Robert Fulghum (he of All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame) once wrote a charming essay about artistry. Who are the artists? Are you? He points out that if you walk into a class of 3 year olds and ask them who is an artist, all the hands will shoot up. “I’m an artist! I love to paint! Where are the crayons? Ooh, ooh me!” I tried this in one of our preschool classes. It works!
Try the same thing in your office or at your 25th high school re-union. You may get one or two hands reluctantly heading skyward and it’s likely to be a couple of people who are paid to be artists – perhaps a photographer or a graphic designer. What happened to the rest of us?
What got in the way?
I think I know. Our formal education. How many of us were told by our teachers or peers that we couldn’t, that someone else could do it better, that we should try running cross-country instead? In the past, school was where creativity went to die.
One of our goal at Friends' School is to reverse that trend. While our primary focus is to teach the basics – reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic, we are also keenly aware of our responsibility to prepare our students for the 21st century world in which they live.
When you or I were in school, it was all about individual competition. Now it is about team success. Back then, teacher-centered classrooms focused on learning facts and consuming information. Now our student-centered classrooms encourage our kids to ask open-ended questions and to construct meaning.
As a society, we are slowly beginning to move away from high-stakes testing to high-value demonstrations. I would much rather our students figure out a way to build an invention that helped feed the cat than reach a high score on a bubble test. I would rather read a persuasive essay they wrote or hear a piece of music they composed than have them recite Dickinson or Kipling (and I love Dickinson and Kipling!)
Friends’ School grad Daniel Haarburger (class of 2003) is a sophomore at Stanford and is getting amazing reviews nationwide for his design of the WINGStand, a groundbreaking device that transforms your iPad, iPhone, or tablet into a multi-touch computer. He raised $60,000 to get it off the ground and units are shipping this week.
It is now harder to get into Stanford’s School of Design than their School of Business. More and more Fortune 500 companies are hiring from art schools over business schools. They want creativity, outside the box thinkers, team players. One doesn’t have to look further than the Apple device that you’re likely reading this essay on to know the importance of form as well as function. Steve Jobs was onto something.
At Friends' School, we are proud to be counted among the artists. Our kids are exceptionally creative. Our teachers are painters, and musicians, and writers, and flyfishermen, and potters, and dancers. We’ll put our hand up every time.