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If you want to learn something, I can’t stop you. If you don’t want to learn it, I cannot teach you.

– Wynton Marsalis

Heather Siple-First Day-Rm19-1As I listened to this podcast about creativity, I not only learned a great deal about the lives of a variety of people we would all consider to be creative in very different ways, I was inspired to apply these ideas and experiences to education and children’s school experiences.

At the same time, in talking to a teacher who was attending classes to become a certified Montessori teacher, she shared the idea presented that small class sizes can be detrimental to the idea of children gaining independence. The thinking is that in order to become independent, make the best decisions and learn from mistakes, it is important to have freedom. Children need freedom from adults watching every move they make. They need space for experimentation, for creativity to allow growth in ways they can’t experience if all they know is the “right” way to do things and the rewards are established by someone else, either a person or institution. We need to establish environments that allow students to set their own goals and assess their progress using criteria that continue to evolve through various iterations of a project or assignment. If we don’t allow for this process, students will struggle to become independent and make decisions throughout life.

Unfortunately, through standardization in education, we are inhibiting this process. We are asking students to meet criteria established for the masses, not the individual. We are asking them to move through various gates to move on to the next level. Yes, we can argue that we know what’s best, what is needed to reach the pinnacle of success whether in math, writing, science or any other subject. However, do we know what’s best for learning and growing throughout life? Do we look closely at the skills needed to engage the creative spirit that will inspire and delight students to want to know more or are we pulling them through a process because that is the process? As artist Maira Kalman said, “I traveled multiple places in the world…In those days kids were a lot more like free range at a young age. I felt like I had a lot of freedom to explore all these places.. I think it had an impact on me in the sense that it just made me aware of the fact that there is basically no place on earth that’s inaccessible.”

Aren’t these the lessons we want children to learn? The lesson of accessibility to any idea, place or bit of knowledge? The lesson that we are there to help them break down barriers, not erect them? Change is needed for all schools and all students. We don’t have the luxury of time. If we want to nurture the spirit spoken of by Wynton Marsalis, we need to create environments where there is no stopping children as they learn to navigate their world and build their future.