Saturday, June 14, 2014

Making, not Replicating: The Joy Standards Cannot Bear

20 collages created each day based on my reading of The New York Times.
I. Composing

For the last few weeks I have been composing a collage a day in response to what I read each day in The New York Times. Tomorrow will be collage #21. Creating something new each day allows me to shape possibility from the raw messiness of the day, to confront not knowing, and to situate it as a source of energy. And although this work leads me to see differently (the world is more vivid as if I was walking about with polarized lens covering my eyes) and to think differently, too--what motivates me to continue making is joy.  Rollo May in The Courage to Create noted:

But what the artist or creative scientist feels is not anxiety or fear;  it is joy. I use the word in contrast to happiness or pleasure. The artist, at the moment of creating, does not experience gratification or satisfaction...Rather, it is joy, joy defined as the emotion that goes with heightened consciousness, the mood that accompanies the experience of actualizing one's own potentialities (p.45). 

Making a collage each day has increased my capacity to make connections between and among ideas as I don't turn off the layering process I use during collage making. I see the world as juxtaposition. At some point when I enter more deeply the work I am making, I disconnect from the world and time shifts and I find that I resurface hours later with a new work in hand. There's such joy in the making. Rollo May is correct--it is experiencing my own potential that fuels me--that fills me with joy.

Making matters beyond the object made.

So much of making collage is active problem solving--the trial and error, the endless re-shifting and reshaping of image and idea, and the unexpected rush and at times the slowness of understanding that occurs in ways difficult to predict.  It's complex work and beneath this process is the freedom to create, to err, to abandon a work, to not understand, to get it (sometimes) and to try again.

Making is indulgent.

II. Replicating

Indulgence and freedom are not the stuff made at school. The very dispositions necessary to creating are often threatened by the status quo that is present in the day to day conceptualization of what school is and how it 'ought' to be organized and what counts as important learning--especially with the rise of national standards. Educational standards, as we conceive of them presently, are a means for someone else to name the most important content for someone else to learn. It's a curriculum of servitude. At its base, standards are a form of colonialism.  (Ok, even if you aren't buying my Edward Said interpretation of educational standards, consider this):

The world’s information is doubling every two years. In 2011 the world will create a staggering 1.8 zettabytes. By 2020 the world will generate 50 times the amount of information and 75 times the number of "information containers"... from here.
Does it not seem foolish in 2014 to use time and resources to name what must be learned in a world where information doubles every two years?  Educational standards making is an exercise in asserting power.  Situating educational standards as even being necessary, tells us much about what is valued at school and in the larger society: standardization and replication

Ugh, it's the machine age all over again. 

III. Being a Simulacrum

Standards situate your child and mine as simulacrum--the copy for which there is no original. Is this really the measure of achievement we desire for children? Standards limit creativity as they are by design an orderly and singular way of seeing life. Think of replication, the outcome of standards, as an endless series of boxes, each with a very tight lid. There's no thinking outside of that box. There's nothing original. It's all about embracing the rational.

I think again about Rollo May who acknowledges that the creative spirit is a threat to the rational. He writes:

The creativity of the spirit does and must threaten the structure and presuppositions of our rational, orderly society and way of life. Unconscious, irrational urges are bound by their very nature to be a threat to our rationality, and the anxiety we experience thereupon is inescapable. 
I am proposing that the creativity coming from the preconscious and unconscious is not only important for art and poetry and music; but is essential in the long run also for our science. To shrink from the anxiety this entails, and block off the threatening new insights and forms this engenders, is not only to render our society banal and progressively more empty, but also to cut off as well the headwaters in the rough and rocky mountains of the stream that later becomes the river of creativity in our science (pp.71-72).
IV. Uncovering the 3 U's

Four things I think about when I think about educational standards:
  1. Educational standards and our response to them render our world 'banal and progressively more empty'. 
  2. Educational standards and our response to them keep the anxiety that arises alongside not knowing and the unknown--at bay. 
  3. Educational standards consistently reassure us that the way we have come is the only way we could have done so. 
  4. Educational standards and our response to them reduce joy--as such flights of fancy cannot be adequately endured.

And so it is not surprising when Ruth Richards in "Everyday Creativity: Our Hidden Potential" notes that creativity

may often be overlooked—either consciously or unconsciously, for a purpose. One may talk about the three "U's": Our creativity is often underrecognized, underdeveloped, and underrewarded, in schools, at work, and at home. Why is it, after all, that in so many schools students are trying to get 100% on someone else's test and not making up more questions of their own? (p. 26)
V. Dominating

Why indeed?  Who benefits from the development of an underclass who is systematically taught, not only how to take someone else's tests, but to do so as if such work was the mark of high merit?   Yes, yes, I know I will hear the rhetoric that standards lead to high achievement.  But is that really so? In last week's Washington Post article about Bill Gates's dominance in education policy, Lyndsey Layton writes:

Tom Loveless, a former Harvard professor who is an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Common Core was “built on a shaky theory.” He said he has found no correlation between quality standards and higher student achievement.

“Everyone who developed standards in the past has had a theory that standards will raise achievement, and that’s not happened,” Loveless said.
Okay, so if there's no correlation between educational standards and increased student achievement, then what exactly did Gene Wilhoit, David Coleman, and Bill Gates want to create? Layton writes:

In February, Microsoft announced that it was joining Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, to load Pearson’s Common Core classroom materials on Microsoft’s tablet, the Surface. That product allows Microsoft to compete for school district spending with Apple, whose iPad is the dominant tablet in classrooms. 
Gates dismissed any suggestion that he is motivated by self-interest.

“I believe in the Common Core because of its substance and what it will do to improve education,” he said. “And that’s the only reason I believe in the Common Core.” 
Hmm. Okay, no self interest--even though he will benefit in ways you and I could only dream. 

What about Wilhoit and Coleman? Have they benefitted from this venture? Coleman is now the president of College Board with a $750,000 annual salary and benefits. Not bad.  Wilhoit joined Student Achievement Partners (SAP) as a Partner in 2013. The same group that is a top recipient of grants from Gates. (SAP received $4,042,920.00 from here.)

In reading Layton's article, it almost feels like the start to a very bad joke: Three wealthy guys meet up at a bar one night and... But it's not a joke and joy and more are at stake.

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