No Creativity Here, We Are Serious About Education

I recently saw an article on Arts Professional UK reporting that the governments of England and Wales would be opting out of the new creative thinking assessment section of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international standardized test administered to 15 year olds. (The United States also participates, but I haven’t been able to discover their stand on the new test module.)

I had some mixed feelings about this news. Students will continue to take the test in math, science and reading,  so it raises my hackles a little that they will still be testing those subjects and eschewing creativity. According to one commenters, there is a fear that measuring creativity would indicate you aren’t serious about education.

Professor Bill Lucas, Co-chair of the PISA 2021 Test of Creative Thinking….some people fear opting into the creative thinking assessment would give “a signal that you don’t value standards in English, maths and science as much, because you are somehow potentially aligning yourself with a view of the purpose of education that is beyond the basics of the core subjects.

Thinking the purpose of education is beyond that of reading, math and science?! The horror! Satisfying a voracious curiosity is so outdated.

The creativity test has been designed to (my emphasis),

…measure and reflect “the nature of real world and everyday creative thinking”. …

…will provide policymakers with valid, reliable and actionable measurement tools that will help them to make evidence-based decisions. The results will also encourage a wider societal debate on both the importance and methods of supporting this crucial competence through education,” the assessor says.

“Creative thinking is thus more than simply coming up with random ideas. It is a tangible competence, grounded in knowledge and practice, that supports individuals in achieving better outcomes, oftentimes in constrained and challenging environments.”

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know I am a proponent of anything that emphasizes the concept creativity is a process requiring effort, reflection, and trial and error rather than a magical ability granted or retracted at the caprice of the gods.

On the other hand, if you have read this blog for any length of time, you also know that I discuss the fact that just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean the result you get is meaningful.

One of the things countries do with this test is compare themselves with other countries. As I am reading about the test design, there is discussion of how cultural norms and expectations affect creative thinking. Even assuming the test prompts are appropriate to the culture of the country in which the test is administered, I would expect the way different cultures view creative expression would impact the results in ways that couldn’t be compared like math and science competencies could.

For that matter, there may not be a firm basis of comparison in the same country between the 15 year olds that took the test one year and those that took the test when it was administered three years prior.

Is there really an objective, comparative measure for creativity when students are given one hour to:

…engage in open and imaginative writing (with constraints limiting the length of written text that human raters will need to evaluate); generate ideas for various written formats by considering different stimuli, such as cartoons without captions or fantasy illustrations; and make an original improvement to someone else’s written work (as provided in the task stimuli).

[…}

…engage in open problem-solving tasks with a social focus, either individually or in simulated collaborative scenarios; generate ideas for solutions to social problems, based on a given scenario; and suggest original improvements to problem solutions (as provided in the task stimuli).

There is also a visual expression section with tasks similar to the written expression section described above and a scientific problem solving section with tasks similar to the social problem solving described.

As a way to give the individual something to reflect upon in regard to their own skills and providing a bit of an imprimatur to creative expression, these tests could be useful.

As a thing schools and countries should fret over as something with real relevance and providing indications of future success, it doesn’t really have any real meaning. (Though if they fear appearing too frivolous about education, there might even be a few countries who will be ashamed if their students attain too high a result.)

These tests just reflect what a cohort of 15 year olds can do in an hour on a certain day.  Whatever that means in terms of math, science and reading, it means even less when it comes to subjective judgments about how creative someone was in generating captions for cartoons or how original their suggested solution to a problem might be.

I didn’t realize until I started searching for links to other PISA related stories that the result of the last test were actually released today (The Arts Professional UK article came out last week).

The headline on a New York Times piece is “It Just Isn’t Working: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts. – An international exam shows that American 15-year-olds are stagnant in reading and math even though the country has spent billions to close gaps with the rest of the world.”

Part of you might be thinking the test scores wouldn’t be as bad if schools would actually introduce the role of creative thinking and problem solving into the education process.  That is likely true. But should creative capacity be measured by tests? Do you want fretful headlines about American kids doing worse in creative measures than 65% of the world?  It would be a clear indicator that people were paying attention and invested in creativity, but there are lot more constructive indicators of those things available.

 

NB: As a perfect illustration of how you can’t be creative within a strict time period: The moment I hit publish on this post, I immediately realized I should have titled it “No Creativity, We’re British,” as a take off on the play, No Sex Please, We’re British — something that would have qualified as an original improvement on someone else’s written work noted as a measure in the creativity test. (Granted, you might be hard pressed to judge it an improvement)

Ack! My Sculpture Is Overdue And I Want To Borrow Some Pottery

Recently saw an article on the BBC website about a gallery in Cambridge, England that has been loaning out art to students for 60 years and has never had a piece damaged or lost.

I have written about this sort of arrangement before. Oberlin College has been doing it since the 1940s and has never had a problem, and they appear to be loaning out pieces with a lot more market value than the gallery in Cambridge.  On the other end of the longevity spectrum, the Akron Art Museum and Akron-Summit County Public Library started teaming up to lend out art works about a year or so ago.

But as I soon discovered, there are quite a number of universities, libraries and visual arts institutions that have been lending out art works for quite some time now. (University of Minnesota as far back as 1934)

Here is a brief list I found in a Hyperallergic post in 2018:

Sure enough, a piece appeared on Hyperallergic about 10 days ago listing or linking to visual art lending programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver,  Braddock Carnegie Library,  Minneapolis Art Lending Library , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Williams College, Kenyon College, University of Minnesota, Harvard, University of Chicago, University of California, Berkley.

I post about this again because even though this is my fourth post on the subject, it wasn’t long before these programs slipped my mind. These all seem like great efforts to get art into the hands and homes of people who might not have opportunity and access and perhaps reduce the perceptual barriers people have about art not being for them.

