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Author Topic: The scholarly old-fashioned way vs. modern idea of creativity  (Read 10513 times)

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The scholarly old-fashioned way vs. modern idea of creativity
« on: November 06, 2015, 02:20:18 PM »
One may think that the scholarly old-fashioned way is dead. But it may not be completely dead. It is still alive among the highest achievers at the highest educational institutions in the world. This why universities like Harvard in the US always looked out for true self-made scholars who already show the stroke of geniuses exhibiting inventing, designing, scholarly thoughts by year 10-11. They often offered scholarships for University level education and scholarships to these inventive students. Often by the time these students reached the end of their master degrees, they had invented new technologies. In some cases, these technologies were so advanced that they eventually gave rise to new high-tech companies worth over a billion dollars on the US stock exchange. The tradition of US innovation from the home garage is well alive just as HP, Apple and Microsoft were born out of the home garages of the US middle class families. We may think these leaders like Microsoft's Bill Gates or Steve Jobs were modern inventors. But deep down, they shared much value with old-fashioned self-study people.

What is the real difference? It is about self-study vs. being taught. Everyone needs early school education to get past the "formative" stage of learning. This is between years K-6 where students are taught the basics. It is like loading data into a computer program to seed it with the basics so it can start to function. But it is also important to encourage students to self-study in these formative years so they will become self-sufficient by the time they get to high school. Then, with some passion, they may go on to self-study and research to enable them to find out how to get things done. Often this takes them well outside high school curricula and extends them to University level way ahead of time (even though this may not give them the higher marks at year 12 examination).

If you ask if a University professor will accept an invention from a kid as his/her qualification to enter University or not, the chance is "yes". Any kid with a significant invention or innovation in any field could just walk into a top University with the invention and show it to the faculty professor. If the professor sees it as a significant innovation or a new invention, the door immediately opens and even scholarships could be awarded. They love this because this may mean hundreds of millions of dollars and a lot of reputation would come along later when these inventions make their way to commercial applications. They have complete freedom at the professorial level to make this decision. Yet, how many Australian kids can actually self-study to this level and give these professors a chance to even use their special power of discretion? Never heard of one before? You will never hear of this in Australia if class-based tutoring is the main vehicle for your kids to get access to talented and gifted education.

Will your kid one day contact a University to book an appointment with a professor, and then bring in his/her invention and said, “Umm … sir, I have been working on this thing … and I wonder if you can help me to make my dream a reality? Perhaps we could be PARTNERs?”

Have you ever tried to get your year 3-4 child to rake his/her brain out to figure out how to measure the precise height of a very tall tree with only a 1m ruler in hand? Have you ever tried to get your kid to attempt to program a robot and get to know all the degrees of freedom of mechanical arms and maths that enable all of that? You do NOT get that from tutoring classes. If this ever happens, it will be due to self-study. The difference is that self-study is driven by passion to innovate and to invent. Kids get to reflect on what they have done and what other people have done so they can self-learn and ENABLE themselves to invent. High schools and Universities should be partners to help them rather than educators to teach them all what they need.

Are the kids in NSW OC and selective schools truly gifted?

Of course, our smart educational leaders know all this. They are not stupid!!! They endlessly talk about creativity in education even if they have never personally created anything of real value. They favour "modern" educational theories about guiding kids to CREATE knowledge in the classroom ... Notice that the words ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ are the inferior words here! The kids are supposed to ‘create’ knowledge in the process. But if we look at the failures at schools and how tutored kids (mostly from NESB) taking up 90% of all places in gifted and talented educational resources in Sydney, we just wonder what is wrong? Or right? We know that these kids in selective schools and OC classes are generally smart and well-educated but we wonder if they are really "gifted" and could become inventors and true scholars who will make history? Fat chance?


So what is it about modern theories of education along the line of constructivism? It is about guiding students to invent knowledge for themselves so they truly learn rather than just rote-learn what we have known for thousands of years. In a humorous way, we can put this kind of theory as

- Encouraging kids to re-invent the wheels.
- Telling them that arriving at wrong conclusions is perfectly creative and good.
- It is alright to create any rubbish you like as long as you do it creatively.
- It is great because it shows that Western ways are creative.

It's hilarious to see US and Australian educators now like the ideas of a Soviet social scientist among a lot of other US and Western theories. Have a look at Vygotsky and constructivism.

