The word seems so benign. Yet it has become the goto word in education. School superintendents, even the best and most advanced of them, use it all the time. “We want each of our students to reach mastery in each of the standards.” To master something is to be in command of it, to control it, to know it. It seems so logical and natural to want every student to achieve mastery that we now make it a synonym for learning, the product of schooling which we can objectively define and measure.
But if learning is to be a creative experience, how can it be mastered. Creativity by its very nature is constantly evolving, constantly pushing us to think out-of-the-box. Can we really learn to master creativity?
Apple is trying to do just that with its new headquarters in Cupertino, CA. It is seeking to make innovation a product that can be engineered, that can be structured, that can be mastered. Steve Jobs started its design, and Tim Cook and his leadership team is finishing it for Steve. It is a huge building, the size of several Pentagons, built to bring together in one place much of Apple’s creative and product development workers. It is designed to enable Apple retain its innovation leadership as well as its status as the largest company on earth. Laid out in a giant torus to bring people together to share ideas and share visions in both formal and informal opportunities, it’s goal is to master and manufacture creativity.
If Apple is right and a building designed to express and indeed enhance a corporate culture of creativity can make creativity a product, then mastery in schooling is right. If they can master creativity, build products that are inherently, creative then Apple will retain its competitive edge. If we can teach students to master concepts and thus master creativity, then a focus on mastery must assuredly be the goal of education. But if creativity is a process, a process of continuous growth and not mastery, a process of practice in which all we learn is to always ask “What if…” then creativity can never can be mastered or finished or finally learned. For it is a process of continuous growth, exploration, and experimentation, a process we become increasingly fluent in. If creativity is a process and not a product if our goal is fluency and not mastery then Apple should rethink its reliance on architecture and education should rethink its goal of mastery, for neither will produce the creative products or learning we seek for our future generations. Our goal must be creative fluency and not content mastery.