The most severe problem plaguing the University of Pennsylvania and many other institutions of higher education is a broad-based failure to engage in creativity. The vast majority of undergraduates spend their four years taking classes that build knowledge alone rather than the ability to think creatively and engage in creation itself.
It must be the goal of universities not only to broaden the knowledge of their students, but also to foster in them a desire to build new ideas and places. Universities have the responsibility to encourage and enable their students to undertake projects that have the potential to create innovative businesses, revolutionary fields of medicine and, most importantly, ground-breaking ways of seeing and understanding the world.
The key to succeeding in such enterprises is the unhindered development of creative thinking, in which one proposes new ways of considering problems and uncovering their solutions. However, many schools, including Penn, tend to do just the opposite — they obstruct and even shun creativity.
Too often in higher education, students are trained to memorize rather than to think. In fact, in many classes, memorization is rewarded over actually understanding the material at hand because the quantity of material presented is too great to synthesize before the next exam comes around. For instance, in introductory physics, success essentially hinges on students memorizing a series of problem situations and the methods for solving them.
The same is true for most introductory math and science classes. Although it is necessary to give students some basic background in these fields of study, the classes should ultimately focus on more problem solving by teaching students to ask the right questions. Students are trained to be calculators rather than questioners and builders. Rather than encouraging students to engage in a truly liberal education, universities like Penn often end up churning out a student body that is fearful of risk and thus, creativity.
An emphasis on grades tends to make students risk averse. Students take classes that they feel comfortable with rather than classes that cover material with which they have no experience. Instead of taking a creative writing class or an art class, students feel the need to take classes that will ensure a job, like economics.
Moreover, Penn culture tends to encourage students to choose predetermined paths rather than to discover their own directions. Emphasis on a fast track to wealth held aloft by an ever-pervasive air of pre-professionalism often leads students into the ruts of iBanking, medicine and law before giving them any experience outside of the education bubble. It is the role of the University to encourage its students to choose a route, at least for a little while, where success hinges on creative thought and where failure is a real possibility.
Although it is easy to overlook the issue of a creative drought because of the financial success that traditional tracks through education and work often lead to, it must be brought to the forefront of discussions regarding higher education. The most successful people have the capacity to think in new ways and to subsequently create new ideas. These new ideas allow the world to progress. Without them, stagnancy reigns supreme.
Penn, being a major research university, must work to ensure that its undergraduates learn both the importance of creativity and how to engage in the creative process. Penn should focus on developing more classes that emphasize thinking and problem solving. Memorization of facts should be eliminated in these classes in favor of a direct approach to teaching the creative process and encouraging new methods of thinking. The world needs revolutionaries, not more encyclopedias.
Sam Sherman is a College sophomore studying fine arts and chemistry. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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