Angela K. Bodino
Professor of English, Raritan Valley Community College
Leadership and Educational Reform in Higher Education:
The Priorities of Creativity and Innovation
Critics on the right and the left agree - and with the same sense of urgency - on the need to cultivate creativity and a capacity for innovation in seamless schooling, K-16 and on serious consequences if we fail. That warning shouldn’t surprise us in this time of unprecedented workplace complexity, societal change, and global challenge. That need and challenge runs throughout the report from Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education (2006). The capacity to innovate and compete informs the first goal. The commission writes, “We want a world-class higher-education system that creates new knowledge, contributes to economic prosperity and global competitiveness, and empowers citizens (xi).” That goal was echoed on the State level at the Governors’ Conference on Education, televised on C-Span in February 2007, and featuring keynoter Ken Robinson (2001), author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative. He writes on the first page of his text:
Throughout the world, companies and organizations are trying to compete in a
world of economic and technological change that is moving faster than ever. As
the axis shifts towards intellectual labor and services, they urgently need people
who are creative, innovative, and flexible. Too often they can’t find them.
For both Spellings and Robinson, challenges to innovate and compete are linked. In spite of decades of reform, we are still A Nation at Risk - and more than ever.
Ends and Means: Creativity in an Age of Scientific and Technological Dominance
In spite of this agreement on the importance of innovation and creativity as outcomes, fundamental disagreement remains on how to effect and assess such an education of the imagination. At first, the differences seem insurmountable.
The preference in Spellings is for a top-down approach, emphasizing national norms of assessment and accountability, and prioritizing the “knowledge-intensive” domains; specifically science, technology, engineering, and math, the STEM curriculum. The commission recommends increasing investment in STEM fields, “teaching, nursing, biomedicine…along the lines recommended by President George W. Bush in Rising Above the Gathering Storm (Spellings, 27).
Ken Robinson at the Governor’s Conference articulated another point of view. Still with a focus on the STEM curriculum, his televised keynote added an emphasis on competencies of creativity nurtured in an interdisciplinary curriculum, with assessments tied to processes of teaching and learning in local, rather than standardized national contexts. His seamless curriculum would integrate domains of STEM disciplines with the humanities and with the applied learning of career courses and fine and performing arts. He defines this fracturing of the contemporary curriculum a septic focus, “the tendency to look at a problem in isolation from its context,” akin to a medical specialization that would prescribe a treatment for one organ without consideration for the impact on other organs or the systemic nature of the body as a whole” (1). And he includes vocational education and applied learning in that systemic context.
The debate is familiar in American education, including the polarization between product and process or the what and how of learning, as well as the emphasis on the “knowledge-intensive” disciplines of math and science rather than interdisciplinary convergence. In 1959, novelist, scientist, and Cambridge professor C.P. Snow lectured famously about the problematic polarization in higher education between science and the humanities. His title was The Two Cultures:
The clashing point of two subjects, two disciplines, two cultures—of two galaxies, so far as that goes—ought to produce creative chances. In the history of mental activity that has been where some of the break-throughs came. The chances are there now. But they are there as it were in a vacuum, because those in the two cultures can’t talk to each other. (p. 16)
First published in 1959, in the wake of Sputnik and a 20th century “Scientific Revolution,” Snow’s lecture has been revised and reprinted nine times, with commentary added, most recently in 2006.
Concerns about curricular fragmentation continued. In 1998, biologist Edward Wilson similarly argued for the need to develop an ability to think efficiently and imaginatively as a means of connecting interdisciplinary knowledge. The new problem at the end of the 20th century was not simply the gap between the two cultures, but also information overload, given the explosion of scientific discovery and the power of new media to disseminate information:
Thanks to science and technology, access to factual knowledge of all kinds is rising exponentially, while dropping in unit cost. It is destined to become global and democratic. Soon it will become available everywhere on television and computer screens. What then? The answer is synthesis. We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom. The world will henceforth be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically and make choices wisely. (p. 89)
Wilson called this new field of study consilience, an intersection of the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, which he considers a crucial focus of academic study in the 21st century.
Writing in Sparks of Genius Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein warn of a “dark age” facing 21 century society as “field experts address larger and larger problems in smaller and smaller bits” (viii). Although the explosion of knowledge and access to information in 21st century education seems to require the mastery of more and more information, their solution is instead, to understand the nature of creative thinking, the means by which information can be transformed into knowledge, and that knowledge reintegrated in new syntheses. They write:
People in every creative endeavor use a common set of general-purpose thinking tools in an almost infinite variety of ways. These tools reveal the nature of creative thinking itself; they make surprising connections among the sciences, arts, humanities, and technologies. At the level of creative imagination, everyone thinks alike.
Their solution does not dismiss the value of disciplinary content, but rather adds the value of creativity.
Just as on the level of higher education, the reforms driven by the launching of Sputnik in 1957, impacted teaching and learning in the elementary and secondary schools; then as now calls for reform privileged the disciplines of science and mathematics and the standardization of assessments. Addressing the National Adolescent Literacy Coalition in 2006, Patricia Stock describes early resistance to these reforms; resistance which prompted research with a multidisciplinary lens - “pioneering work in fields as diverse as anthropology, classics, cognitive psychology, cultural studies, economics, history, linguistics, philosophy of science, and sociology” (Whole School Reform, 12) In 1966, the Carnegie Foundation formed the Dartmouth Seminar, made up of 50 educators from the United Kingdom and the United States to look specifically at the field of English education and to define its goals in a reformist, integrative agenda.
Patricia Stock summarizes its recommendations, and its implications for connecting thought and language across the curriculum:
The Dartmouth Seminar drew attention to learners’ use of the language arts to construct meaning—a process that is active, pays as much attention to process as product, and is grounded in the conviction that language is not simply a means of encouraging literacy but the foundation of all learning. (12)
Reading and writing were to be integrated. Partnerships between university and K-12 schooling were to frame collaborations and research into the teaching of writing (Strickland, 389; Dixon, 10). Forty years later, as the National Advisory Panel of the Commission on Writing reports, compelling research and models of best practice abound. Yet writing is still The Neglected ‘R.’ Fifty years after The Two Cultures, inter- disciplinary collaboration is still not a priority of reform.
The recommendations of the Spellings’ Commission explicitly exclude assessments of process: “Accreditation agencies should make performance outcomes, including completion rates and student learning, the core of their assessment as a priority over inputs or processes” (25). Also explicit is the exclusion of interdisciplinary collaboration:
With too few exceptions, higher education has yet to address the fundamental issues of how academic programs and institutions must be transformed to serve the changing needs of a knowledge economy. We recommend that America’s colleges and universities embrace a culture of continuous innovation and quality improvement by developing new pedagogies, curricula, and technologies to improve learning, particularly in the area of science and mathematical literacy. (25)
In the present as in the past, the privileging of standardized and specialized educational initiatives at the expense of systemic and emergent initiatives is poised to defeat the stated goals of reform – innovation and creativity. Ironically, the recommendation at first appears promising – inviting “innovation” and “new pedagogies,” but then imposes controls that limit innovation.
