For many people, the first automatic response to this question is a resounding “NO.”
My answer is actually a little different: it depends on where you are on the school pecking order.
Mind you, I am speaking of the U.S. public educational system only. I am not familiar with those outside of the United States (though I am starting to explore this more), and it is easier for me to speak on a system that I have navigated myself. I am aware that many private schools do indeed have programs and curriculums that encourage raw creative talent. For this post, I am focusing on the system that the majority of American children find themselves a part of…and it has changed a lot since I was a part of it.
When I was in elementary school, there were numerous creative outlets for kids. We had art classes, music classes, physical education, science fairs, art shows, and field days. Middle and high school life included drama classes, math clubs, yearbook and school newspapers, executive committees by grade, and competitions outside of the classroom across several different types of creative intelligence, from engineering to football. A lot of these are still in place, especially beyond the classroom, but what has happened to the classroom itself? I don’t think my 11-year-old nephew has ever done a science project, and these were a staple for me growing up. Oh, they are learning about the scientific method, but there is no room for the creative exploration of it because they have to get ready for the next round of testing.
Ah yes, the testing. This has become the bane of a public school student’s existence. Their fate, along with the fate of their school and even their district in many cases, rests on these tests. There are some kids who are excellent at taking tests, as this is a process that they happen to be gifted in. For them, the tests are somewhat easier. What about the kids whose abilities lie in something beyond the tests and the Core Curriculum?
I was not the best test taker, but I had very good grades because I took the Honors/Advanced Placement route in middle and high school and chose which classes I wanted. I love to write, so English and Social Studies all became AP classes. Here, I was challenged but also given the opportunity for my creativity to shine. Joining the school’s literary magazine helped that as well. When I took the writing competency test for my undergraduate college, I scored at grade level 17, which is the first year of graduate school. Even though I struggled in Honors Chemistry, I became a bit more fascinated with chemistry because of the cool experiments we did that weren’t done in the regular class. The same held true for Honors Biology.
I am not saying that this is the only route to take, far from it. It is not even a route, per se. It is a suggestion and a response to the post question. Can students sharpen their creative gifts in our school system? I believe it is possible, but it takes work and the willingness of both the parents and the student to seek out the opportunities. Adding back the art, music, and PE classes and science activities that were such a great part of my childhood would also be a wonderful place to start.
We focus so much on what our children cannot do; let’s start identifying and encouraging not just what they can do, but what they are really good at.