A few years ago, my daughter and I visited the National Portfolio day in Dallas. Over fifty leading art colleges were present to review students’ art work – a sort of hotbed of the creative future. My daughter quickly realized that while considered extremely artistic and original in her own school, she was below average when compared to students across a multi-state region.
Most people want to assume they are above average, but statistically they cannot be. Looking at average grades in high school will reveal that the bell curve doesn’t come down as low on the high end. More students make A’s than F’s. This grade inflation tends to make grades less meaningful and the dependence on standardized tests greater. It also helps to promotes the “I’m better than average” illusion.
We often hear high praises for the experience of living in a global village, but there is a downside for those who discover they are not as valuable as they assumed within their own little community. When cultures meet, there is also a competition for whose definition of unique and original work will be accepted. For example, at the National Portfolio Day in Dallas excellent photography was assumed to be simple, high contrast with strong lines and obvious artificially-enhanced color. Many students produced those kinds of photographs, but the quality was not all the same.
The university representatives grading the art of perspective students had to be discriminating. Otherwise, they would lump together the examples of photography that fit the current culture’s definition of creativity and ignore inventive photos that did not follow those “standards.” Adapting to creative work as championed by one culture essentially narrowed the definition of originality. There was less variety of original work being introduced to the public because works with certain techniques (those not in vogue) were being tossed aside by students unwilling to risk creating novelty.
Can we make everybody a good student? No. Despite many attempts to level the playing field only some students rise from a background of disadvantages and lack of family involvement to become excellent students. We should continue to strive for equality in education because some will keep rising. But, there will are also students that have these advantages who receive the benefit of inflated grades despite not earning them. This should not be so.
We cannot make everyone creative, either. Simply imitating what has been considered inventive is a safe bet and not true originality. In the end, my daughter learned from experience at the Portfolio Day. She came to understand what she needed to improve from the critiques of her work, and the kind of boundaries that she would push in order to produce work that more original than the “standards.”