Saturday, December 28, 2013

Creativity in East and West

Here comes the certificate renewal time.  I simply wonder, why am I in the American Education?

A recent conversation with a childhood friend, who has Japanese college education himself, brought up this question.:

"How does the American Education differentiate from that of the Japanese?" 

"It will take all day to explain it," I told him.  That was absolutely true, but I froze a moment.  What is so different?

While being a student in Japan, I heard so many people say, "Japanese Education is lacking creativity."  They were making comments such as: Japanese students don't try to be extraordinary, Japanese students are afraid of being different, Japanese student's are all cookie cutters.  I wasn't sure it was true.  Creativity was not a big focus on any core subjects anyway, so why discuss creativity?  However, their visual arts were extraordinary.  Schools take sketching trips to the nearby parks, and organize school wide water color painting contests.  Although there was no word of "creativity," most of their art were breathtaking products that used sophisticated techniques on capturing objects, adjusting water, and experimenting with different colors.  In the performing arts, Japanese students exhibit their beautiful voices and instrumental sounds with amazing acts of unity.  Sometimes some students tried to be stand up comedians in the school talent shows.  They were all creativity, but only happened outside of math, reading, and writing.  As a result, the definition of creativity was in my mind as "artistic skills".

Therefore, there was no wonder that I was appalled at the American twenty students' art projects on a wall in my internship year in Idaho.  "American education is lacking creativity."   All second grade students used the same pattern and copied what their teacher did on the whiteboard.  Based on the individual cutting skills and strong or soft writing pressure, they created some differences among products; however, they all looked identical.  It was a culture shock.  I was witnessing the totally opposite phenomenon to what I had been told and I had believed.  As my internship went into getting deeply involved in observing other teachers and my own teaching practice, my view began changing.  I heard the word "creativity" quite often in many different occasions throughout a day.  Kids used manipulatives to solve a subtraction problem, were encouraged to sound out to spell, and shared their connection to the book, etc.  The basic teaching pedagogy was to promote students' creativity!  Japanese educators misinterpreted "creativity" and delivered the real education ground.  I realized I was one of those thousands of Japanese students who was victimized of misinterpretation in "global education". Yet, it was also true, using manipulatives was not necessarily helping this girl master her subtraction skills.  Creativity needed a purpose and guidance in Elementary Schools.

I told my friend, "Creativity is the strength in American Education, if kids have a proper academic foundation."

A strength in Japanese education is the strong academic foundation in early educational years.  This fundamental idea as Common Core State Standards, are ready to seep into the American education system.  Students will be able to recognize their own success in learning basics.  Application process is successful only when students obtain academic skills.  By applying these skills in many different ways, students will master specific skills.  Then they will feel ready for the higher level challenge.  Not only do they have content knowledge, but their persevering learning experiences make confident problem-solving citizens.  Most educators are excited about this historical reform in education.  I am too, but in a different way.  We found a way to connect the dots that should have been connected without tangling. Instead of envying other countries' higher achievement, importance of basics and creativity are now merging seamlessly in our country.

2014 is the official adapting year of the Common Core State Standards.   This is not a big change, but it is an opportunity for all educators to sort through their outstanding teaching skills and blend them with the academic foundation.  I am ready to face challenges using my creative thinking.  That's why I am in the American Education.

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