Robinson considers the paradox, that business and governmental agencies “are spending lots of money trying to make people creative” but the goal eludes them (2). The fundamental cause Robinson cites is a misunderstanding of the nature of creativity, as a capacity inherent in every human being, and not just in uniquely inspired individuals. It is a capacity crucial to academic inquiry, career resilience, and lifelong learning. Though expressed differently in diverse contexts, it is a constant whether in “music or mathematics, or working with clay, or software, or images, or with people” (11). Most significantly, he believes that it can be developed, though the means have to do less with targeted norms of assessment than with the development of systemic strategies and collaborative networks whether the context is academic or corporate (3).
The Synthesizing Curriculum: The History of Grants at RVCC
In an echo of Robinson and with an emphasis on higher education, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein emphasize the need for synthesizing, transdisciplinary curricular networks to cultivate this inherent capacity for creativity in all individuals. As distant as the two reform approaches seem – standardized and specialized on the one hand and systemic and synthesizing on the other, the thesis of this paper is that convergence is possible and that RVCC has a unique resource of a history of WAC and interdisciplinary collaboration to draw on.
Writing can help cultivate, connect, and assess the general education competencies of an interdisciplinary college curriculum to be tested in national assessments, while weaving seamless networks across disciplinary domains and grades K-16. Given its grassroots, bridging role and focus on teaching and learning, the community college along with university partnerships can provide the most innovative context for K-16 collaboration.
The key variable, the starting point, is faculty themselves writing, and taking ownership, as they reflect on the process, apply and refine reforms in their classes, and share and assess their findings – all in interdisciplinary writing groups. The view of writing in this model is that it is inherently generative, tied to the creative character of language, and a process that develops as well as cultivates insight. It is a unique and irreplaceable mode of learning that strengthens the other catalysts of learning - reading, listening visualizing, speaking (Nagin, 2006; Elbow, 1998; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995; Emig, 1983).
Research also reminds us of the unique and irreplaceable role of peer buy-in if any innovation is to be diffused within a social system. The most effective means of diffusing innovation is by leveraging the power of the change agents in a social system; the change must be peer-driven, tried and found true, whether the social system is corporate or academic. The expertise of teachers must be tapped as they try out an innovation in order to trust its value (Donaldson, 2006; Vanderslice, 2000; Rogers, 2003; Waalvoord, 1996; Mauermeyer, 1988.) In 1996, looking back at ten years of failed reforms driven by A Nation at Risk, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future concluded,
We have finally learned in hindsight what should have been clear from the start: most schools and teachers cannot produce the kind of learning demanded by the new reforms – not because they do not want to, but because they do not know how, and the systems in which they work do not support them in doing so. (Franklin, et. al.; x)
In the context of educational reforms, before we get to testing we must focus on teaching.
Proof of effective innovation diffusion and reform is in the College’s history of faculty-driven interdisciplinary writing groups (Bodino, Mauermeyer, Estabrook; 1999). With leadership diffused through collaboration and conversation, WAC helped to frame the development of interdisciplinary and linked courses, Tech Prep, ethics-across-the-curriculum, service-learning, an award-winning concurrent enrollment program, the Eisenhower math literacy grant, the work of students in Nota Bene exemplifying creativity across the disciplines, and outreach to teachers K-16 through graduate writing projects in collaboration with Rutgers and Centenary,.
As critiques of America’s educational system grow ever more complex and dire, it seems timely to revisit and revise the model. The Spellings report provides one impetus to grant-funded, interdisciplinary writing colloquia, joining new and seasoned faculty, and teachers from our sending districts. Another, and related impetus, comes from the National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges; developed like the Spellings commission, with leaders from education, business, and government. The Commission issued four reports: The Neglected ‘R in 2003; followed by Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out in 2004, Writing: A Powerful Message from State Government in 2005, and Writing and Whole School Reform in 2006.
Perhaps we can revisit WAC and interdisciplinary collaboration, armed with new theories in composition studies about writing and learning, new findings in the neurosciences about creativity, new challenges to assess general education and integrate the curriculum, new commitment to Nota Bene, and new interest in extending the model of concurrent enrollment, with transferability strengthened.
Twenty-five years of daunting warnings still resound, from A Nation at Risk in 1983, to Spellings’ 2006 reminder that the United States ranks 12th in educational attainment among industrialized nations (xxii). Perhaps it seems idealistic to rely on creativity and imagination to make a crucial difference in the lives of our students as well as in data-driven national assessments. Or perhaps instead it seems an inevitable place to start.
Writing on the eve of the 25th anniversary of “A Nation at Risk,” former Times Education Editor Edward B. Fiske notes that American schools are in serious disarray without clear direction. But he also notes an often overlooked but important strength of American schools, “They teach creativity and the problem-solving skills critical to prospering in the global economy” (04/25/08; A27). He concludes that we may well need both not only an environment that requires rigor in science, math, and technology, but also an “enabling environment” for creativity.
As Ken Robinson writes:
In a literal sense, we create the worlds we live in. But we can also recreate them.
The great revolutions in human history have often been detonated by new ideas:
by new ways of seeing that have shattered old certainties. This is the essential
process of cultural change and it can be deeply settling. Creative insights often
occur by making connections between ideas or experiences that were previously
unconnected. Just as intelligence in a single mind is interactive, creativity is often
interdisciplinary. This is why the best creative teams often contain specialists in
different fields. This has serious implications for the culture of organizations that
want to promote creative development. (11-12)
And what better institution to “detonate” a process of innovation in higher education than the entrepreneurial community college, local and centered in a seamless K-16 continuum, organized around a matrix of common tools of thinking.
This paper has three parts:
Snapshots of WAC at RVCC: 1985-1988
This section looks at the work of faculty writing in interdisciplinary seminars and discovering
common tools of thinking threaded throughout the curriculum.
Interdisciplinary Integration: Beyond the Illusion of Difference
This section looks at the tacit, embodied, and organic competencies of creativity that inform common tools of thinking, both essential and difficult to recognize.
Developing a Culture of Continuous Innovation
This section looks at the assumptions driving the results-only paradigm and grounds for addressing them. It ends with implications for teaching, learning, assessment, and for imagining the higher education and its educational stakeholders as partners in culture of innovation.
Snapshots of WAC: 1985-1988
Writing Thinking across the Curriculum
Externalization is a process of articulating tacit knowledge into explicit
concepts. It is a quintessential knowledge-creating process in that tacit
knowledge becomes explicit, taking the shapers of metaphors, analogies,
concepts, hypotheses or models. When we attempt to conceptualize an
image we express it in essence in language—writing is an act of converting
tacit knowledge into articulable knowledge (Emig, 1983). Yet expressions
are often inadequate, inconsistent, and insufficient. Such discrepancies
and gaps between images and expressions, however, help
promote “reflection” and interaction between individuals.
--Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi
The Knowledge-Creating Company, 1995
From 1985-1988, a grant from the New Jersey Fund for the Improvement of Collegiate Education (FICE), supported one course reassigned time for faculty to participate in weekly interdisciplinary writing seminars; 87% of RVCC faculty volunteered. The goal was to encourage writing as a means of reflection, and the framework was collaborative. Each seminar began with a prompt for writing freely, as a form of brainstorming, and then continued with the sharing of the free write as a spur to conversation. Faculty came to each seminar with written responses to readings drawn from the discipline of composition studies, with examples of their writing assignments and student responses, and with ideas, concerns, and perspectives on the role of writing in their courses. In the WAC interdisciplinary seminars faculty broke through artificial disciplinary boundaries; experienced collaboration as a means of developing innovative ways of teaching, and most significantly of all, discovered writing as a means of developing insight.
What was surprising in the first weeks was the importance of emotion and personal experience as a creative bridge to academic reflection. Our first prompt was “Describe your most significant intellectual ancestor.” We expected a formal discussion about important theorists or scholars, but instead received personal and moving reflections about a parent or an inspiring teacher or about a chance encounter that led to a particular discipline or the career of teaching. So when it came time to write about teaching and learning, we developed a personal prompt, asking faculty to focus on a moment when they learned something, and then on the variables that supported or inhibited learning. When we wrote about our own experiences with writing, we easily put ourselves in the place of our students, discussing what blocked us and what freed us.
Free writing helped. As described by Peter Elbow in Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching, the role of writing as a spur to thinking functions in two contrasting but complementary phases: first-order and second-order thinking:
First order thinking is intuitive and creative and does strive for conscious direction or control. We use it when we get hunches or see gestalts. We use it when we sense analogies or ride on metaphors or arrange the pieces in a collage. We use it when we write fast without censoring and let the words lead us to associations and intuitions we hadn’t foreseen. Second-order thinking is committed to accuracy and strives for logic and control: we examine our premises and assess the validity of each inference. Second order thinking is what most people have in mind when they talk about “critical thinking.” (55)
The time spent on writing in the seminars began with ten-minutes, and then grew, as well as the willingness to share and the eagerness to hear what colleagues had to say.
Faculty assigned focused free writing and reported back on the results – on the spurs to conversation, to close reading, and to the development of formal papers. In sociology, students wrote about a question or a surprising insight in an assigned reading. In a course on Monoprinting (DelVecchio), students wrote about artists who most influenced their own work and why. Thoughtful research projects emerged from the free writes. In several classes students were encouraged to write from a subjective point of view, as though the writer was acculturated as an Other who was the focus of study. In an Introduction to Psychology course, one student assumed the perspective of a schizophrenic (Akbary); in Elements of Physical Fitness one student’s free write grew into an imaginary monologue beginning, “Hello, I am a fat person” (Cummings). Because the prompts were open-ended, the topics of the free writes were essentially self-authored, and emotional; yet the polished products were objective and academic.
In an introductory chemistry class, Paul Schueler asked students to write about some experience of phenomenon that either adhered to LeChatelier’s Principle or that demonstrated behavior opposite to it. The principle reads:
When a system in a state of dynamic equilibrium is disturbed by some outside influence that upsets the equilibrium, the system responds by undergoing a change in direction that reduces the disturbance and, if possible, brings the system back to equilibrium.
By connecting the principle to personal experience and to chemistry students were responding imaginatively, thinking analogously, and connecting a scientific theory with a narrative. The two disparate ways of thinking were integrated.
Throughout the pages of Sparks of Genius, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein reference the essential contributions of emotion and experience to interdisciplinary insight:
We need polymaths and pioneers who know that imagination thrives when
sensual experience joins with reason, when Illusions link to Reality, when
intuition couples with intellect, when the passions of the heart unite with those of
the mind, when knowledge gained in one discipline opens doors to all the rest. (326)
The work of the imagination integrates all of these seemingly disparate elements, in a process that is unconscious rather than conscious, intuitive rather than deliberate, as creative thinkers respond to a felt need to figure something out; i.e. to give a problem or question a visible form, a medium that enables reflection and effects an emotional release – visual artifacts to assist analysis (325). The closing pages of Sparks of Genius complement the opening pages of the book which also began with the role of intuition and tacit knowing in scientific thinking as in the arts and humanities.
As the WAC seminars drew attention to how we learn as well as what we learn, the role of feeling and intuitive thinking became more apparent. At the same time, the distinction between first-order and second-order thinking ensured that the subjective, personal process of developing insight could be revised into an objective communication of that insight. Research in the sciences often follows the same path, an anomaly is somehow troubling, a solution is intuited, before the Eureka that becomes a published outcome. However, the path to discovery is more likely to be recorded in a history of science than in a scientific text, since the valued outcome is an objective finding that can be replicated.
In Actual Minds/Possible Worlds, Jerome Bruner notes the importance of recording the the imaginative dynamic of forming a scientific hypothesis as means of helping us understanding it. As an example of an experiential process, he recounts Niels Bohr’s story of his “rambling” path to the discovery of quantum theory:
The idea of complementarity in quantum theory, he said, came to him as he thought of the impossibility of considering his son simultaneously in the light of love and in the light of justice, the son just having voluntarily confessed that he had stolen a pipe from a local shop. His brooding set him thinking about the vases and the faces in the trick figure-ground pictures: you can see only one set at a time. And then the impossibility of thinking simultaneously about the position and the velocity of a particle occurred to him. (51)
A personal narrative, a felt conflict, provided the context. The imagery and dialectic of the figure-ground illusion provided the transition from experience to physics. The visual artifact was so conveniently empty of either existential or scientific resonance, it could subsume either. Bruner concludes with the regret that Bohr’s description of his process would attract no interest in the field of physics, in spite of what it can tell us about the scientific imagination and the winding path to discovery.
In the process of interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration, and as a result of the exchanges of free writes and formal writing assignments, faculty began to see constructs of thinking held in common, made visible and enacted in the language of our disciplines. Core constructs of creativity can synthesize the curriculum. Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein write in the Preface of Sparks of Genius::
People in every creative endeavor use a common set of general purpose thinking tools in an almost infinite variety of ways. These tools reveal the nature of creative thinking itself; they make surprising connections among the sciences, arts, humanities, and technologies. At the level of creative imagination, everyone thinks alike…By restructuring our cognitive categories, to emphasize the unity of creative thinking, we formulate a new conception of knowledge and correspondingly, a new form of education.
