A Call to Creativity: Writing, Reading, and Inspiring Students in an Age of Standardization
reviewed by Lawrence Baines - March 01, 2013
Title: A Call to Creativity: Writing, Reading, and Inspiring Students in an Age of Standardization
Author(s): Luke Reynolds
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 080775305X, Pages: 120, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com
A glance at any book publishers catalog these days will reveal the proliferation of titles addressing the forthcoming strictures of the Common Core. Tips on raising test scores, suggestions for aligning curricula across grade levels, guidelines for kowtowing to the latest teacher evaluation instrumentthese have become the bestselling titles among educational booksellers. After all, teachers who hope to survive the mad rush to standardization must learn the new rules of the value-added game or they may well be out of a job.
In the context of current, misanthropic education reform, Luke Reynolds little book A Call to Creativity is a cheery reminder that education can ask something more of students than adherence. Indeed, Reynolds makes the radical assertion that part of a teachers job might involve steering students towards ends other than prescribed target outcomes, to questions that have no easy answers and fit no prefabricated rubric.
Reynolds notion of education as an opening up to the world is anathema to the purposeful closing down of current policy, which has mandated that adolescents choose a major by ninth grade (law in many Southern states), that the test should drive the curriculum, and that, all levels of education, even college, should be centered upon job preparation accomplished in the shortest possible time.
Reynolds does not tolerate shortsighted views of learning and refuses to dumb down his approach. Teachers must respond to students as one human being, albeit an older human being, to another (p. 15). Reynolds is fond of Parker Palmer and cites choice passages from The Courage To Teach to bolster his argument for an instructional style that is both humanistic and highly personal
Case in point is one of Reynolds favorite lessonson love and marriagein which he asks students to ponder possible future mates. With pointed questions, such as What is the purpose of marriage? and Do you think marriage is always beneficial for both partners? (p. 62), Reynolds attempts to move students from introspection to volatile literary themes in works such as Hurstons novel Their Eyes Were Watching God and Yeats lovely poem, When You are Old.
A Call to Creativity is short, only 57 pages of text describing lessons and pontifications on teaching followed by 40 pages of appendices, containing 18 lessons, each with a brief explanation, punctuated by abundant white space. The lone illustration in the book is a small, black and white photographthe famous Boston Photograph shot by Stanley Forman for the Boston Herald American Newspaper in 1975, depicting two individuals, a young woman and an elementary-age girl, in mid-air, falling from a fire escape (p. 59). Reynolds uses the Boston Photograph to evoke authentic thinking and to force students to step into others shoes (p. 16). As with all of the lessons described in A Call to Creativity, the Boston Photograph lesson seems engaging and worthwhile.
For most teachers of English, A Call to Creativity will be an infinitely more rewarding book than any ten new titles promising Common Core nirvana. If I lived in the area where Reynolds works, I would wage a fierce battle to place my children in his classes.
Throughout the book, Reynolds seems constantly on the verge of becoming a Freire-spouting, radical Bohemian. Although he claims that he wants his students to take flight into an intellectually and spiritually-enriching mecca for the New Age, he repeatedly returns to earth with the admonition that his feet remain firmly planted in a commitment to standards-based instruction (p. 57).
I would be remiss not to mention a few quibbles about the book, aside from its brevity--a deluge of exclamation points, unnecessary questions at the end of each chapter, and an ongoing dialogue that Reynolds is a crazy man! for teaching in the best interests of his students.
If Reynolds needs to change anything about his teaching, it is only that he is not crazy enough.
Hurst, Z. (2000). Their eyes were watching God. New York: HarperCollins
Yeats, W. (2013). When you are old. Retrieved from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172055.