I learned something surprising this weekend. A rule I was taught back in elementary school turned out not always to be true. In the process, I discovered something worrisome about myself and how we prepare our children to be innovators.
Before I go further, let me ask you a question: how would you round the number 16.5 to the nearest integer?
If you are like many people, you would say 17; you always round up from 0.5. You probably never gave it much thought before. But a handful of people (myself included) were taught to round to the nearest even number, meaning round down to 16. Either way, we learned one way and believe it to be true.
It turns out we are both right; they are just different ways to deal with the uncertainty of being exactly between 16 and 17. In fact, there are at least eight different ways to handle the tie-breaker.
It might not seem so important, this little fact about rounding numbers. But I would argue that the way we teach this seemingly minor skill is a window into a problem with our education system that drives the creativity and imagination right out of our students.
“We need [the next generation] to be able to discover a better way to do something, to try new things,” says Maria Scileppi of 72andSunny, a creative agency based in Los Angeles. How can we expect students to learn to try new things, if they are taught there is only one way to do things?
I sat down with Scileppi to get her perspectives about this because she is heading up 72U, an ambitious and experimental program within her agency that is aimed at developing the next generation of innovators in the creative industries.
Every day she thinks deeply about how to teach creativity. “There is safety in doing what your neighbors are doing, but that’s not how you discover an innovative approach or break new ground.”