Bohr’s pattern of complementarity, of mirrored patterns is like the pattern of embracing of contraries described by Elbow. The analysis of narrative in the literature class became comparable to the analysis of case in business law, accounting, management, and psychology. The ability to explain a math problem or to construct a thesis statement in an essay exam depended on the uses of complex forms of grammar, particularly dependent clauses and patterns of parallelism.
Variations of observation, description and inference were applied in nursing, chemistry, physics, art, biology, film studies and composition. The assignments all relied on a specialized disciplinary language to affect observation, to define data and evidence, and to make tacit knowing conscious. However, in order to be integrative across the curriculum and a focus of assessment, the replication of the process had to be an explicit focus of instruction and an explicit stimulus to writing in diverse courses. What seemed essential was that students themselves could recognize the interdisciplinary commonality of such patterns and constructs as they were applied in courses with different content.
One example is classification. In a biology course, Professor Roger Johnson had students randomly collect five samples of flowering plants. In class, students had to compare them on the basis of six characteristics: color, for example, or leaf arrangement; make a diagnostic chart, and write a taxonomic key to two of the five species. In a music class, Dr. Roger Briscoe played excerpts of three different kinds of music: an African piece with soprano solo and a drum, a Mozart symphony, and a bit of electronic music. Students had to identify common elements in the pieces and figure out, “What is music?”
In a maternity nursing class, students viewed a film called “Saturday’s Children,” which showed the diverse experiences of five mothers giving birth. As preparation for their clinical experience on a maternity ward, Dr. Helen Jones had students respond to the film by writing about their perceptions of the diverse needs of each patient within the similar phases of the birth process. In each instance, because they were writing their responses and because they were given the focus of a disciplinary construct based on similarities and differences, students were seeing and sorting in specialized ways and learning about responding appropriately to uniquely situated patients.
In the fifth week of the ten-week interdisciplinary seminars, faculty responded extemporaneously to the prompt, “Describe a problem in your discipline and the way you help students solve it.” In his free write, Professor of Biology, Roger Johnson, described a construct and a methodology that has applications across the curriculum, pulling together observation, visualization, dialectic and inference:
A problem in understanding Ecology is to be able to view nature as a system of many interacting, often interdependent parts. Like economics, there are many variables possibly contributing to the outcome, and a manipulation of one component often has almost unforeseen repercussions. To help students understand and view the population of a forest as a system, we construct flow diagrams or component models showing the parts and the influences of one on others. One assignment I give students is a written population study of red grouse. From this we draw a picture which includes each of the various factors which are influential on the population – such as food supply, predators, climate and behaviors like dominance, age, structure, clutch size. Then we draw arrows between these factors to show positive or negative effects, thus emphasizing interactions as well as structures. I have tried this myself in preparation for teaching, from an article about the effects of medical technologies on society. The article described so many compounding and far-reaching effects of even one technology that I found drawing a picture to be very helpful.
The content of Roger Johnson’s own reading differed from the material about red grouse, but his reflection on his own tool for thinking, a flow chart, transferred to his teaching. The construct in turn helped his students learn about the population of red grouse, about the delicate balance of our environment, and about thinking systemically and creatively. What is then essential to the transference, however, is conscious mastery of a construct as it is replicated other courses.
The altering of a single variable is significant in many disciplines. In economics, students can trace the ramifications of an increase in the price of oil and classify the effects in terms of different regions of the United States - not only would students be learning about the effects of a single variable on the economy, but also about the relationship between geography and commerce. In sociology, students may trace the ramifications of a single variable in an individual life – like deafness in the elderly for example, or teen pregnancy, and in the process learn to apply a systemic psychological, biological, sociological construct to appreciate the interwoven character of social networks and their impact on the individual.
A second resonant aspect to Professor Johnson’s approach was his use of a drawing, a visual artifact, a flow chart, to capture the interactions of positive and negative effects. Like writing, the construction of graphic representations of information can also join tacit and explicit knowledge, transforming data into meaning and making that meaning accessible for analysis, reflection, and revision. Edward R. Tufte in Envisioning Information provides a list of the varieties of approaches, “Charts diagrams, graphs, tables, guides, instructions, directories, and maps” (9). In another wonderful book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, he maps stories tracing evocative changes over space and time; Napoleon’s disastrous winter march to Russia, for example, and the spread of the Black Death in medieval England.
Root-Bernstein include three-dimension representations, pieces of sculpture and architectural models,, which they call “proprioceptive modes of thinking” essential to analytic thinking (325). Visualization and dialectic are as important to the scientist as to the poet and novelist. Crick and Watson relied as much on their copper wire model as on intricate chemical formulas to understand the double helix structure of DNA. While flow charts and visual models were already being applied across the curriculum, the WAC grant reinforced the need to name them explicitly as generic tools for creative and critical thinking, common across the curriculum that students could apply for themselves in diverse disciplines.
The WAC grant ended before a systemic model could be implemented and sustained. But its potential remains – the vision of a synthesizing curriculum that joins process and product systemically and explicitly, along with an ethic of assessment that makes writing across the curriculum fully implemented and sustainable. Since the end of the WAC seminars in 1988, research and best practices continue – with important implications for teaching and learning, connecting process and product, the cultivation and assessment of critical and creative thinking, the articulation of a seamless general education curriculum as well as a seamless alignment of competencies K-16.
There is a ready store of new research and best practice to guide us. . Research on the connections between brain and mind is growing and increasingly accessible to the general public. Recently, the Science Section of The New York Times listed six on “Thought and Language,” with interdisciplinary perspectives joining linguistics, anthropology, biology, cognitive science, psychology (4/22/08; F1-2).
Creativity is a tacit competency; and as we attend to it we find more convergence than divergence across the curriculum. The challenge is to make it explicit so that it can inform the innovative pedagogies called for by the Spellings’ Commission as well as six decades of reform initiatives. Under the heading of A Writing Agenda for the Nation, the Commission on Writing (2006) explicitly references collegiate learning and teaching and recommends a mission of leadership in higher education:
Higher education should address the special roles it has to play in improving writing. All prospective teachers, no matter their discipline, should be provided with courses in how to teach writing. Meanwhile, writing instruction in colleges and universities should be improved for all students. (41)
Writing as a generator of critical and creative thinking is an essential component of learning on all levels of schooling and in all disciplines. But for this heuristic effect to be fully understood, the process must be experienced – by faculty first and then by their students. That is the power of professional development that begins with faculty writing and reflecting, the power of writing-across- the curriculum (WAC) as a transition to writing-in-the-disciplines (WID).
Interdisciplinary Integration: Beyond the Illusion of Difference
Science and humanities—an ancient topic,
even a tired one…seems to have come awake again.
--Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds/Possible Worlds (1986)
The WAC seminars reinforced the values that drive the RVCC mission and that inspired the grant in the first place: the belief that students had to be engaged and active, that focused free writing was a means of having them think critically and creatively, and that writing spurs conversations in small and large groups for students as well as colleagues. We expected that writing and conversations among faculty could break down the boundaries between our disciplines in terms of content we could all address. Ongoing collaboration led to an ethics across the curriculum grant, for example, and integrative courses relating to economics and ecology, gender and race. But we didn’t anticipate the emergence of the common tools of thinking underlying the curriculum, core constructs essential to critical and creative thinking.
