Thursday, November 5, 2009

Teach Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity

I highly suggest you take a look at Thomas Friedman’s article, The New Untouchables, found in September 21st’s New York Times

Friedman analyzes the economic meltdown in two sentences—“in our subprime era, we thought we could have the American Dream—a house and yard—with nothing down. This version of the American dream was delivered not by improving education, productivity and savings, but by Wall Street alchemy and borrowed money from Asia.” He laments that the failure in education is the largest present and future risk to the “decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness.”

He then mentions a lawyer he interviewed who admitted that in the Great Recession, those lawyers who were just capable, reliable and worked hard were let go when the firm downsized. Lawyers “who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained.” (Emphasis mine.) Harvard University labor expert, Lawrence Katz continued that workers “who have high-end analytical and problem-solving skills” have done well. Others, even college educated and capable others, have not thrived.

Friedman believes schools must and can help children “improve reading, writing and arithmetic” and also teach “entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.” Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources and a New York Times best selling author,, claims that creativity is one of the most important skills schools should be developing today; however most schools stifle creative thinking to the harm of our children.

I am so proud that at Duke School your children not only master reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic but, through active learning, are required to be innovative and creative problem solvers. Take the 6th grade project, Bones and Stones. Students not only had to become experts on a hominid tribe, they had to determine how to measure brain volume, how to construct a cave with “authentic” cave paintings made from natural products. They had to figure out how to build a skeleton out of bones discovered on an archeological “dig.” Finally, not only did they become an expert on a tribe, they had to determine how to communicate their expertise. This is one example but understand that all our project work asks students to do independent research, draw conclusions and then devise a self-directed plan to communicate their research. Our teacher’s guide students in their work but refrain from giving step-by-step instruction. This helps inspire students to be innovative and creative citizens.

As parents, it can be scary to have our children in an educational environment that promotes creativity and innovation. It is easier to evaluate your child’s work if there is one correct answer than to watch children struggle with uncertainty as they blaze their own trail. Creativity and innovation are uncertain processes, and we hope to be certain with our children.

So here is something to be certain about—Duke School is preparing your children to be creative and innovative enabling them to be tomorrow’s successful citizens. There is no greater gift to give our children.