October 27, 2006

Being creative vs creating knowledge

In response to an earlier post, Renata left a comment and followed up with an email, both of which helped me to clarify my thinking:
I've been here twenty years, but I really don't see how you can call this culture any less creative than any other. All the art from the impressionists were copying Japan, makers of bone china got their inspiration from Imari pottery, Haiku inspired poets to make cinquains and diamantes and discover shape on the page...let's face it, there is as much freedom where you are as you take.

I wasn't referring to the ability to be creative so much as the nature of schooling and of the experience of school. Nor was I writing about how students might be outside of class. I was referring to the concepts of an education that merely requires students to reproduce knowledge ("you tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em, you tell 'em, then you tell 'em what you told 'em, then you test 'em to see if they can tell you what you told 'em"), rather than create new knowledge. It has nothing to do with how creative people may or may not be, but rather what they are expected and allowed to do within the context of schools and classrooms.

Renata adds:
I think the newspaper is feeding on a national myth of free America...sometimes you go half way across the globe to catch up with yourself, but it's not so much about where you land as what you bring with you...and not having family around when you're abroad helps sometimes...the US is full of restrictions and patterns you have to fit into without realizing as much as any country.

I'd agree there. Certainly there are common myths about the US, much of which are simply "the-grass-is-greener" syndrome.
I was listening to a young lady artist (singer, forget the name, on the telly) who said she had this idea of freedom in the US and came in for a rude shock when they told her to make grades or go home, that she had to study AND dance, not just dance, and that she had underestimated the severity of US culture (it's a puritan society, after all).

Yes, Japanese are "amae". This year I have a handful of Chinese students in a class of 20 Japanese; the English ability of these Chinese students is all over the place, but in terms of hard work, enthusiasm and initiative, they simply wipe the floor. In the end of term listening test I gave, one of the Japanese students noticed the Chinese students taking notes (shock horror!). The Japanese student was so incensed by this "cheating" that he/she lost all interest in taking the test. The Chinese students will make notes of vocab they don't know, then will either ask me as I walk around the classroom, or look it up on their electronic dictionaries. If they don't have one, they'll ask/borrow from someone who does. By contrast, very few of the Japanese students do this: they seem to be waiting for me to tell them what the words mean, or perhaps just waiting for me to tell them to look up the words they don't know. It's pretty disheartening, to be honest!

Renata's comment reminded me of how I felt when I took a group of Japanese students to the UK for a month's study. The British EFL teachers were pretty frank and scathing in their opinion of the Japanese students' English and general attitudes. It was a wake-up call, like someone opening a window and letting in fresh air into a dull, overheated room. I had become so accustomed to the atmosphere, I no longer felt it odd.

Yet I have found it impossible to maintain a "tough" attitude, and little by little, laxness returns to the norm. Thanks for the reminder, Renata.

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