The WAC seminars helped to make themes and shared constructs explicit, a process described as a form of “knowledge conversion” described by Ikijuro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi in The Knowledge-Creating Company:
Our dynamic model of knowledge is anchored to a critical assumption that human knowledge is created and expanded through social interaction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. We call this interaction “knowledge conversion.” It should be noted that this is a “social” process between individuals and not confined within an individual. According to the rationalist view, human cognition is a deductive process of individuals, but an individual is never isolated from social interaction when he or she perceives things. Thus, through this “social conversion” process, tacit and explicit knowledge expands in terms of both quantity and quality. (61)
The two essential variables in the WAC seminars were the focus on language as software for thinking, with writing the bridge between tacit and explicit knowing, and the focus on the expertise of faculty, made explicit in conversations about the teaching of writing.
Since the end of the WAC grant, research into the nature of creativity in disciplines as diverse as biology, psychology, neuroscience, business, and literary criticism has defined these general thinking tools as a constructivist matrix of synthesis and analysis. (Wilson, 248; Damasio, 168-177). The findings of the neurosciences connect it to a deeper, inherently “embodied” design of thinking itself, reflecting the efficiency of evolutionary and organic processes. The genome project is one recent example of the infinite creative power that comes from the splitting and joining of just four elements in our DNA.
However, understanding the biology of thinking is still more elusive than understanding the biology of the body. The very locus of thinking in the depths of the brain, in that hidden, layered interior, directs us to the layer that is immediately obvious - the product/the body. When we look at the written products of the humanities and sciences, we see only differences in uses of language and purpose, and miss the underlying tools of thinking essential to the creation of new knowledge. The barriers to understanding the tacit character of learning are several: the visibility of disciplinary differences when we look only at products and not process, the tacit nature of interdisciplinary connections, and the overriding need to begin with teachers writing, reflecting, and collaborating, as they “weave new syntheses for themselves” (Root-Bernstein, Preface).
Embodied Design: Bridging the Gap from Brain to Mind
Writing in his appropriately entitled text Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity in 1979, biologist Gregory Bateson connects the function of creativity to the core design found in creatura, in all living things, He writes, “The parts of a crab are connected by various patterns of bilateral symmetry, of serial homology” (10). He applies the relational design further and further, subsuming more and more diverse kinds of data within an organic model of evolutionary synthesis. He asks,
What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me? And me to you? And all the six of us to the amoeba in one direction and to the backward schizophrenic in the other? (8).
The replicated and increasingly complex pattern applies in comparisons of horse and man, pointing to the efficiency of organic process, in the evolution of plants, animals, and embodied thinking. Bateson’s design of “bilateral symmetry” introduces a gap that forces the question, what pattern connects so that we indeed begin to wonder. We feel compelled to make a connection to fill the gap so that the juxtaposition makes sense.
Drawing on research in the neurosciences, Jonah Lehrer suggests that “the vacant gaps between cells…synaptic clefts, are the secret sites of communication” (83). In metaphor the gap emerges from some surprising conjunction, whether on the level of a word or whole text. In irony the gap emerges from some surprising disjunction—in satire, and paradox, for example. And generally the figuring of metaphor and irony work in tandem; puns are both metaphoric and ironic, as are the works of Shakespeare, the dialectical pattern of figure-ground illusions, and Niels Bohr’s Complexity Theory.
Roger Johnson’s flow chart had the power of metaphorical transference and an ironic juxtaposition of positive and negative elements, serving as a template of deliberate and conscious analysis and synthesis. Bateson continues:
We have been trained to think of patterns, with the exception of music, as fixed affairs. It is easier and lazier that way but, of course, all nonsense. In truth, the right way to begin to think about the pattern which connects is to think of it as primarily (whatever that means) a dance of interacting parts and only secondarily pegged down by various sorts of physical limits and by those limits which organisms characteristically impose. (13)
The processes of brain and mind are connected through language in relationships that are interactive and dynamic. Learning requires the mastery of such relational systems that can subsume larger and larger numbers of facts in meaningful relationships.
Like Bateson, Edward O. Wilson looks to nature for a metapattern of thinking, and his path begins with ants. His 1998 text is entitled Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge and began with the study of ants. Stephen Johnson in 2001 entitles his book on the neurons on the brain, Emergence, and adds the subtitle The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. The insights of the etymologist, business manager, and cognitive scientist derive from lateral juxtapositions which are mutually illuminating.
Recognition of the richness of the pattern has a long, trans-disciplinary history. The psychologist George Kelly defined it as a construct essential to organizing thought. Constructs are dichotomous, he notes; they are simultaneously divergent and convergent. He writes, “A construct is a way in which some things are construed as being alike and yet different from others” (111). A construct is a kind of sorting system, reflecting the most basic processes of thinking: perceiving differences and dividing, perceiving similarities and connecting. The pattern is familiar in descriptions of thinking in diverse disciplinary contexts; psychology and philosophy, biology and business, linguistics and physics, cognitive science and neuroscience.
In Creativity: The Magic Synthesis Silvano Arieti writes, “In genuine concept formation it is equally important to associate similar things and then distinguish similarity from identity (136).” In his classic Thought and Language, Lev Vygotsky writes, “In genuine concept formation it is equally important to unite and to separate. Synthesis must be combined with analysis (76).” Similarly, James Moffett in Teaching the Universe of Discourse, “Mental growth consists of two simultaneous progressions – toward differentiation and toward integration—we build our knowledge structure upward and downward at the same time (79).” The Harvard Business Review defines critical and creative thinking within the corporate sector as the “capacity to put existing ideas together in new combinations” and to connect “knowledge from seemingly disparate fields” (Amabile, 79). The construct of lateralization is creative since it stimulates the destruction and reconstruction of familiar patterns of thinking (DeBono; 1985;1973).
In his research into the emergence of rational thought, Antonio Damasio begins with the impact of sensory stimuli on emotion and the deliberate resolution of emotional conflict as key to consciousness. This experience of an interior event linking the senses and emotion marks the path to self-awareness. In The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Damasio writes:
The pervasiveness of emotion in our development and subsequently in our everyday experience connects virtually every object or situation in our experience, by virtue of conditioning, to the fundamental values of homeostatic regulation: reward and punishment; pleasure or pain, approach or withdrawal; personal advantage to disadvantage; and, inevitably good (in the sense of survival) or evil (in the sense of death). Whether we like it or not, this is the natural human condition. But when consciousness is available, feelings have their maximum impact, when individuals are also able to reflect and to plan. They have a means to control the pervasive tyranny of emotion: it is called reason. Ironically, of course, the engines of reason still require emotion. (58)
The significance of the ambiguity of the word feeling cannot be overstated. We often use the word to denote either or both sensory-motor and emotional experience, perhaps in an intuitive anticipation of the conflation revealed in Damasio’s research. The ambiguity points to a miraculous connection between the material world outside of the Self and the material within the brain. This sensory feeling of the material world is translated and stored in the brain as emotion. Consciousness emerges with the experience of emotional tension, and then the need to find a balance between emotional opposites, a need Damasio defines in physiological terms as “a homeostatic regulation.” Reason emerges from the capacity to consciously reflect and assume control over the “tyranny” of emotional tension, to construct an intellectual homeostasis of meaning.
