“How’d you answer that one?” “I don’t know, I just made something up”

Full disclosure: I’m a teacher. I hear some strange things from kids that cover the entire spectrum of strange. But the strangest thing I’ve heard to date was something I heard and unwittingly said when I was in high school, too. Let me give some background.

The other day, we were working on a project in class. The name of the project is World Builders. Basically, the kids have carte blanche to demonstrate how they interpret the novel we’re reading. Key parameters are few: characters must be represented by symbols, and the whole thing has to fit on an 11×17 piece of paper. They can make any character any symbol as long as they justify it. Holden Caulfield as a shoe horn? Okay. Hamlet as a banana? Sure. Jay Gatsby as a pickle? Fantastic! Just let us know why. 

It’s been an interesting couple of days working on World Builders. Generally, it’s been received pretty well. The kids really enjoy the freedom they have. And at the same time, they’re confounded…which is fair, because they’re not used to having it. What happens when someone is handed something they’re not used to having? I won’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself: I’m thrown a bit, and I’m not sure if I’m holding it right. 

So comes day two of working on the project in class. The majority of the class is well focused; the conversation happening revolves around how the hell each other is thinking. And in my perusin’, cruisin’, deliberate pace around the room to check in with everyone, that’s when I hear it. 

One student, brow furrowed and purse-lipped, says to another, “How’d you get that for that one?”

The response might as well have been a door opening in a chamber of silence. It’s the only thing I heard; the only thing I found myself able to hear. 

Dismissing the sense of self attached to her work, the other student replied, “I don’t know, I just made something up.”

And that’s it. That’s what I heard, and what I heard when I was in school and what I even said myself when I was sitting in a student desk. But I don’t sit in a student desk anymore, and the entire world looks different standing in front of the crowd rather than just being a part of it. The times I’ve heard “I just BSd it” are Buzz Lightyear – to infinity and beyond. 

We need to be careful about that. The truth isn’t that we’ve BSd things until we got them done, and then blew off the course or assignment because we “got a [great grade] without really trying.” It’s that we’re dismissive of our abilities to do what’s actually expected of us, and of our creative character. The result is not being prepared for what to do after we’re done all that’s expected of us. This is in no way, shape, or form a condemnation of students; it’s merely an observation about people at large that I happened to see through my class. I wasn’t offended. I was incited. I was glad I chose to be in a position to even have a chance at influencing a change in perspective about our creative faculties. 

Creativity is weird – at least to me. I think it’s something we’ve all got that may well be boundless. But we find ourselves in these situations where we dismiss it because we were never really told it’s there. Us and creativity, we’re strangers who know each other really well. We know each other’s faces but we never formally introduce ourselves. We spend our time going elsewhere and can only offer a genial head nod or conservative grin in passing.

I’d love to see what would happen if we stopped in our tracks a day to have a conversation with creativity. I bet the results would be bonkers. 

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