The Sextant or Siri: American Creativity in the Crossroads

From the Space Race which gave us modern rocketry, Velcro, and Tang; to the magic of TV, from Cronkite to The Brady Bunch; to the Internet, with its spinal cord of Facebook and Twitter. American creativity has always been a constant, but as we launch across the millennia, is the uniquely American monopoly of entrepreneurship, resilience, and creativity steadfastly ours?

As we all know, far too well from the daily reminders, China has developed itself into the 1950s-style manufacturing juggernaut that the United States once dominated. One would think that this Asian explosion happened overnight, but really it has been coming for the past forty or more years. Not dissimilar to when American car manufacturers continued to crank out gas guzzling land yachts during a 1970s gas crisis; meanwhile fleet footed Hondas and Toyotas were quietly beginning to land ashore, are we destined to just sit by and watch? As Bloomberg's Bruce Nussbaum describes,

"What was once central to corporations -- price, quality, and much of the left-brain, digitized analytical work associated with knowledge -- is fast being shipped off to lower-paid, highly trained Chinese and Indians, as well as Hungarians, Czechs, and Russians. Increasingly, the new core competence is creativity -- the right-brain stuff that smart companies are now harnessing to generate top-line growth. The game is changing. It isn't just about math and science anymore. It's about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation."

Will the American education system continue to insist on the sextant, or is it time to allow our school systems to navigate with GPS?

American creativity, imagination, and good-old-fashioned grit that built skyscrapers and space shuttles is alive and well, but no longer a monopoly. The U.S. can no longer claim innovation steadfastly as ours. Like a Super Bowl-winning team that loses its first game of the new season, this is not a disaster - but a clear wake-up call. Alicia Arnold of Bloomberg shares,

"A 2010 study of 1,500 chief executives conducted by IBM's Institute for Business Value identified creativity as the No. 1 leadership competency of the future. This paints a broad role for creativity in the business world in spurring economic growth."

Several studies have recently underscored the importance of recess as an integral learning component in the daily lives of students. It is the playground that teaches children the virtues of cooperation, project-based learning, and imaginary play.

In the 1800s, educators like Horace Mann helped shape what became the most learned work force in the world, which then spurred massive industrialization. This same education system has not changed much since then. For example, we have an education system largely based on an agrarian calendar. June, July, and August are the harvest months; do we still need children to help on the family farm?

As our expectations of today's labor force expand dramatically, how do we train and expect more with a 100-year-old system? Will we condemn the American labor force to a confetti-fueled bon voyage of both high tech and manufacturing jobs? We can idly watch the painful irony of Intel laying off 12,000 U.S. workers while they apply to import over 14,000 H1B visa international workers.

A friend was relaying, with a parent's prideful glow, how their child has been promoted to Director of Social Media for a large corporation. After a short pause he added, "...and I am not really sure what that is..." The concept of this high-tech and high-touch job was not in existence ten years ago, let alone available as a college major to declare. What are schools to do to prepare students for jobs that are yet to be created?

"Student testing from the past two decades suggests that creativity is on the wane among American schoolchildren -- the same kind of creativity that gives rise to new industries and new ways of doing business. If the U.S. is to recover from its doldrums, it seems, innovation will need to take center stage once again,"

explains Alyson Shontell of Business Insider.

There is an unenviable list of reasons as to how our education and culture systems have led us to this moment. Instead of finger wagging at education financed by real estate taxes, Common Core bashing, or the chest pounding of teacher unions, we can break from the high stakes drama of the circling helicopter parents and look to our academic history 100 years ago. John Dewey authored Schools of Tomorrow, a revolutionary book in his day beating the drum for innovation. Darrell West of the Brooking Institution explains,

"In criticizing the academies of his day, Dewey made the case that education needed to adopt new instructional approaches based on future societal needs. He claimed that 20th century schools should reorganize their curricula, emphasize freedom and individuality, and respond to changing employment requirements. Failure to do so would be detrimental to young people."

Schools must answer the question: why are we requiring content to a generation of learners that intimately know Siri and hold all known content knowledge in the palm of their hand?

And just as soon as the sun starts to set, the crisp cavalry bugle can be heard. As educators, we believe in change, growth, and the potential of a new day. There are significant movements happening in education today that heed the call for the need for more creativity in schools. The research and practical application are happening across the country. Non-cognitive skills such as creativity, resilience, grit, and others are emerging as a driving force in American pedagogical approaches. Horatio Alger's bootstraps would find great commonality with Angela Duckworth's "grit" - a combination of passion and perseverance for a single important goal.

Not a single helicopter parent could argue that these traits are not important or critical to a successful and happy life. We must continue to emphasize educating the whole child - learning by doing, hands on, and experiential methodology. We will continue to design curricula that underscore problem solving and critical thinking. A platform of learning that is highly personalized to the individual learner and delivers on the covenant that lifelong learning can develop the skills needed by a global society.

Fortunately, there are significant methods being employed by schools to explicitly teach these priceless non-cognitive life skills. A consortium of ninety schools representing 17,000 students have begun a joint effort with testing powerhouse ETS to scientifically measure the "mission skills" of teamwork, creativity, ethics, resilience, curiosity, and time management.

There are 430 schools, both domestic and international, that have developed and implemented Design Thinking as an instructional method; this approach utilizes teamwork, brainstorming, "ideating", and prototyping as integral to the approach. The Stanford Graduate School of Business has dedicated an explicit lab for its students to pursue Design Thinking methodology. Maker Spaces and Tinker Labs are appearing throughout the traditional educational landscape. Suzie Boss has rewritten and reinvented project-based learning by considering the idea of innovation as practical creativity.

In order to build a next chapter in the American Millennium, our classrooms must look different than those of our own childhoods. You can hope or finger-wag at the companies searching out the skills they need overseas. Or you can change and train and move to adapt to a new horizon line and we can reclaim our John Dewey, who once said: "If we teach today as we were taught yesterday, then we will rob our children of tomorrow."