This path to consciousness in the deepest recesses of the brain replicates the chronological pattern of narrative, though in its initial stage the pattern is wordless, felt emotionally rather than articulated. In his analysis, Damasio extends his metaphor of narrative to capture growing consciousness and increasing levels of self-awareness. Cognition is a part of the story, an end-stage, but not the only component of knowing:
You know you exist because the narrative exhibits you as protagonist in the act of knowing. You rise above the sea level of knowing, transiently but incessantly, as a felt core self, renewed again and again, thanks to anything that comes from outside the brain into its sensory machinery or anything that comes from the brain’s memory stores toward sensory, motor, or autonomic recall. You know it is you seeing because the story depicts a character—you doing the seeing...Knowing springs to life in the story, it inheres in the newly constructed neural pattern that constitutes the nonverbal account. You hardly notice the storytelling because the images that dominate the mental display are those of the things of which you are now conscious—the objects you see or hear—rather than those that swiftly constitute the feeling of you in the act of knowing. (172)
What the autobiographical Self knows is limited. We hardly notice the second-level core-self, construing its story from stimuli external to the organism and within the proto-self. The autobiographical Self hardly notices the role of feeling– sensory and emotional, in this multi-layered act of knowing, in spite of the continuous transmission of nonverbal story-telling all coming from a mediating core-self in “abundant flow” (176). Again, the abundance is more unconscious than conscious.
Edmund Wilson emphasizes this power of narrative, not only as a generator of individual consciousness, but of cultural and scientific consciousness as well:
Science, like the rest of culture is based on the manufacture of narrative. That is entirely natural, and in a profound sense it is a Darwinian necessity. We all live by narrative, every day and every minute of our lives. Narrative is the human way of working through a chaotic and unforgiving world bent on reducing our bodies of malodorous catabolic molecules. (748)
Wilson begins with “Let me tell you a story,” as he recounts his discovery of a species of ant 90 million years old, encased in amber, and found through serendipity (746-747).
Story and Argument: Surface Difference
Writing about this work of the imagination in science and the humanities, Jerome Bruner begins with the differences that are immediately apparent in the kind of world each domain inhabits. In Actual Minds/Possible Worlds he writes:
Science attempts to make a world that remains invariant across human intentions and human plights. The density of the atmosphere does not, must not alter as a function of one’s ennui with the world. On the other hand, the humanist deals principally with the world as it changes with the position and stance of the viewer. (50)
In juxtaposition, we see that the meanings of the sciences are constant for individuals and across cultures; its discourse objectified, empirical, and expository. The meanings constructed in the humanities vary for individuals and cultures. Its discourse is emotive, evocative, and more conducive to narrative. Traditionally, the different world views of each disciplinary domain set in motion different uses of language and rhetorical purpose.
When we look at discourse in the two domains – at context, language, purpose, and kinds of meaning, they seem “irreducible to one another” (11). To reinforce the apparent differences in the two modes of thinking, Bruner uses the examples of story and argument:
A good story and a well-formed argument are different natural kinds. Both can be used as a means of convincing another. Yet what they convince us of is fundamentally different: arguments convince one of their truth, stories of their lifelikeness. The one verifies by eventual appeal to procedures for establishing formal and empirical proof. The other establishes not truth but verisimilitude. (11)
A story depends on the reader’s ability to identify with the particulars of time and space, its believability and lifelikeness. The reader’s generalization of meaning is interpretive and serves as metaphor. A scientific argument depends on the universalities of data across time and space. The piece works deductively, establishing a paradigmatic generalization. While a scientific formulation is far removed from emotion, a story’s metaphor remains rooted to its originating emotion.
Given the fixed meaning of words in the disciplines of the sciences, readers and writers are in visible collaboration. Given the variability of meaning in the framings of story, the readers and writers in the disciplines of literature and the arts are in more of an invisible collaboration. Scientists aim for consensus as hypotheses are shared, tested, and replicated while storytellers anticipate interpretation, often intuitive and ineffable, felt as much as known. While Shakespeare’s audiences share in an experience of truth, there is nonetheless an interior space that remains impenetrable and inarticulate in audience and artist. The multiple interpretations of his stories are not windows into his mind; the interpretations of his audiences are mirrors of their own dreams and imaginations.
Story and Argument: Tacit Convergence
However, and more significantly, when we look closely at the modes of story and argument, we can also see them as simultaneously and essentially the same, as mirrors of each other, different only to the degree that the processes are explicit in one and tacit in the other. Both construct a point of opposition and fill the gap with some meaningful synthesis. In argument, the writer explicitly frames and resolves a point of controversy, with a governing thesis set out in the introduction and revisited in the conclusion. Transitional words, topic sentences, and the syntax of complex sentences explicitly point to the logically connected warrants constructed by the writer to guide the thinking of the reader. In the case of story, the reader frames and synthesizes the conflict, assembling evidence drawn from sensory description, character, dialogue, setting, and objects to construe and support an interpretation.
In both forms, a convergence of synthesis and analysis reveals the meaning-making design of language itself: contingent, adaptive, and relational, dependent on context and juxtapositions of sameness and difference. The convergence suggests a “genre of models” where the details of perception eventually become subsumed in some content-free general principle, a mathematical formula, scientific theory, or metaphor of the humanist (Bruner, 48-49). The validation of meaning is also comparable in both – the consensus of a community of readers sharing rhetorical norms and assumptions about the role of context – whether controlling or evocative.
In the introduction to a chapter called Possible Castles Jerome Bruner looks away from the distractions of divergent products of the sciences and humanities to attend instead to the more elusive, tacit, and compelling work of the imagination and patterns of inquiry. There he finds convergence in the ways “actual minds” construct their hypotheses and metaphors, as imaginings of “possible worlds.” He writes:
Once technical issues in philosophy—constructivism, theories of meaning, the status of scientific concepts—have brought the sleepwalker alive. Given that the mind itself constructs scientific theories, historical explanations, or metaphoric renderings of experience by related forms of world-making the old discussion has shifted from the products of scientific and humanistic inquiry to the processes of inquiry themselves. The body of scientifically verifiable objective knowledge is no longer to be so simply arrayed against the soft, suppositious, and subjective products of the humanities…Both science and the humanities have come to be appreciated as artful figments of men’s minds. (44)
In the sciences and the humanities, the prompt to imaginative reflection begins with an element of a feeling, of surprise, a recognition of some anomaly in a presupposition, so that we are forced to rethink our expectations. In both, the element of surprise disturbs a mental model of the world that begins with perception and is stored as an intuitive guide to new encounters. In both, the “violation to presupposition” generates the construction of a new story, metaphor, or hypothesis that can restore meaning and understanding. (44-45). The processes for making meaning in the sciences and humanities are similar. The recognition of some disjunction stimulates analysis with the need to restore synthesis, some meaningful resolution, some systemic model with the power of transference.
