I had a strange dream last night that included all my fellow jury members in DesignShare's 2007 Awards Program. Of course, no one in the dream matched the folks on the jury, how convenient for me. Anyway, as I awoke around 4am I thought immediately of Bruce Jilk's article article in DesignShare, "Freedom and Creativity" to get me motivated for viewing yet another 100 projects over the next month. No, Bruce wasn't in the dream either, and incidentally, he's not on the jury this year either. And of course, it motivated me...
"Nearly all children are born with creative potential. The drawings, singing, play, and place making of young children is in evidence everywhere. As they move through their years of “development” many seem to lose this creative propensity. We have all seen it when we visit schools. The delightful, spirited kindergarten classroom seems to diminish, year by year until you get to the more somber rooms of the 6th grade and beyond. What’s going on here?"
What I neglected to say is that in my dream the master of ceremonies challenged us jurists to throw away our Powerpoints and be spontaneous! (Yikes! Yet another unconscious link to something I'd read just a day ago!) Wow, was I stressed. You mean I can't quote the research on learning environments you say?! Indeed, What is going on here?!
"For many reasons the teaching process in the US becomes more focused and controlled as students move ahead. This certainly is done for significant reasons. And with the fed’s passing laws that require testing this will become even more evident. (Who was it that said you don’t fatten a cow by weighing it?) The problem is that this also is limiting the creative channels of children. Typically we, planners and designers, respond to our clients by developing teaching environments that are supportive of this emphasis on focus and control. Recent security issues even push those concerns further. I believe this is what we are expected to do, but we can do so much more."
Have we been limiting our own creative channels? I suspect we must start with our own channels of creativity if we want to support creativity in others. You think so?
Bruce argues for us to not underrate the physical environment's impact on learning, "I would not argue that the physical environment can “outperform” the people environment in the learning process. However, I do feel the role of the physical environment is underrated. After all we really only know one type of physical environment for learning—the classroom. Except for very few options, we have nothing to compare it to. In education it takes more then one or two examples to convincingly “prove” anything. If someone wants to stop a new idea in learning all they have to say is “prove it” and end of discussion."
I've tried for years to "prove" that the physical environment is a critical determinant in the learning process. I still believe it is and I have about 500 research articles in my files here that point in that direction. (Notice they are all boxed up?) However, the better way is to simply to lead folks to the water - finger pointing the way - kind of like a Zen Master?
Bruce continuing to inspire: "Those of use who are responsible for creating these places to learn need to go beyond the task of accommodating the tried and true. And we need to go beyond providing for flexibility and adaptability, which I think, although important, is mostly an excuse for not really knowing how to do anything else. We need to create environments that actively nudge learners toward freedom and creativity. This is an Architecture of Persuasion. Historically there is much we can learn from Baroque Architecture in understanding this potential. Philosophically, I call this the Architecture of Intention. And scientifically it is supported by the research around “Emergence.”
Ultimately Bruce concludes: "Its about designing a learning environment in which the design “intends” for freedom and creativity to be integrated into the students’ daily learning experiences, and not “designed-out” in the name of focus and control. For me this is an attempt to expand the world of school design and open up new possibilities. It is not meant to be “the answer” to school design. It’s success can only be measured by how much you learn from it. I welcome your comments."
As I think about my interesting dream, I hope that I can learn to loosen the reins of my control on this creative process we call school design.