Was I One Those Teachers Who Smothered Creativity, or Indoctrinated Children?

A commentary on our education system.

Several months ago, a news article came across one of my news feeds titled, We are born creative geniuses and the education system dumbs us down, according to NASA scientists. My immediate reaction was: No way was I a part of a system that “dumbs down” kids. I made them smarter. The truth was, this headline disturbed me, and when I first saw it, I ignored it and never bothered to read it, thinking I’ll read it some time later. Well, later is here, and I read the article. Here is the jest of the article.

Scientists gave a test that looks at the ability to come up with new, different, and innovative ideas to 1,600 children between the ages of 4 and 5. What they found was that 98 percent of children fell into the genius category of imagination?  The scientists were so astonished that they decided to make it a longer study and tested the children again five years later when they were ten years old. The result? Only 30 % of the children fell in the genius category of imagination. When the test was given at the age 15, the figure had dropped to 12%. Curious about adults, they tested them as well. Shockingly, only 2% of adults are still in contact with their creative genius after years of schooling.

The results were replicated more than a million times, implying that the school system robs us of our creative genius. That is especially disturbing to me because that means I played a part in it. I was a school teacher for 35 years. I had to ask myself: Did I really “dumb down” kids? I refused to believe it, but these results suggest otherwise. This bothered me, so I set out to prove otherwise.

The Huffpost’s article, How Schools Are Killing Creativity, says this about schools.

You were bullied, made fun of, and you had this teacher that told you to stop dreaming and live in reality. So what did you learn at school? You learned to stop questioning the world, to go with the flow, and that there’s only one right answer to each question. The “whys” you have always wanted to ask are never on the test, and they are omitted from the curriculum.

I had to admit, there is a lot of truth in that. I taught in a system that gave standardized tests which counted 50% of the student’s final mark. My focus as a teacher was preparing students for the government test, so I’ll be honest, all creativity went out the window. We didn’t have time to create and look at a diversity of viewpoints. We taught only what we had to in order to  prepare students for the test.

Benjamin Greene, founder of Britain’s biggest brewery says, “The biggest atrocity of all is to indoctrinate our children into a system that does not value their creative expression, nor encourage their unique abilities.”  I would have to agree, and sadly, I had to admit I may have contributed to it.

During my research, I came across numerous articles suggesting that our school systems indoctrinate children. This was even more disturbing to me, as in my mind, there was no way I was a part of a system that indoctrinated kids. I was preparing them for life and the “real world.”  Was I naive?

Most dictionaries define indoctrination as, “The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” American Journalist and author, Peter Hitchens said, “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?” Do our education systems teach children what to think? Having been in the education business, I would have to say yes.

Curriculum presents a point of view, and even though we as teachers try to teach kids to think critically, they are reluctant to do so. Students resist thinking critically, unless forced to, and with standardized tests, they didn’t have to for most part. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion said, “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” I must agree. I believe we as an educational system have failed to teach our students how to think for themselves, or at least do it well. Instead we teach them “facts” to learn for a test.

American astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “When Students cheat on exams it’s because our School System values grades more than Students value learning.”  Therein lies the flaw with the education system. There were thousands of times during my career when students would say to me, “Just tell me what I need to know for the test.”

American journalist, H.L. Mencken said, “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.”  Are we teaching kids to be submissive? If we are, I am troubled!

I taught in the Catholic School System, and so I had to ask: Do Catholic schools indoctrinate? Catholic Answers’ article, In Defense of Indoctrination, does not hesitate to admit that Catholic schools indoctrinate, for it states:

…indoctrination itself is not wrong, because children have to be taught something in order to grow up to be functional members of society. The question is, what should they be taught? This means that Catholics and other Christians should have the right teach their children about God and his moral law without being unfairly labeled as practitioners of “indoctrination.”

Maclean’s article, Why are schools brainwashing our children? maintains that education systems in the Western world are “brainwashing” young children to be social activists, saying,

Increasingly, faculties of education in Canada and much of the Western world are preparing their student teachers to weave social justice throughout the primary school curriculum…as well as into a range of cross-curricular activities, events, and projects. The idea is to encourage kids to become critical analysts of contemporary issues, empathetic defenders of human rights and gatekeepers of the beleaguered Earth.

Is that a bad thing? Depends who you ask.  An article by The Federalist, says,

Many people have long suspected that governments sometimes attempt to indoctrinate their people to increase the government’s own power and influence. Unfortunately, ambitious governments will not stop at merely controlling what their people can do; they must control their minds.

The article goes on to say,

Few people seem to have a clear definition of indoctrination, and thus call anything they dislike indoctrination (e.g., “Leftists professors are indoctrinating their students,” “Those fundamentalist Christians are indoctrinating their kids,” or “Facebook is indoctrinating its users.”).

What is the solution to indoctrination then?  This same article states:

The only real solution to indoctrination, then, is good teachers. Good teachers (which include parents, mentors, and other knowledgeable adults) train students in methods of thought while supplying the stuff of thought. They teach a person to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.

I tried to be one of those teachers, and it’s true! Most of the articles related to indoctrination and the education system are critical of the system’s use of a LGBQT Inclusive Curriculum, or promotion of a liberal agenda, or a conservative one, or a sex-education curriculum that they believed promoted promiscuity, and on and on. All maintained that the school system is indoctrinating children. According to the definition of indoctrination, they are. The reality is, you cannot remove viewpoints from school systems, as every curriculum designer, and every teacher has their point of view.  Is that Good? Depends on your perspective.

