What should we do to promote the very best learning in our students? Some would suggest that first and foremost we should nurture creativity… however others have suggested that the route to creativity is not defined by self discovery but by good old fashioned hard work. The Guardian has an extract, A gift or hard graft?, from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story Of Success. The piece introduces the idea that a key to becoming extraordinarily successful in a field is achieving early expertise and that to become an expert in a discipline requires on the order of 10,000 hours of practice. The 10K figure comes from the research of Anders Ericsson who in the early 1990s studied violinists at the Berlin Academy of Music.
“The curious thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals” – musicians who could float effortlessly to the top while practising a fraction of the time that their peers did. Nor could they find “grinds”, people who worked harder than everyone else and yet just didn’t have what it takes to break into the top ranks. Their research suggested that once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. What’s more, the people at the very top don’t just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”
I’m currently reading Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, by Matthew Crawford. It’s a pretty compelling book that first came to my attention in this New York Times piece. The following passage, on the way creativity is misunderstood (contra Richard Florida, in this case) and how it might better be thought of, is just one interesting section of the book:
“It is a view familiar to most of us from kindergarten: creativity is a mysterious capacity that needs to be “unleashed” (think finger painting). Creativity is what happens when people are liberated from the constraints of conventionality. According to this hippie theory, the personal grooming habits of Albert Einstein are highly significant – how else does one identify a “bizarre maverick operating at the bohemian fringe?”
The truth, of course, is that creativity is a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice. It seems to be built up through submission (think a musician practising scales, or Einstein leaning tensor algebra). Identifying creativity with freedom harmonises quite well with the culture of new capitalism, in which the imperative of flexibility precludes dwelling any task long enough to develop a real competence. Such competence is the condition not only for genuine creativity but for economic independence such as the tradesman enjoys. So the liberationist ethic of what is sometimes called “the 1968 generation” perhaps paved the way for our increasing dependence. We’re primed to respond to any invocation of the aesthetics of individuality. The rhetoric of freedom pleases our ears. The simulacrum of independent though and action that goes by the name of “creativity” trips easily off the tongues of spokespeople of the corporate counterculture, and if we’re not paying attention such usage might influence our career plans. The term invokes our powerful tendency to narcissism, and in doing so greases the skids into work that is not what we had hoped.”
So, questions abound. What are we doing to encourage hard work… do we promote creativity in reaction to our perception of a prescriptive curriculum… how do creative AND industrious environments look in schools… what is the role of self determination/ independence/ autonomy for students and pupils in the work ethos promoted by Gladwell and others?