Opinion
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Two Students, Two Types of Creativity

May 21, 2013 2 min read

Sandy Merz

Nia and Luis are 8th graders in Introduction to Engineering. Contrasting their strengths shines light on the often unrecognized cognitive demands of the manual arts and bolsters the argument in favor of vocational training.

Nia extracts the potential of words—their potential to give life to abstract ideas through well-crafted thinking and precise language. She works inside her own head and wrestles with notions. Her creativity begins when she hears an assertion not of her liking and proceeds systematically to a satisfactory rebuttal.

Nia’s arguments often appear digressive, but she’s not wasting time; she’s learning about ideas and she’s learning about herself.

She’s bound by the classic trivium of logic, rhetoric, and grammar; all human concepts. The failures or successes of Nia’s abstractions are open to debate.

Luis extracts the potential of cardboard, rubber bands, straws, tape, and string—the potential to become a robotic hand. His product features three fingers that flex and extend at his bidding. His unique innovation is to have one of the fingers flex backwards. That means his device can simultaneously hold things in its palm and against the back of its hand. Think about the implications of that.

Luis is bound by the nature of materials, a more demanding authority than human concepts. Yet his creativity begins by not taking things for granted. What kind of mind thinks of things like backwards fingers?

Working with raw materials requires Luis to get outside of his own mind and conform his means to objective material limitations—all while remaining faithful to his intention. In his encounters with things as opposed to thoughts, he has to systematically approach questions like, “What materials have attributes most like my finger?”

As Luis thinks about things—real, tangible things—he, too, is learning about himself.

As in all vocational work, Luis’s failures are manifest, but his final success undeniable: Fingers bend or they don’t. Enough said.

I try to extract the potential in both Nia and Luis—and that means avoiding the bias that Nia’s life of the mind is cognitively superior to Luis’s life of the hand. And it would be unethical for me to discourage either from pursuing college or vocational training.

My obligation is to provide a spectrum of activities so they can learn what they like to do and what they’re good at. When I get it right, they each learn which cognitive tasks enrich and which tax their minds. With that knowledge, they can decide responsibly, and for themselves, which options to pursue after high school.

My thinking on this subject was largely inspired by Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, by Mathew Crawford.

August (Sandy) Merz III, a National Board-certified teacher, teaches engineering and algebra and sponsors MESA at Safford K-8 International Baccalaureate Candidate School in Tucson, Ariz.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

School & District Management Live Event EdWeek Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and wellbeing during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Building Leadership Excellence Through Instructional Coaching
Join this webinar for a discussion on instructional coaching and ways you can link your implement or build on your program.
Content provided by Whetstone Education/SchoolMint

EdWeek Top School Jobs

CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Marketing Coordinator
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Sr Project Manager, Marketing (Temporary)
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Whitepaper
Virtual Career Learning Lifts All Students
Learn how virtual career readiness is a game changer for schools and districts looking to make career preparation more equitable, reachin...
Content provided by K12 Learning Solutions
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion I'm a First-Generation American. Here's What Helped Me Make It to College
A college junior shares three ways to help immigrant and first-generation students succeed in education.
Roni Lezama
4 min read
Supportive hand holds up a student who is reaching for a star
iStock/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Documentary A Year Interrupted
When COVID-19 closed schools for millions of students, Education Week documented two seniors as they faced an uncertain future.
1 min read
College & Workforce Readiness Even Before Pandemic, National Test Finds Most Seniors Unready for College Reading, Math
Little more than 1 in 3 American 12th graders read proficiently and fewer than 1 in 4 performed proficiently in math on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
2 min read