Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fostering Imagination May be the Key to Real School Reform

This is a response written by Aleta Margolis to the October 20, 2009 New York Times Op-Ed entitled "The New Untouchables."

In Thomas Friedman’s ‘The New Untouchables’ he points out the changes we’ll need to make in our education system in order to rebuild an economy that can thrive into the future.

Friedman dares to list ‘imagination’ among the skills schoolchildren need to develop in order to succeed in the workforce.

In today’s climate where accountability rules and high test scores have become the goal of schooling, assigning a value to imagination seems radical.

Here in Washington, DC where one in four children live in poverty (according to 2009 US Census data), there are those of us working to boost student achievement—make sure students can read, write, add, and subtract—while simultaneously sharpening students’ creativity and intellectual imaginations.

But it’s an uphill battle. Creativity, imagination, and even the ability to think are hard to measure. And some believe that these so-called ‘soft’ skills are a luxury for kids who are struggling to master the basics of reading and writing and math. However these critical thinking skills are what make a good education stick – ensuring that students remember what they learn beyond the day of the tests.

If the goal of schooling is indeed to educate children and young adults, then we need to see standardized test scores for what they are—an indicator of progress, not an end in themselves. And we need to abandon teaching strategies that focus solely on test preparation and leave little time for students to inquire into areas of the curriculum that interest them.

It’s time for a radical reevaluation of the way we think about schooling in America. It’s time to ask ourselves some tough questions about the path forward. Are we okay with the notion that creativity and imagination are a luxury? Should the development of those skills be reserved for those students who first master ‘the basics’? Or might the development of creativity and imagination actually enhance students’ ability to read, write, add, and subtract—not just on the day of the test, but for the long term?

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