But if we care to look back to the olden days, we see that many thinkers in Europe were mostly from affluent backgrounds. They grew up with money, top quality education, private 1-on-1 governesses and tutors ... But no matter if these great thinkers were from rich or poor backgrounds or middle class ... they do share one common trait, self-discovery. Go back even more, we have the ancient Greeks and Chinese old masters who educated small groups of students before schools even invented. Our modern factory-model of schooling was actually the more recent product of Western industrial revolution era. Is this "creative" emphasis in education a completely modern thing? Probably not! It was actually what ancient people had all along! The modern factory model of education "mass-produces" mediocre scholars through compulsory education. So the idea of going back to exploratory self-education under guidance of a teacher is NOT new. It is a rehash of the old thing.

This is what Australian (and US) educational authorities know and try to promote in education through creative education. It looks pretty good that they are all talking about the right things but where are the results? So what is going wrong?

Possible factors

- We have uncreative and not well-educated people given the job to educate students and asked to be "creative" about it. All our brightest people have gone to chase the money in the commercial world.
- The modern kids don't like thinking! They are been spoon-fed with YouTube, TV, electronic games and online entertainment. Their minds are FULL much like a car park at the middle of Sydney CBD. This is a Jewish conspiracy (:
- Poor discipline and lack of respect.
- Export of jobs to other countries where labour is cheap.
- And a million of other possible reasons...

Direct instruction (old-fashioned way) vs. creative/exploratory learning

The current education debate is torn between 2 major schools of thoughts: direct instruction vs. exploratory/creative learning. The West is obsessed with exploratory/creative learning that does not seem to work in real classrooms. The East is still a lot more into direct instructions where students are taught the "good" ways to solve problems but they are warming up to introduce some of the Western ideas. Some US parents are so frustrated of the lack of direct instructions and textbooks for primary schoolers, that they buy textbooks from Singapore and educate their kids at home! As this tradition of direct instruction is carried over into tutoring colleges, students with tutoring seem to completely outperform those without tutoring.

So what is the truth?

I think there is NO single answer. For every theory that sounds credible, there is another one that also sounds credible. For every theory that seems to be great, there will be criticisms that are equally credible. No theories have been shown to work for more than a fraction of all students!

No truth? So what works?

While there is no magic theory that works, but tips and practices of clever people do work! Thanks goodness for that!
Quotes from the past

“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” Hippocrates, Greek.
"Man is the measure of all things." old Chinese proverb.
"The sum-total of reality is the world."     Ludwig Wittgenstein,  Austrian-British philosopher.

We love to look for things that will last and ideas that will work for all, but we should be satisfy with things that work well for now and hope that we can dig into the past and experiment with the future to get some more.

As much as one may hate to take a stance and state a personal opinion, at some points one must do so. So here is my view of the whole thing.

- Direct instruction is necessary to initialise the minds of kids with necessary, more or less proven concepts and skills that humans have acquired for the last 4000 years which humans have earned through laborious experiments. This should happen in the formative years of their lives so that they are well-programmed and ready for self-discovery later. While it is perfectly fair to get kids to discover that 1+1=2 using 2 pebbles for counting. But one should not waste precious time trying to use this as the main way to educate the kids in all subjects.
- The weakness of direct instruction (spoon-feeding of information) could be countered by encouraging students to explore where it is safe and appropriate to nurture creativity and self-learning capacity. Always resist the temptation to save time by spoon-feeding them with “correct” information. Make them think and get them to create as often as possible but never forget to fix it when they get it wrong.
- Direct instruction and creative learning should not be seen as incompatible methods. Each should be used when appropriate and interchangeable in many situations so that every learner is exposed to both styles.
- When schools and teachers cannot do a good job for ANY reason, it is far more easier (and realistic) for parents to step in and help the kids at home (or use external 1-on-1 tutoring or very-small-group tutoring) rather than whinging about it. Don’t outsource 100% of education to schools!
- Model positive behaviour such as life-long learning by setting up learning time for the whole family when every one learns at the same time. Kids who grow up in such environment will inherit a positive self-learning trait from early childhood. This could be learning about chess, musical instrumments, tennis, drawing, painting, cooking, … with all the research and reading that go with the activities.