Modern Education System Pt. 2: The Solution

Original post on 4/30/15 (

(This is a continuation from this article. I recommend you read that as it will be the point of comparison for the listed solution in this article.)

Structural Creativism, SC, is the idea of giving students a structured platform with specific guidelines to express and create whatever ideas they have. In a system that fails to cater to the interest of students, I believe providing this platform could be a pivotal tactic in the reformation of the education system and is my proposed solution. Before we delve into the topic, we must first come to an understanding of human nature and its effects on the learning process in order to understand the solution to the problem; within the nature of humans lies the answer to the problem of modern education and further validates the approach of SC.

Humans are curious and adventurous beings, possessing an innate knack for inquisition, likely because our schemas are developed through experiences. This primal characteristic is best observed amongst children, who seem to have an endless list of questions they want answers to. Observe a child the next time they inquire on some information and watch their reaction as you answer them. They are genuinely curious and will pay close attention to your words, asking questions until they have a satisfactory answer. Just as children possess the ability of endless questioning, so do they possess the skill of endless storytelling. Ask a child about something relevant to them and step back and watch them wrestle with their words and try catching their breath as they try to accurately convey their story to their audience. Working with children, I encountered many that were reserved, seldom interacting with anyone. I would try to get them engaged using various tactics, but it was not until I mentioned something that interested them that they would become responsive. The moment is very obvious, as their eyes would widen and their gaze turned towards you. Ask more questions about this interest of theirs and watch that reserved child talk frantically about their favorite cartoon character, video game etc. Children convey a lot about the nature of learning in humans and provide specific factoids that can be dissected from the aforementioned scenario on the learning process.

Humans are curious and seek answers to questions pertinent to our lives, we inquire on ways to answer those questions, and we have a genuine desire to share information on topics relevant to us. Combined, these factoids essentially summarize the human learning experience and depict a process that is self-driven and self-rewarded. By this I mean learning is a process initiated within oneself and propagated by the interests and desires of that individual which can only be satisfied when some self-satisfying result has been attained. Viewing the learning process in this manner highlights key areas of deficiencies in modern approaches to education, further discussed here, and better explains its shortcomings. Fortunately, we can use this understanding as a guideline to design student-centered curriculum that play on the learning process of humans/students.

The idea of student-focused/centered approach is not novel but hasn't been presented publicly in the detailed manner that I will be presenting below, nor has it been accompanied by compelling examples as I have presented above and in the previous article. The proposed SC approach to education acknowledges the self-centered nature of learning and employs that in designing programs that integrate the interests of students, in varying degrees, into the learning experience; nourish and encourage the genuine desire for learning amongst students; encourages the acquisition of practical skills and qualities. It is crucial that SC is not mistaken as a complete substitution to modern approaches, as I feel there are benefits in that approach as well. SC should rather be viewed as a supplementary tool to enhance the learning experience. The level of supplementation can be determined by analyzing schools historical performances and student outcomes. Fig. 1 depicts the spectrum which administrators can design and implement SC based programs.

Programs falling closer to the casual extreme minimize external input and intervention from teachers and emphasize building curriculums around students interests. In practice, the student will have some form of their normal school schedule but all their classes, assignments, and projects will be centered around their interests. The opposite of this is the structured approach where curricula resembles modern ones but a specific optional period, think after school program, is set aside for students to partake in various lessons that interest them. Falling in the middle, will be a hybrid program that resembles the structured approach, but the supplementary class will be mandatory and parts of their classes will incorporate their interests. Regardless of where a program falls, the students will have the opportunity to relate their education to their lives. Creating this connection should theoretically increase their desire to learn, which should translate to improvements in academic performance.

