Over the last few years, I have been on a mission to teach creative thinking skills. My wife, Susan, and I first started a company that sold creativity-enhancing art kits. Now, we are coaching a couple of Destination Imagination "creative thinking teams".
While working at our art kit company, Dr. Marvin Bartel taught me that "Independent Learning" is a skill where a person can face a new problem, not have any initial idea of how to solve it, and independently figure out a solution. Independent learners are very good at experimenting, brainstorming, divergent thinking, asking questions, and learning from things that don't work - until they independently find a way to solve the problem.
Independent Learning is absolutely critical in the United States, where the backbone of our economy isn't in "making stuff" anymore, but is our ability leverage good old American ingenuity.
When we coach our Destination Imagination teams using "independent learning" methods, the kids loved the experience of inventing some incredible things, with no one telling them "the right way" to do it.
While it was very rewarding to see the fruits of independent learning, I was fascinated by how the parents reacted to this. Even after being told repeatedly not to help the kids, many parents could not keep from wanting to take charge and give orders on how to solve problems. When the parents would complain to me about watching their kids "flounder with a problem" I would say, "the value in this activity is letting them figure it out by themselves." And the kids did - given some time.
Two years after closing our art kit business, these experiences with Destination Imagination have allowed me to see a new core problem with our art kits that I didn't see before. Dragonfly Innovation art kits took a very purist approach to fostering independent learning - such as never giving step by step instructions on how to make a paper flower. I now see that very few parents understand the value in this - and as such, didn't see the value in the art kits we tried to sell. Our product concept was just too foreign for most to grasp.
I'm happy to report that we are now starting a new Destination Imagination season and I now feel that the parents are really starting to see the value. Last year I could barely field a team. This year, word got around and I had a waiting list of kids wanting to join. The point is, though, that it was a tremendous effort to get parents to understand the value of independent learning.
I'm thrilled when I see the amazing things kids (and adults) can do when given the chance to "figure it out on their own". I'm also saddened and concerned when I see how this incredible capacity of human beings to solve problems is beaten-down by "not being taught the right way" to do something.
I think that the United States has may have the best culture for independent thinking but I also feel that each individual's ability to innovate may be our greatest untapped and wasted resource. I feel strongly that developing this skill will give our country great strength, and our kids great prosperity - if we can get out of "drill and kill" learning and focus more on skills that empower kids to think independently and solve problems that have never been solved before.
- Scott -
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