Student Creativity: Memories of Jurassic Park Style Blue Prints, Black Clouds, and A Whole Lot of Questions

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Now there is a question worth asking.  Many kids will give you many explanations, but sometimes the simplest answers are there.  Some know what job they want to what they want to do with their lives, such as a close friend of mine pretty much early on knew he wanted to be a doctor, but many do not.  I was thinking about how it is the teacher’s job to foster as much growth and interests as we can.  Who are we to crush someone’s dreams?  

As a child, I had some adults (never in my family, but in school...) that hung like black clouds over me and tried to guide me in a more practical direction, which always felt like they thought my thoughts were worthless or just plain silly.  I had a very active imagination that usually involved science fiction storylines, action figures, and some downright weird/awkward stuff, but it was stuff I was interested in![1]  There were those adults that didn’t judge and helped me become the man that I am today.  Not much has changed.  I mean I did recently just watch Star Wars in the Machete Order for the first time.   So why did so many people feel the need to try to bring me back down to Earth? (Pardon the pun)

I am not entirely sure.  Maybe everyone just wanted me to be realistic?  Maybe they all wanted to grow up and get a good stable job to support a family?  Maybe they loved me and just wanted me to be responsible?  Maybe they just wanted me to think things totally through?  I was pretty aloof at times, my head in the next space adventure.  Maybe those people were afraid that I would never come down from Cloud City or get on the helicopter from Jurassic Park?[2]  

Whatever these people’s reasons for trying to make me come back down to Earth I guess they won in a way.  I entered a practical profession as a teacher and I am still writing now, which is something I realized I liked to do in 5th grade.  I guess overall I wasn’t hindered that much, but I am still thinking about it so they must have influenced me in some way.  

But back to my initial thought:  Who are we to stomp on someone’s dreams?  Why can’t people try things out until they figure them out?  Shouldn’t we as teachers foster as much creativity as possible?  Why is it that people have to say certain types of learning having no place in our classroom, just so they can be tested on “just the facts”?  Or why do we have to always spoon-feed the students the answers in the “correct” way to do things?

Every year I see kids who struggle with creativity and are self-conscious about it.  They need our help!  I try so hard to make kids see that their drawings really do have value and that their stories are celebrated.  They are scared that someone will tell them it is hideous or worthless.  Where did this start in our process?  Surely, no teacher ever went to teaching school saying, “Gee Whiz Mister, I can’t wait to start making students feel like they cannot create!”

I think in general that middle schoolers are self-conscious in general, but it is our duty to make them see that they have creative worth and should at least try.  It breaks my heart to see kids stare at me and say, "I am 12, but I cannot draw, I am uncomfortable drawing, and I will not draw because I am too embarrassed.  Where did the willingness to try go?  Who said something that made these kids stop wanting to give it a shot?  It is almost like the joy of creating has disappeared from them and has to be dragged out slowly like venom.  The creative process should never feel this painful for both teacher and student.  Perhaps as a society we need to start making students feel like being creative is valued over the logical thinking of math and science?  Can’t we make math and science creative?
I really don’t have the answers to the questions that I posed nor do I think that math and science are not valuable subjects, but I do think it is our duty to try to make students feel safe to be creative no matter what the subject.  It can only help make America a better place to live, since we will be inspiring the next generation of artists and engineers those who can solve our plethora of problems.  I know that I will try my darnedest to help bring about more creative thought from my students.  I am sure they would rather be more creative than doing the same old same old anyway.  Once they get into the project they usually feel pretty good about themselves.  Plus do we really want to be remembered as someone’s black cloud?    

I know that I sure don’t.           

[1] I once created an in depth and detailed plan about how we could get to Mars.  The math was all wrong, but I attempted to figure out how fast I we would need to go and how far away the planets were.  My poor parents little solar powered calculator was not up to the job and erred when I tried to computer the numbers.  Not to mention the fact I had to pretty much sit in front of the window to make the calculator compute my figures.  Solar power technology sure has come a long way.   
[2] I also participated in creating a Jurassic Park blue print on old drafting paper complete with computer tracking system on our old Tandy 2000 computer.  It was pretty involved but I wouldn’t trade those fun evenings with my brothers for anything.  The creativity we used to bounce off one another was pretty amazing in those days!  (Thanks mom and dad for letting us take over the kitchen table like engineers) 

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