Another problem with modern approaches is the inadequate and irrelevant measures that are used to assess the capacity and progression of students throughout their educational careers. Instead, we need to have another method that assesses the progression of students thought processes, critical analysis, and mastery of foundational traits. I believe there are crucial traits most employers will list as being essential in an ideal employee. While the list could contain numerous qualities, I've found five to be great indicators of productivity amongst individuals; they are also traits that a proper education system can cultivate. These qualities include:

1) Creativity:

Creativity can be defined as the process of developing novel ideas, from conception to an actual product. I once was asked in an interview what I believed was more important, creativity or efficiency. This odd question became more obvious the further I delved into my explanation on the nature of creativity. If you think about the premise of efficiency, it strives for complete cohesiveness, predictability, and reliability. Imagine if Ford built the perfect car, operating on the most efficient materials and requiring no maintenance; being that it is the perfect car, no other changes need to be made. What we see is that the innovative nature of a system is diminished with greater efficiency. How about creativity? Creativity really can't be contained within parameters. It's perceptibly limitless but readily available to every individual. The vastness of creativity also presents the problem of disorganization and inefficiency. Both attributes are important on their own and are ideal when placed together, but I value creativity because its limits are unknown. When thinking of students, the vision should be focused on the future; the teachers should be teaching the students to think of the future and how their education is relevant to that. It is important to get students envisioning the future and seeing what roles they will play and how the tools (their education) they acquire will help them actualize those roles. If we solely focus on efficiency, there will be limitations in that scenario; there will be little excitement amongst the students and they will feel limited and trapped. Having them think creatively opens a world that they can explore and discover themselves within and apply their education in novel ways that will be productive to society.

2) Collaboration:

The real world is collaborative; we are constantly collaborating with coworkers, or other organizations in order to accomplish our jobs. As an individual, it is crucial to be able to not only formulate your own thoughts but also incorporate the ideas and requirements of participating parties, such as teachers and classmates. Purposefully assigning projects that allow students to collaborate with others, alerts them to this crucial trait and allows them to gain appreciation for the process.

3) Presentation

Creativity without action is a blocked dam. While you want to nurture creativity, you don't want to fall for encouraging dreamers. Making students present their ideas to an audience in a physical format whether it is in writing, video, photography, or whatever medium they desire, encourages them to act upon their ideas. The process of taking your ideas into a physical format and then presenting it to someone forces the student to not only verbalize their thoughts in a manner that aligns with their visions but also in a way that people will be able to understand. The entire process also exposes students to potential roadblocks and teaches them how to troubleshoot and utilize other problem solving techniques in completing tasks.

4) Punctuality

One of the most important attributes students should learn early is punctuality. What use are good ideas if the person lacks the ability to actualize those ideas, and even worse they fail to do so because they're unable to get things done in a timely manner? Teaching students to be punctual early on will be foundational in spawning more productive students from our education systems. Giving students deadlines that progressively get slimmer, but remain within a feasible parameter, will help in achieving this. They should not only learn the importance of punctuality but actually value it.

5) Self sufficiency

In general, most minors have lived their lives under their parents supervision, having major decisions made by them with little to worry for themselves. Giving students the sense of control over their education places responsibility in their hands and forces them to be more thoughtful on matters of their education from classes they take to their extracurricular activities. The goal is to have this mindfulness translated into proactivity amongst students. Students need to learn early on that their progression in life is determined by their efforts and actions, not anyone else. This will especially be useful in preparing them for success in college, as the true gem of college comes from experiences you create outside the classroom.

Below is a video of a child named Logan. To me, Logan is the ideal student; enthusiastic and willing to learn. You can see that he is involved and enjoys his education. This is because his innate desire to learn is being nurtured through the utilization of a structurally creative environment. Logan still learns the traditional subjects he would learn in a public school system, but his program advances on this by taking into consideration and incorporating his interests into the curriculum. The result is a curriculum that is "personalized" to his interest, thus giving the subject relevance to him. His assignments are based on topics he's interested in and are to be presented in a way that showcases his complete grasp of the subject (the play.) He is proactive and looks for opportunities to apply his education such as the internship he partook in. Logan's program is essentially SC in practice, falling closer to the casual side of the spectrum. As seen from this case study, the learning experience can be significantly improved when you incorporate the students input and structure their learning in an encouraging environment.

In all, Structural Creativism based programs could significantly improve the learning process of students by reviving their enthusiasm for learning, appreciation for education, and equipping them with productive qualities and skills that are relevant to their interests and the workplace. I believe the shortcomings of modern education systems can be addressed by this approach and provide better learning conditions for students.


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