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Creativity and Palo Alto Schools?

Original post made by Simon, College Terrace, on Oct 17, 2006

I was just listening to KQED where an expert on Japanese culture was critiquing the Japanese education system for failing to promote creativity among its students. It’s going to cost the nation in the future, he argued, as creativity will increasingly be essential to success in the global economy. I agree with him about the importance of creativity and wonder if Palo Alto schools value it, too?

I also have a child due to enter Palo Alto kindergarten next year. Can parents of children in currently enrolled in PAUSD tell me—should I expect to be surprised by the ways in which children in the district are encouraged to develop creatively? Or is it your experience that our schools focused almost entirely instead on graduating students who do well on standardized tests?

Comments (6)

Posted by Anonymous parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 17, 2006 at 7:54 pm

Simon, just make sure your children go to Ohlone!

Posted by anon
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 18, 2006 at 10:12 am

A good question. These are rambling thoughts from someone who has not been in the district for the full span of my students' education. At least at the high school level, it's common knowledge many Palo Alto parents focus their energies on strongly encouraging/preparing their children to receive top grades and SAT scores for admission to prestigious colleges. Students then have this mindset. It IS a narrow focus with a goal in mind (admission to a prestigious college).

I don't believe "creativity" is often promoted as an asset, though it should be, except in those cases where you have artists in your family! GPA is much more likely to be a topic of conversation every day among students. Guess what - that is boring, competitive, sometimes meant to be demoralizing to others.It's also personal and students should exercise good taste by keeping personal info to themselves rather than inflicting it upon the general student population. Modesty used to be a virtue. Don't even get me started on how teens use the net.

Parents are highly involved in students' lives, which is supposed to be a good thing (apparently more than what was done 40 years ago, according to what I heard yesterday on the news). They often have the means to pay top dollar for tutors, test prep, special outside schools, activities, and other preparation in advance of coursework to ensure better grades than those that would have been earned under normal conditions, and for competitive purposes. Seems like there's little experimentation. Other students and their parents then feel the pressure of those artificially accelerated children and feel they must do the same things to keep pace. And - don't tell me these are all "gifted" children because they aren't. Many are quite "normal" but don't get the choice as to how they spend their time. I feel sorry for those who cannot afford these expenses, their students are at a disadvantage compared to "prepared" students.

I agree "creativity" is important, it's so basic - how do people get ideas, invent things, come up with cures, etc.? There is no one exact script or plan to follow to success (say, which particular courses to take in our high schools here) but that sure is the popular belief. I would argue that the kid who decides to try something new (like an additional foreign language beyond the main one he/she picked to study in depth) should be encouraged for being "creative" as an individual, even though there won't be time to take the AP test in that language, etc. and get those brownie points on the paper record and a parent may worry the student is "wasting" precious time.

I am unsure how "creativity" is fostered in PAUSD, but I am not faulting the schools/teachers/administrators on this. Surely people can respond with various examples (please, no bureaucrat-speak, though - just give simple, concrete examples, we know there is an Art program that meets the state of CA framework... but that doesn't address individuality/creativity), I just don't believe parents think of "creativity" as a priority in today's fast-paced lives. However, whatever IS mainly emphasized in the schools here is parent-driven. The curriculum seems solid.

MY perception is that the thoughtfulness, experimentation, reflection, journal writing, etc. - however you describe it, (because it would be different from individual to individual) - necessary to "be creative" as an individual is not necessarily valued by some parents here, perhaps because it is viewed as wasting time.

I have also heard Ohlone is "creative" and developmentally-appropriate for young children. But, I have heard a few parents express reservations because it is not "fast track" - but is that necessary at such a young age? Let's try to let children have a childhood.

Posted by anon
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 18, 2006 at 10:14 am

oops, my sentence about having artists in the family wasn't written very clearly - I meant that if you have artists in the family, you likely have creative influences and examples around you, otherwise creativity as a subject may not come up and be promoted as an asset.

Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 18, 2006 at 10:35 am

I agree with "anon" that although the PAUSD Art program meets the state of CA framework, it does not promote creativity. For some reason, the art program, at least in the elementary schools, decides the subject of the artwork rather than letting the students come up with their own subjects. My child was constantly irritated by this because she had ideas of her own but had to follow the teacher's narrowly defined idea of what she should draw/paint, etc. At home she loved painting and creating on her own terms. In school, however, art lessons would inevitably result in a classroom display of pictures of shoes, or cars, or whatever it was that the art teacher insisted on that day. Children should be introduced to many techniques and methods, but why confine kids to a particular subject matter? They have their own unique visions and passions early on that should be permitted to flower.

Posted by Not creative parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2006 at 11:18 am

I sadly agree with comments above. However, I was not very creative as a child, except in writing, and that may be what was what made me non-creative now. However, I know that the Spectra Art teachers do challenge the creativity in children, but unfortunately these teachers are only in rooms where the regular teachers are less than 2 years in the district. I know that the writing emphasis is improving with emphasis on this aspect being worked on at present in the elementary schools. I know that many children do go to specialised art classes after school and these are supposed to be excellent. The ones run by the city rec. dept. are advertised in a catalog called "enjoy" which can be found in the community centers and libraries.

The push, particularly in High School, to perform well is actually a detrement to the good students as opposed to the excellent students. The excellent students are being pushed so far that they are actually applying to multiple (10 - 15) colleges and being accepted to multiple good universities. As each college will only accept a handfull of students from Palo Alto, the students with very good scores and grades (as opposed to excellent) are not getting into the good colleges. With the same SAT scores and AP scores from a different school district, their chances of getting into a good college are much better. In the end our "good" students are failing to get into UCs and end up going to the State Universities which they feel is failing. When they get there, they are actually being held back from taking some of the classes they want because they are told "this is college not high school and you won't succeed with that pressure". The fact it that they worked so hard at high school they find the pressure there minor. So they are being held back there also. Our high school grads. are all doing very well, but they don't feel it until college where at last they are beginning to feel smart as for the first time they are mixing with others from lesser demanding and lesser achieving districts. Something stikes me as being very wrong in this scenario.

Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 18, 2006 at 11:51 am

Perhaps it has changed recently (I hope so!), but even the Spectra Art teachers decided the subject matter of the art projects when my child was in elementary school. They were wonderful about introducing interesting techniques and giving a sense of art history, but when students went to work, they were told what subject to draw or paint--no substitutions. That's what really surprised me. Children who love art and are full of ideas want to explore their own interests just as much as adult artists. To insist that they draw exactly what the teacher wants on every project is an insult to their own sense of creativity. My experience with children leads me to believe that most of them are highly creative, if given half a chance to develop their own ideas.

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