she silenced me twice, then she went away saying that she wouldn’t even listen to me.

I let know the fellow teacher who is in charge of the project, who responded… with words not to be repeated here, in brief being very hard on the first teacher too. Then, in that moment I understood it all correctly , I felt in the middle of some sort revenge, for a settling of scores among middle school teachers, i.e. – Oh my God – the most fearsome figures of my school life.

standard disclaimer: some good ol’ influential authors

Since I had just read on the blog of the mother of one of my children-programmers a post that praises the figure and the work of the always great Ken Robinson, the ironic face of the famous sir came immediately to mind , smiling while beating a hammer onto the Western educational system – and then immediately after, the sly face of Sugata Mitra, that while telling his beautiful and so agreeable dream, tells the origin and the basic need of that very system of education (i.e., create staff to keep operating that computer made of people that was the administration of the British Empire). Then I remembered that Ken Robinson had made another famous speech, on change of education parameters, where he talks about even more subversive things (at least for the Italian school of today) as the divergent thinking, and as the now-famous test that measures the creativity decay of students with the increasing permanence in the education system, narrated in the book Breakpoint and beyondstrangely still unpublished in Italy, at least as I understand it.

I mean, I am made this way: when they make me piss off, I don’t scream insults or move my hands: instead, I remember and regroup in my head all theories, texts and lectures which show that certain problems could be solved at the root.

And then I go home and brood on it for a week while I grow a belly ache.

power and school, can anyone see the link?

School destroys creativity?

Every time I work with teachers, especially those of middle school (they are pretty much the only ones who – at least to a certain amount – still agree to questioning their role, method, impact… while in high school, typically there is no hope at all) I’m always surprised at their surprised faces.  You see that surprise on the faces of teachers, when you mention power inherent in their role – evidently for those who doesn’t use it as a cudgel to get posthumous satisfaction on the skin of innocent children from a new generation, power is an element subject to a forced removal (you see the pun, yes?). I am astonished by their astonishment, but maybe it’s just me: raised with bread and The Wall, I overdid it on the opposite side. Or maybe, aside from the sacrosanct speeches by Ken Robinson and Sugata Mitra, there is also a matter of people, to consider?

For example: if you have any school-age children, or if you work at school or you have to deal with schools for work, like me, you might know models as the life skills training, a patented American format very fashionable in my Region nowadays. Because if you know this world, you also know that interventions, models, alarms, priorities, and subsequent allocations of public  funds and resources, often come from fashions, or from personal interests of this or that regional officer. It goes so.

I mean, my Region “has acquired the rights to complete an Italian version” of this format (as they proudly state on their website) with money of mine and yours, and for some years it has been building it. There are certified trainers, with a roll as I recall, the very format is patented, in short it has all of the features that personally make me shiver but evidently are a sign of quality and reliability.

Then, since another feature that you will know if you are dealing with Italian school is its unstoppable vocation at doing weddings with dried figs, someone had this idea at some point: there are no more resources to allow certified trainers to deliver the program at each school year, so let’s train the teachers, then later they will be able to do – for free – the work which was intended for those registered and certified trainers… which I guess haven’t been exactly thrilled about this idea – but honestly I don’t care about this now.

I’m more interested in pointing out that teachers like the one who jumped on me this morning, then they go into classrooms and maybe they lead meetings following a patented and certified format, asking students to discuss interpersonal relationships within the class, their well-being and ability to handle internal conflicts in a healthy and mature way. And then next hour: unexpected class test, so you will learn to chat while we “do the life skills“.

Imagine yourself, yourself in middle school, speaking with a teacher who encourages you to say what is wrong with the class.
And you bullet the list in your mind: your manners when you yell at people’s faces for nothing, your chronic inability to tune in with our states of mind, your lack of interest in our private lives… and all the rest that we all could add.

There, you would make that list public, out loud, to such a teacher?

I believe that this aspect, most of all, is what kills creativity. The need for students to comply with, to bend your back, to learn how to please, to repeat what someone want to hear. Or  to pay the price, often steep, at least for the ability to self-defense of an adolescent, which you will pay if you question these things.

The hot-air balloon

the hot air balloon - that is the school as it should always be

When I was a child I was gifted (among the many) this beautiful book by Mario Lodi, where he tells the amazing adventures of a fifth grade class, between truth and invention. Ok, middle schools are another planet, hormones, adolescence etcetera. And high schools even more. But…

But coming out of school this morning, the stained glass window had a poster of the celebrations of the Liberation Day, from which I found out I missed a hike on the partisan trails of the hills around there, not far from my home, with the testimony of a partisan (battle name Sandro) punctuated by musical interludes of the contemporary music ensemble founded at school and conducted by my high-school professor of Italian.
It turned on my light bulb, I thought back to his wonderful lessons, which made me want to read everything and then write, as he mixed Italian and Latin and Greek and Philosophy and History and English literature, sometimes even in two – three – four voices involving several colleagues, without ever giving a homework assignment, telling us in advance when and what we were going to be questioned on, etcetera.

That too was school, no? Indeed, maybe that was school more than anything else.
Along with the self-managed additional activities which a group of teachers in my primary school had invented in late 70s, letting us stay in school in the afternoon to do theater, music, painting and a lot of other wonderful things. Along with the many stories I read online on the same topic, from all around the world.

I mean, the systems are made by people. The power is held by people: power to crush you, but also to change things. And also innovation, is made by people. Even paying the consequences, it is clear. Teacher Manzi had 7 disciplinary notes by Italian Education Ministry, so to say.

I’m getting so many ideas, so many questions… do you?


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