Next week, my city is participating in its second community wide On The Table discussion and I want to bring these type of programs up as an idea of something that might be done here. If I hadn’t seen the BBC article, I wouldn’t have remembered. I want to reference my previous posts again to remind my readers and hopefully inspire you into action.

Maps Upon Maps, Soon Useful Data Appears

As part of developing the cultural masterplan for our community, people are being encouraged to contribute information to a cultural resource map. The goal is to not only map the active assets in the community, but the potential ones as well.

I have written about this aspect of crowdmapping before. You don’t only notate theatres, art galleries, murals, dance schools, historical markers, etc but shuttered movie houses, former community centers and places where things potentially might occur.

A beautiful fountain in the center of town? Good place for an impromptu concert. Empty lot overgrown with weeds? Our next community garden or maybe a pop-up sculpture park. Blank walls of an abandoned building? We see murals in our future.

In my post two years ago, I used an example which talked about using paper and colored stickers, but as you might imagine there are apps available for this sort of thing as well.

The executive director of the local arts alliance is taking classes in GIS mapping. The goal is to integrate the cultural asset maps with an overlay of every bit of data the county collects and maps. Not only will we (and local government officials) be able to see which neighborhoods lack cultural assets, we will be able to see where public transportation does and doesn’t run thereby limiting access to assets around the county. Likewise, they can cross reference things like frequency of events with trashcan placement in order to better deploy waste disposal.

There is already an app for reporting problems like potholes, broken streetlights, erosion to the county so there are likely to be all sorts of interesting correlations that emerge over time as more data gets added.

There is potential for all sorts of different analysis, including planning and zoning of hotels, housing, supermarkets, parking meters and the like. I think most people are excited by the idea that they will be able to cross reference data they haven’t even anticipated needing yet.

Here is the form we in Macon, GA are using to collect data. The mapping is still in its earliest stages so very few assets have been added yet. (I plead guilty to not doing my part.) There is a plan to cross reference this map with organizations , buildings, historical markers, etc already listed in different databases in order to populate the map with the lower hanging fruit.

Even if you don’t have access to map overlays, the simple paper and sticker process can be an important step toward a constructive conversation. As I noted in my post from a couple years ago, the process

… can go a long way toward solving the problem of involving people who are most impacted by decisions but may not show up to formal meetings. People who don’t feel like they are represented or have their voices heard can gain a measure of confidence that their contributions matter when they are made responsible for imagining/suggesting what a neighborhood might become.

This can especially be true for online submission tools. If you enter the hidden gem attraction at the end of your cul-de-sac and see it appear on the map a couple days later, you can gain the sense that you can contribute in a way that makes a visible difference. There is also an ability to bring recognition to often overlooked information preserved in a neighborhood, but not widely known in the community.  The grave marker of a civil rights advocate at the edge of what is now a cornfield, for example.

Though obviously, this only works if the serving as gatekeepers of the maps are prompt in approving the additions and responsive to the needs of the participants. I’m sure I am not the only one that had to jump through hoops to get Google Maps to correctly reflect closed streets and a change to one way traffic flow.

IMPORTANT: Changes To Music Licensing May Impact Any Performance At Your Venue

Some important information about changes to music performance rights came to my attention today and I wanted to share it with readers.

Apparently the consent decrees under which ASCAP & BMI operate are up for review by the Department of Justice. The public comment phase is ending on Friday, August 9.  You can find out more about the consent decrees on the MIC Coalition website.

Basically, because ASCAP & BMI operate akin to monopolies, they and other performing rights organizations (PRO) are limited as to what they are able to do when licensing performing rights. They want these limits loosened. You can provide feedback to the Department of Justice here.

Even with these limits, dealing with these companies is often confusing and criteria seems inconsistent. Many have felt they were forced into purchasing broader licenses than they needed.

Today I received a huge flurry of emails urging myself and others to oppose the loosening. I was confused about why there was this sudden urgency when the public comment phase opened at the start of June. I started to wonder if there was an effort to create a huge sense of urgency by rallying support at a late date. Especially since there were initially few details provided about why one should voice their opposition.

Come to find out, the reason is that a large number of organizations across the country received revised licensing agreements from BMI this week containing some alarming changes. There is some suspicion they timed the mailing to hit toward the end of the public comment phase.

Here is a page of the agreement that is causing the biggest uproar.

In section 1 (g), terminology has been changed from “Gross Ticket Revenue” to “Gross Revenue.”  According to the new definition, in addition to ticket sales, calculation of a fee will now be based upon revenue from sales on the secondary ticket market, service charges, handling charges, VIP packages, advertising revenue, box suites, sponsorships, merchandise, concessions and parking.

So essentially, if you have a sponsor for your show; sell VIP packages, merchandise, food, and charge for parking, all that gets factored in to what you pay BMI rather than just ticket sales as was the case in the past.

From what I am told, the definition of “licensee” has been expanded to include a wider range of activities.

For events without an admission charge, the definition of what is included in the fee calculation has been expanded from a flat fee based on seating capacity to one based on entertainment expenses like room, board and transportation costs for the artist.

There are other problematic issues which are a little difficult to explain in a blog post and might not apply widely to many venues. I suspect there are problems that people have yet to discover.  If you do any sort of licensing with folks like BMI and ASCAP or if you have been trying to fly under the radar, you want to pay attention to this.

If you don’t think this applies to you at all, but you have live music performance, you may find that it does. That band that plays at your museum during First Fridays is probably subject to music licensing.

With more opportunities for revenue available, especially if the strictures of the consent decrees are loosened, there is more incentive find the places that have been trying to slide under the radar.

If you have concerns, check out the MIC Coalition website to learn more or provide feedback to the DOJ.  Also –read any new licensing agreements you get very, very carefully.

 

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