On the Necessity of Creative Resistance to “Accountability”

The SItuationists International

“Style is the answer to everything.
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing
To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it
To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art

Bullfighting can be an art
Boxing can be an art
Loving can be an art
Opening a can of sardines can be an art

Not many have style
Not many can keep style
I have seen dogs with more style than men,
although not many dogs have style.
Cats have it with abundance.

When Hemingway put his brains to the wall with a shotgun,
that was style.
Or sometimes people give you style
Joan of Arc had style
John the Baptist
García Lorca.

I have met men in jail with style.
I have met more men in jail with style than men out of jail.
Style is the difference, a way of doing, a way of being done.
Six herons standing quietly in a pool of water,
or you, naked, walking out of the bathroom without seeing me.”

― Charles Bukowski

I am reflecting on this poem today because I believe that resistance to corporate reform can and must come out of a collective effort charged with “dangerous style.”

Equally, teaching ought to be a dangerous thing done with style. Now by dangerous I don’t mean running with scissors dangerous. I mean the sense of danger that heightens the senses and creates what Maxine Greene calls a “wide awakeness” when we are in the act of doing something creative. Because creativity requires taking risks, it requires embracing the unknown, it requires both great humility to accept that maybe all the answers to life’s greatest question have not already been answered and great courage to trudge forward into the unknown. But how well do we prepare our teachers to approach their profession as a thing done with dangerous style?

And better yet why should we?

We could talk about the well-documented research that shows how creative teaching and learning result in vast improvements in student success, because if nothing else you’ve made the curriculum more student centered, hands on and engaging. But I am not going to reiterate the obvious even though this same research seems to escape the attention of policy makers pushing their one size fits all model of curriculum and assessment for the sake of “accountability.” Now I believe that some of these folks have the best of intentions-that they want all children to succeed and maybe they’re simply misguided in their efforts. They play great lip service to creativity and critical thinking.

Creative teaching requires emergence. Sometimes we don’t know what going to happen or where a teachable moment in the classroom is going to go. God forbid it might not even be on the test. The fact that it matters to kids should matter more don’t you think?

Secondly, creative teaching as dangerous style requires collaboration. Teachers work together, Creativity isn’t something a teacher goes into the back room and mixes up in a beaker. It happens through our communities when we share a common vision and look toward our imagination for solutions and then enact them. We must detach our schools and children from the “number thumpers.” Teachers are not afraid of assessment or evaluation. They are afraid of being reduced to a number. They reject the idea that a score can tell you what you need to know about a child.

Third, creative teaching as dangerous style is transformative. The goals cannot be predicted on the outcomes sheet written by someone hundreds of miles away in some office building working for a textbook company. He or she does not know your children. He or she does not know your community. The content of what we teach, even if its standards based, MUST reflect the needs and identities of YOUR kids, and to make the meaningful and powerful accommodations day day, from classroom to classroom and child to child doesn’t come in a teacher’s guide-it comes from creative problem solving-being open to imagine what each child needs and how best to create that learning space for them. It does not come on a standardized test.

These are the skill sets that are lacking in our teacher preparation schools today. More so now than ten years ago when I started. Because the disease of fear is trickling upward. Again we give great lip service to it. But not a lot of colleges of education are also beholden to the great and powerful accountability movement. And if our pre-service teachers don’t perform according to rank and file-they won’t graduate? And now you have college professors afraid to teach creatively because we too must do what we’re told “or else.” It’s not just enough to imagine other worlds and other possibilities-you have to believe you have the capabilities, the creative tools, to create them. It requires the courage born of a dangerous style. You see it’s not just enough to talk about-my talking about here itself doesn’t change anything. We have to DO it-we have to make real viable spaces for it in our university curriculum. We have to practice it-we must replace fear based punitive measures in schools all over this country with measures that put into place supports for teachers to ACT creatively-to inspire their students to WANT to learn-to attach real meaningful practices that foster a wide- awakeness in our children.

So ironically, the skills and capacities we most desperately need the most, creative thinking to face the challenges of a changing and complex world, are the same skills we are so quick to eliminate. We forgo art, music and PE in favor of more test prep. We fire teachers and increase class size while 45 billion dollars goes into the coffers of testing companies.  What does that say about us as a society? You see, creativity and complacency cannot exist in the same space. Which do we want for our children and for ourselves? A world that is constructed for us by others or one in which we give them the tools to make for themselves? What is our choice to be?

We need to teach teachers how to be more creative not how to be more compliant.

If we’re worried about keeping bad teachers in classrooms let’s create them out of schools.

Here’s how:

In the current system where everything gets handed to teachers from a script and they’re TOLD exactly what they need to do (or else…), if you were in a faculty meeting-bad teachers go great, I don’t have to think about it. I’ll just skill drill and kill em and go home. Good teachers make a face in the back of room, and worry, how am I going to make this interesting for my kids?

This doesn’t really make a whole lotta sense, and a great teacher is going to say “I’m outta here” or they get pushed out for resisting to do what they know is wrong for their kids. As Anthony Cody says: “I think it is likely to be some of the most creative teachers, working in the most challenging conditions, who are being encouraged to leave by the relentless pressure to increase test scores and the inequitable and unsustainable funding of high poverty schools.”
In a system that expects creative thinking here’s how it might go: you give teachers the idea for how to say, use the art work of Mondrian a famous artist in a geometry unit where THEY have to design and implement the connections between the artwork, the geometry learning goals and THEIR kids, where they have to THINK and do some creative leg work. The bad teacher is gonna say “I’m outta here. This is too hard” the good teacher is going to nod their head and say “Ok let’s get to work,” and the great teacher is going to raise her hand and say, “Wait a minute…I have an ever BETTER idea”

You see, great teachers don’t follow-they lead. And their greatness will not necessarily show up on the test scores, because you cannot measure creative outcomes on a bubble dot test, especially for kids with ELL needs or special needs that set them up for failure on a test anyway-those kids will not find their own creative greatness by filling in a bubble sheet with one right answer either. We need to prepare teachers to be creative-we need to teach them not how to simply FOLLOW the directions handed to them, we need to teach them how to ask questions like: “Does this even make the most sense for my kids?” and encourage them to take risks needed to really reach ALL children.

We need creativity not compliance to reimagine our public schools.

And we need teachers, great teachers, to show us how it can be done.

See  The Left Handed Curriculum: Creative Experiences for Empowring Teachers for more ways to fight corporate reform through creative reistance

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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