Killing Creativity

“He who marches out of step hears his own drum.” 

-Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey and his merry band of Pranksters boarded a bus called Further in 1964 to spread their message of nonconformity, preaching individuality and creativity. Drugs ruined this message, so it was not able to break through to mainstream society. That does not mean that what Kesey was saying was bad, it just got lost in translation. 

It is our job to finish what Kesey started and make sure this message breaks through. We need to save individuality to progress as a society. Schools are partly responsible for the conformist society we live in today.

Conformity can be as mundane as lining up for lunch, sitting in rows, and being told when to talk and when to stay quiet or it can be as grand as grading every student on the same rubric. 

A rubric’s main job is to assess students and their work by giving a clear set of criteria for them to follow. This sounds good in theory, but nowadays, schools have rubrics for everything: group work, peer discussion, Socratic seminars, papers, essays, projects, and participation. Thus, rubrics in all of their glorious uses are partly responsible for society holding blind conformity as gospel by grading every aspect of life inside the classroom and only rewarding perfection or anything close to it. That’s not to say that we should just throw away every rubric. It is important to set some standards but schools have taken it too far.

Firstly, rubrics raise the issue of whether or not kids sitting in AP and honors classes are actually smart or if they are good at memorizing criteria. There is a difference between students who can memorize standards and students who are smart and creative. Innovation cannot be measured with a checklist, so it is rarely rewarded in our school system. To do well in school, you have to conform.

Secondly, these rubrics are extended to teacher performance so much so that lecture classes are frowned upon. I understand the school’s desire for us as a student body to collaborate, but this does not allow teachers to do their jobs: teach. According to, “[Rubrics] risk turning the role of the teacher into that of a grader, leaving less room for the teacher to be an authentic ‘reader’ of student work.” This is perpetuating a reward system that values teamwork and meeting requirements more than understanding the content and deep thought, thus creating busy work that does not allow students to form their own opinions.  

Furthermore, rubrics teach students the value of perfection which is unrealistic in the real world. Matt Suarez from Penn State commented on this saying that a student who gets two questions wrong on a 10 question quiz would receive a C; which for a lot of students is not ideal. “Nobody is perfect, so to expect that from people who are going through potentially the most stressful times of their lives is not the best way to go,” Suarez says. Rubrics put young people on a scale that punishes imperfection which is ridiculous. 

Finally, rubrics discourage creativity. According to Conformity and Learning from BBN Times, “Conformity – by its very nature – relies on reapplying solutions from the past, but with more careful control and greater intensity. What we really need is the unleashing of the creative genius that makes us human. Not the direction we have been taking as we have succeeded in quashing it, almost to extinction.” Society can not move towards innovation without creativity. Rubrics are flawed because they look for a cookie cutter work and that’s what they reward.

It does not make sense for schools to accustom young minds to follow a checklist. That is not say that structure is bad, it is to say that you can not find innovation in the walls of a rubric. Grading students this way sets them up to be followers, not leaders or innovators. 

Not everyone will be the next big tech genius or artist but everyone should have the opportunity to step out of march to hear how their drum beats.

Do you hear your own drum?

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