Monday, October 03, 2005

Inventiveness and progress

One of the greatest challenges for anyone involved in education is how to find the proper balance between teaching the basics and encouraging creativity. It's an ancient problem, as old as learning itself.

Uber-inventors Danny Hillis and Bran Ferren offer some interesting thoughts about the connection between education and invention. From Newsweek:

Oct. 10, 2005 issue - Are inventors born, or are they made? Danny Hillis, who can't remember a time when he wasn't trying to make mind-blowing stuff, comes at the question, as usual, from an unexpected angle: potential inventors are un-made. "In some sense, every kid is inventive," he says. Without encouragement, a child's gleeful penchant for experimentation becomes endangered. "Kids invent things all the time until they get to school and adults tell them they shouldn't be wasting their time doing silly stuff," says Bran Ferren, Hillis's partner at Applied Minds, a company that invents amazing things for corporations like General Motors and institutions like the United States government.

There's a very real lesson here: if every school is standardized and formulaic, if every minute of the school day is planned and plotted to achieve narrow curricular goals and ensure "success" on mindless standardized tests, what happens to creativity and invention? And if creativity is banished from schools, where will cures for diseases and new technological innovations come from?

Invention is at the heart of progress. So I ask you: Are we doing enough in our schools to cultivate a spirit of inventiveness and encourage creativity in students? Or are we, as Ferren suggests, doing the opposite?


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