Forgetting Neverland

Recently, I attended a theatrical performance of the Broadway show, “Finding Neverland.”  As a creature of the theater, you would think I would be among my element. However,I have a confession to make, I am indifferent towards musicals. There are very few that I actually like. “Les Miserable” was my first musical love! “Fiddler on The Roof” always puts a smile on my face. I found “Jesus Christ Superstar” to be a rather appealing if not a appreciative retelling of the biblical story of Christ. But for the most part, the musical’s lack of realism vexes me. I don’t know about you, but when my college sweetheart ended our relationship over the phone, I don’t recollect breaking out into some sad lamenting song. I always had a greater affection for straight plays.  With that being said,I truly enjoyed the show!  It was a wonderful piece of lighthearted entertainment. However, it also made me think. My imagination was taken away at the story of how the author of Peter Pan created the story based upon the imaginations of the children he help befriend.Then, in a strange moment of clarity, I now understand why children hate going to school. Starting around fifth grade, the joy of learning is taken from them and replaced with seriousness of teaching standards and testing.

Learning is supposed to be fun! Your mind is stimulated by information and sorted into lenses of understanding built solely upon your minds creative ways of organizing, sorting, and visualizing comprehension. A plethora of my knowledge was acquired through the activation of my imagination. This is how I learned to love and appreciate music. My music teacher, Mrs. Farynsworth, taught us to appreciate music by telling us the stories of the people who wrote the pieces. It was only in that imaginarium that understood “Moonlight Sonata.” You can hear the sadness of a man trying to write music he could no longer hear. I would watch old reruns of “The Lone Ranger,” just for the closing credits,  so I could grab a pencil and imagine conducting the  St. Louis Symphony orchestra as we played the finale of the William Tell Overture. I asked my students today wrote the William Tell Overture, and most said William Tell. One even asked me if that was a TV dinner brand.

Walk into any school today and you will see a bunch of bored off their ass kids, with no sense self exploration in learning. I grant you that our children still have an abundance of creative opportunity and ample means to express themselves through music and art, so long as school districts don’t cut funding. But if you ask a child to create something in order to learn about something else, the baby is thrown out with the bath water. Here is an anecdote to illustrate what I am talking about:

When I taught Texas History (yes it is an actual subject) I asked my students to create an anchor of support (such a testing era term) that would visually show their understanding of Manifest Destiny. I had three requirements: must be more visual than written, must be colorful, and must be factual. They were allowed to use their notes and any graphic organizers to help them complete the assignment. I then told them to begin and after ten minutes of administrative minutiae, I noticed it was too quiet.I looked up and saw all of my students staring at blank pieces of paper.

“Uh, what seems to be the trouble? None of you have even started,” I said.

One of my best students raised their hand and said, “Mr. Pen, we don’t know what to do?”

“Okay, what were the instructions I gave you,” I asked?

“Well, we get what the assignment is, we just….we don’t know how…..we like, don’t get what you want,”she replied.

A male student agreed and asked me what should it look like in order to be correct.

“Well, that depends upon how you would visualize what Manifest Destiny means to you,” I said, reiterating my previous instructions.

“Ugh! What? THAT MAKES NO SENSE, ” said another student, “How do we know if what we draw or whatever is the correct answer? GOD!”

Patiently,  I walked over to the child, “What do you see when you close your eyes and hear the words Manifest Destiny?”

“I see trains going west, a cattle drive, and cowboys,” they stated.

“Create, write, draw, whatever is is that you see.” I said again.

“But how do I know it is the right answer?” the child said. He gave up before he even started and he wasn’t the only one.

Now, I can hear some of you saying that directions were not specific enough. I could hear some of you saying things like,  “Is this assignment rigorous enough? Are the learning objectives fully represented in the directions? How does this show mastery of the learning standards? ” None of that is the point!

The kids could not recreate what they saw inside their head. They were so caught up in trying to be correct that they forgot that it was an exercise in creating their own learning. We have had generations of kids growing up with no sense of imagination. Their only sense of creativity is fan fiction and rebooting “Spider Man,” three @#$%ing times! It serves us right that nearly every film is a remake of other people’s work. Those making films now can only re-imagine and recreate as opposed to create an original thought.

We have usurped the art of teaching into systematic, automated processes that require no form of imagination or purpose other than passing a test. It has reduced the art of teaching to  writing learning objectives and “I WILL, WE WILL”  statements that simply kill a child’s sense of wonder and creativity. Creativity is the highest form of learning. I often weep for the future of this country….

What do you think about the current state of teaching? Am I wrong? Send me a comment of your answer. As always thank you for reading Tales From The Red Pen. Take the first star on right, then straight on until morning….for now, I bid you Adieu.

2 thoughts on “Forgetting Neverland

  • As always I enjoy your commentary and couldn’t agree more. When did failing become a bad word. They must be able to explore to find the answers rather than being lead to them.

    • Thank you for your comments! I too feel that failing has gotten a bad rap. We are not aloud to fail students anymore. So, how do they learn? Thank you for being a consistent contributor to Tales From The Red Pen.

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