We know then that the brain is not compartmentalized, but connective and that the work of the imagination informs inquiry in math, science, and careers as in the humanities. In Proust Was a Neuroscientist, Jonah Lehrer writes about artists in the 19th and early 20th century who anticipated contemporary insights into the workings of the brain: Whitman, Woolf, George Eliot and Gertrude Stein, Cezanne, Stravinsky, and Auguste Escoffier, in addition to Proust. Lehrer begins by connecting the insights of Whitman and Damasio:
Neuroscience now knows that Whitman’s poetry spoke the truth: emotions are generated by the body. Ephemeral as they may seem, our feelings are actually rooted in the movements of our muscles and the palpitations of our insides. Furthermore, material feelings are an essential element of the thinking process. As the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio notes, “The mind is embodied…not just embrained.” (2)
Twenty years after Bateson wrote Mind and Nature, Mark Johnson and George Lakoff introduce the first chapter of Philosophy in the Flesh with a succinct listing of the most recent findings of cognitive science: “The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.” These findings point to an illusion that drives results-only assessments and reform: the illusion of a rational, objective, unique, completely aware brain. What we know now is that the brain is emotional, subjective, intuitive, social, and creative, wired to draw on an abundant flow of knowledge that is tacit before it becomes conscious in the construction of meaning..
These findings also point to the illusion that meaning resides in the language on the page, in the lecture or in conversation rather than in the interaction between the synaptic wiring of the brain and the syntactic software of language. From the perspective of a linguist, Rutgers Professor Wallis Reid writes in Verb and Noun Number in English:
Language users participate actively in the communicative act. They are not passive decoders, but creators of meaning. Language acts merely as a guide. In this creative act people bring to bear their entire store of world knowledge and experience. (7)
The challenge of a world-class curriculum then is to design “creative pedagogies” that tap into the inherent creative capacity of the language-oriented brain with common tools of thinking - in a “culture of continuous innovation” and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Developing a Culture of Continuous Innovation:
Assessment in an “Expanding Community of Interaction”
Building broad creative ecosystems that mobilize the creative talents
of many is a complex, multifaceted activity. We are only beginning to
understand how to do it. It will take a long time and many local experiments.
--Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, 2004
For over 50 years, initiatives that addressed the need for innovation and creativity in the traditional curriculum have been ignored. C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures (1959) and the Dartmouth Seminar (1966) are two examples. The reforms that followed emphasize the standardization of outcomes to the exclusion of adaptive teaching, a top-down rather than a localized approach, a narrow disciplinary focus rather than an inclusive one. In the case of Spellings the focus on the STEM curriculum in higher education marginalizes the humanities, while the focus on tests of math and reading in NCLB marginalizes the arts. In 2007, Time Magazine gave the NCLB an F on its measure of Helping Schools Improve (41). Looking back in disappointment at twenty-five years of reform following A Nation at Risk, New York Times Education editor, Edward Fiske regrets the lack of attention to teaching and learning, particularly the civic and economic value of creativity (A27).
Ken Robinson describes the paradox of unintended consequences, the disconnect between the goal of creativity and the means of standardized testing:
In the interests of raising standards, schools and universities are increasingly
encased in standard testing regimes that inhibit teachers themselves from promoting creative development. In a profoundly ironic way, many political initiatives to raise standards in education are making matters worse. (15)
Results-only initiatives measure what is immediately visible: standardized outcomes. To that extent they build on outdated assumptions about the needs of the global economy and relevant findings about the tacit nature of creativity and the role of interdisciplinary collaboration. And to that extent they miss the means of reaching the worthy goals of developing “creative pedagogies and a culture of innovation.”
While Spellings argues for funding the disciplines that directly drive research and development, Richard Florida instead argues for investment in “creative capital” and contexts of creative communities as the drivers of innovation in a new economy:
Given that creativity has emerged as the single most important source of economic growth, the best route to continued prosperity is by investing in our stock of creativity in all its forms, across the board. This entails more than just pumping up R&D spending or improving education, though both are important. It requires increasing investment in the multidimensional and varied forms of creativity—arts, music, culture, design, and related fields—because all are linked and flourish together. (320)
The more diverse and dynamic the environment, the more open and interactive the culture, the greater is the return in terms of spin-off companies, scientific talent, technological innovation, software research, and the arts.
The History and Culture of Standardized Assessment
In the framework of standardized assessments, the proof of effective schooling is the knowledge that individual students demonstrate in carefully controlled, timed, and isolated contexts of testing. The success of students according to this paradigm results only from disciplinary knowledge; the professional development that matters most is the kind that ensures currency in the disciplines richest in new discoveries – the sciences, for example, engineering, and technology. Failure rebounds to the teacher, not the student who must not be “left behind.”
The notion of “standardization” assumes homogenous students, and homogeneous classrooms, with teachers teaching not students but standards that apply in every grade across all schools and states in all subjects. According to Ken Robinson and Nonaka and Takeuchi, this view of knowledge reflects the values of the industrialized culture of 19th and 20th century economics, outdated but still abiding. The standardization of results that apply to students at fixed points of schooling is reminiscent of an assembly line. Robinson writes,
The explanatory powers of logic and scientific evidence, and the intellectual
authority of science as a whole have become firmly implanted in our own world
view. They are part of modern ideology and they interact powerfully with how
we think and create theories in every field. Education is a prime example.
The dominant systems of education planning and organisation in the 20th century
were moulded by the economic assumptions of the industrial world view. (73)
In this view, it seems that learning is a product, so subject to standardization, that it can be manufactured, accumulated, weighed and measured, with organizational quality controlled in a top-down hierarchy of power and comparable across national sectors of schooling. In the metaphor of a financial transaction, the students and parents are consumers, paying for education either through property taxes or tuition, demanding accountability from the providers – schools and teachers. The proof of value is in the outcomes of a once a year test assumed to predict competitive college placements, employability and social mobility. The predictions tied to results-only testing do not take into account the qualities of creative inquiry, social intelligence, and imaginative expression that can serve scientific insight, career resilience and lifelong learning.