As far as I am concerned, if teachers are ‘indoctrinating’ kids to stand up for human rights and to protect the planet, then I am proud that I was one of those teachers. I say bravo to the teachers who do so. If our educational systems are stifling creativity and teaching kids to be submissive, then shame on them. As The Federalist article says, teachers must be allowed to teach their students “to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.”

What is Wrong With Being Wrong?

A commentary on our culture’s obsession with being right.

Numerous posts come across my Facebook feed, and for the most part, I typically ignore them, but this week a post caught my attention. It contained the following meme:

It’s true. People do get offended if you say, or even imply, they might be wrong. I’ve experienced it. I have to admit that even I have had times in my life when it was important for me to be right. I can think of many times when I was offended when told I was wrong. It got me thinking about the question: Why are people so obsessed with being right? Why are people so afraid to admit they’re wrong? An email, which I get regularly from Neal Donald Walsch, arrived in my inbox, and ironically it was about that topic. It read:

I believe God wants you to know that being “right” has nothing to do with it.

The idea that you call “right” is the idea that someone else calls “wrong.” The solution that you call “perfect” is the solution that another calls “unworkable.” The position that you feel is unassailable is the very position that others assail.

What will solve all of this? Not attack, that’s for sure.  And not defence, either. So what is left? Simple human love. The kind of love that says, “It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. It only matters that you are not hurt.  And that we both can benefit. All true benefits are mutual.”

Wow! Those are some wise words, but it didn’t answer the question: Why is it so imperative to be right? I did some research, and in a Psychology Today article titled, Why Is It So Important to Be Right?  it said,

…this fixation is more likely wed to highly competitive cultures than traditionally oriented, cooperative societies. In the latter, issues of right and wrong don’t equivalently inform one’s sense of self or identity. The ego may be shaped by other influences, such as being honored, respected, or altruistic. In first-world cultures, the drive to be right advances one in the competitive race. In the desire to get ahead, this is utilized as a core value.

That explains it.  That answers the question. We live in a highly competitive world and being right (or being the best or being number one) is highly valued.   Our parents, our schools, and even our governments encourage us to be competitive; to be the best. If we’re not the best, then we are failures. Cooperation is encouraged by our religions, but even our religions are competing with one another to draw in believers. Cooperation is NOT highly valued in our culture. Our need to be right is ingrained in us from the moment we are born, because of the culture we live in.

In an another article titled, Why It’s Better to be Human Than to Be Right, it says the consequences of having to be right are:

  1. We oversimplify reality, as not everything can be divided into right or wrong.
  2. No matter how smart or logical we are, our mind plays a role in filtering our experience.
  3. We fear being wrong. We believe if we are wrong there’s something wrong with us.
  4. The decree to be always rights adds huge stress. Our brain is under constant pressure either justifying our thoughts or hiding our flaws.
  5. We stop listening to others. The belief of ‘being always right’ assumes that everyone else is wrong. When we own the truth, we stop trying to understand other people’s points of view.
  6. Resistance to being wrong paralyzes our understanding.
From: sheofferedthemchrist.wordpress.com

The above listed costs to needing to be right make a lot of sense. We do oversimplify reality, because let’s face it, our puny brains will never fully understand reality. Quantum Physics is proving that. We do fear being wrong, because we do think there is something wrong with us if we admit we’re wrong. Let’s be honest, being right adds enormous stress to our lives. Our brain must work overtime to justify our positions, or maybe we really are hiding our defects. Having to be right does paralyze our understanding. There is little doubt in my mind that obsessing about being right is damaging.

Psychology Today’s article, What’s Wrong With Being Right, says

Yet neither the positive nor negative perceptions that we hold represent an absolutely accurate reflection of reality. They are, rather, interpretations of ourselves, other people, and our world produced and shaped by our mental software. The difference between what is and what I think is can be an incredibly difficult distinction to make, because our thoughts can be extremely convincing when we are trying to discern the truth.

Practicing open-mindedness and reflection is enormously valuable in our close relationships [or any relationship for that matter]. It can be very difficult for those of us who have long been so attached to being right. It’s freeing, but humbling.

Realistically, our brain can never know all the facts, or understand the information we receive, because of our programming. A Christian would interpret information through Christian beliefs and values, whereas a Buddhist would interpret information through Buddhist thinking. A conservative would interpret information through conservative beliefs and values, whereas a liberal would interpret information through liberal beliefs and values. Our thoughts—or ego—convinces us that we are right and the opposing viewpoint is wrong. This doesn’t mean one is wrong and one is right. They’re just two different point of views, but as long as the need to be right exists, cooperation and consensus building cannot occur.

Perhaps American poet, author and teacher, Stephen Levine, said it best when he said, “Our addiction to always being right is a great block to the truth. It keeps us from the kind of openness that comes from confidence in our natural wisdom.”

So how do we move beyond the need to be right? Neal Donald Walsch says, “Simple human love.” Mother Teresa said, “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” I think Gautama Buddha, or The Buddha, said it best when he said, “Sometimes it’s better to be kind than to be right. We do not need an intelligent mind that speaks, but a patient heart that listens.” 

My favourite answer is a quote by Paula Heller Garland, a lecturer at University of North Texas. She says, “Often after arguing about differing opinions, I hear people say, “let’s agree to disagree.” I look forward to a time, so open-minded I’ll hear people say, “I’m right and you can be, too” That is what I’m working towards.