Robinson traces this more narrow view of intelligence back to the I.Q. tests of Stanford-Binet, developed in the early part of the 20th century and persistent to the present, with beliefs about fixed abilities and measures that can predict not only success in schooling, but also in society (61). He extends this view to an ideology of “academicism,” that conflates intelligence with the ability to excel in tests of academic ability, measuring knowledge of a history of the arts without valuing the ability to dance, paint, or compose a poem (80-84). In results-only assessments, learners are either creative or they’re not; testing is a useful filter of less intelligent and more intelligent students, less effective and more effective schools, of teachers current in a disciplinary field of study or not. Summative assessments are about learning as a product rather than a process.
The same framing applies to writing. Writing is an important contributor to performance in summative assessments, but only in forms of exposition and only in terms of communicating what has been learned. The reforms give no attention to professional development in the teaching of writing. Neither the Test of Leadership nor NCLB references the Commission on Writing or gives attention to the teaching of writing in the preparation of the nation’s teachers. The 2006 report of the Commission on Writing begins with the backdrop of NCLB legislation, which overrides recommendations grounded in writing as a unique mode of reflective, critical, and creative thinking, given that the focus of NCLB is on results, not process.
Like NCLB, the Spellings report relies on standardized assessments similarly enforced with inducements and penalties from the federal government, and pressure from the public, the political sector and the press, expressing familiar, common sense assumptions about explicit knowledge. The one requirement is that schools and teachers have to be held accountable by means of the publication of outcomes.
Creative Pedagogies in a Culture of Innovation
In contrast to a standardized, assembly-line, top-down, nationally bounded economy, the global economy is more characteristically intertwined and networked, and thus dynamic and emergent, adaptive and unpredictable. In a chapter called “Expect the Unexpected” Tom Kelley describes an ethic of innovation that is open to collaboration and surprise, “Launch a project with the assumption that cross-pollination may help you to innovate, and you’re more likely to be ready to take the leaps of creativity necessary for innovation” (150). The results-only paradigm misses the implications of this context of ongoing change and the need for a new kind of intelligence, to some degree a more connective and networked way of thinking. What we now know about intelligence suggests a promising and relevant fit to a global world: it is dynamic and adaptive.
A wide range of researchers and writers in the area of education describe varieties of intelligence too complex to standardize. Ken Robinson captures this consensus in a generative and generous description of the nature of intelligence, one that goes beyond narrow and normative traditional measures:
Academic ability is not the same as intelligence. Academic ability is essentially a capacity for certain sorts of verbal and mathematical reasoning. These are very important, but they are not the whole of human intelligence by a long way. If there were no more to human intelligence than academic ability, most of human culture would not have happened. There would be no practical science or technology, no business, no arts, no music, no dance, drama, architecture, design,
cuisine, aesthetics, feelings, relationships, emotions, or love. I think these are large factors to leave out of an account of intelligence. (81)
The results-only paradigm ignores these contributors to process: the synthesizing qualities of creativity and emotion, the underlying power of narrative, the role of writing in cultivating insight, the importance of inquiry in an age of information overload, the complex variables that diversify the grassroots cultures of 21st century schools, the intuitive expertise of teachers.
Case studies of innovative school cultures increasingly recognize the importance of tapping into such faculty expertise (Lieberman 2000, 2001; Wheatley, 2000). Professional development should ensure currency in disciplinary knowledge, and at the same time encourage interdisciplinary collaboration on processes of teaching and learning, including the cultivation and assessment of creativity.
One focus of interdisciplinary teams can be on formative assessments, to systematically define and measure shared tools of thinking. In Collateral Damage: How High Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools, Sharon L. Nichols and David C. Berliner point out that summative assessments alone; i.e., tests of learning as opposed to formative assessments; i.e., tests for learning, are narrow and inflexible, without attention to authentic learning, to the context of the school, or relevance to the curriculum as a whole (185). Formative assessments provide some balance, since they do look at process, are conducive to creativity, with the validity and the added value of on-going feedback to teachers.
In addition to complementary forms of assessment and interdisciplinary collaboration, the innovative community college culture can develop a visible integration of the initiatives that emerge. This emergent organizational model can demonstrate the interconnections between seemingly separate institutional functions, a dynamic graphic of infrastructure to capture an “expanding community of interaction” among the College’s educational stakeholders, a community college application of Richard’s Florida’s ecosystemic approach to innovation (xxiii).
Traditionally, the functions and interests of business and industry have been viewed as separate from those of academe; just as within academe, not only the sectors of secondary and postsecondary education, but also those of the liberal arts and career education have been organized as discrete domains. However, in this time of change and scarce resources, the community college mission has the flexibility to join career and general education, the secondary and postsecondary sectors, and employers and educators in a seamless and organic system. All stakeholders can be brought together, once their mutual mission becomes the definition of an essential knowledge base in a cost-effective framework (Amey, et. al; pp. 5-14).
A new approach in change theory, Appreciative Inquiry, suggests that the ideal spur to systemic transformations in any organization is recognition of its own optimum workings and the collaborations of members engaged in open-ended inquiry:
AI assumes that every organization and community has many untapped and rich accounts of the positive—what people talk about as past, present, and future capacities, or the positive core. AI links the knowledge and energy of this core directly to an organization or a community’s change agenda, and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized. (Cooperrider, 8)
The College has a rich “positive core” to draw on: of interdisciplinary collaboration in WAC, the Challenge Grant, Tech-Prep, Ethics-Across-the Curriculum, team-taught and linked courses, the University Center. RVCC already has a culture that knows how to connect competencies in the arts and humanities with those in math, science, and career programs. Missing, however, is sustainability; a predictable erosion given the number of recent retirements and separations by discipline in new buildings across the campus.
Ironically, the local community college can uniquely address the needs of the global citizen and the global economy. Given its mission of teaching and learning and its context of K-16 schooling with grassroots acculturation, the community college is the most entrepreneurial and innovative sector in higher education (Latchem and Hanna; pp.27-40). It already has models of the Learning College that frame teaching and learning as processes that are resilient rather than reified, adaptive to dynamic contexts, ongoing, lifelong, and meaning-driven; with the transferability of knowledge having more to do with how we know than just with what we know. In this model learners are not passive but active, responsive and responsible; not consumers but creators of knowledge- in the intersections of their civic, economic, academic, and personal lives.
In a world and new century of unforeseen and systemic challenge, the abiding goal is the education of the imagination; in the words of Root-Bernstein, “To fuse emotion, intellect, and purpose into one universal imagination is the greatest joy and greatest resource of the individual and of humankind” (326).
And the abiding resource is the human brain. In the words of Emily Dickinson:
The Brain – is wider than the Sky -
For – put them side by side –
The one the other will contain
With ease – and You – beside –
The Brain is deeper than the sea –
For – hold them – Blue to Blue –
The one the other will absorb –
As Sponges – Buckets – do –
The Brain is just the weight of God –
For – Heft them – Pound for Pound –
And they will differ – if they do –
As Syllable from Sound -
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