Should Students be Content Creators?

Danny Wahl's picture Danny Wahl  •   •  Education

In my experience the rhetoric of "we want our students to be content creators not content consumers" is used ad nauseum by faculty and admins for all kinds of purposes. Maybe it's invoked to shut-down a 1:1 initiative or maybe it's just to complain about the youth.

This argument, I find, is generally indefensible as it ignores the fact that the kids are probably not creating anything now (through no fault of their own- they don't choose curricula) and the adults invoking this ad hominem attack are nothing but content consumers themselves. But the biggest problem I have is that the argument is based on a simple framing error and that is that content creation and content consumption are mutually exclusive.

I propose an alternative idea, and that is consumption and creation are progressive, if not cyclical. Everybody must consume media in order to create it. Ok, must is a generalization but let me make my argument... Is there a director out there, famous or otherwise, who would say, "I have no mentors, no inspiration, my style is my own."? Is there a musician who would say, "I've never heard music before I started making music."? I submit that the answer is "no."

This is not to say that every person who consumes media will necessarily become a de facto content creator, certainly the vast majority of history bears strong evidence to the contrary. Rather, we should be teaching students to move from consumption to creation or to start tipping the scales from 100/0 consumption/creation to 90/10 then 80/20, and so forth. Again, even once someone is renown for their artistic endeavors they hardly stop consuming new inspiration, they just spend the majority of their time creating. Maybe for them the scales have tipped to 80/20 or 90/10 in favor of creation.

So what does this progression look like? Well like all good pedagogy it neatly fits into an easy-to-remember, easier-said-than-done, rule. I call it "The Four 'C's of Creation". They are progressive, but can be cyclical as well.

Let's take two examples, one generic and one unique to school.

A person listens to music passively on the radio (ha! what's a radio?!). The person discovers a band that they really enjoy learns about the members, the history, the discography, has a favorite song, etc... The person starts creating mix tapes (ha! what's a tape?!) and playlists and sharing them with others. The person starts playing with audio recording creating covers and remixes of the band's songs, sharing them with others. The person starts creating their own unique songs which sounds very similar to the band's songs but over time grow into their own.

In first grade students spend a month reading Dr. Seuss books. In third grade students have to do an oral/written (er... typed) report on your favorite Dr. Seuss book (I won't get into why they have to like Dr. Seuss...). In 6th grade they have to write their own poem a lá Dr. Seuss. In 10th grade they write their own poetry (which can be assigned to the first graders! what?!)

Finally, it should be noted that the creation of good content across all mediums is simply not feasible and the burden of that goal should not be hoisted upon students. Certainly that is an unbearable yoke and we should not be shaming them for simply consuming media. I am not a musical person by any means, and I have never made it past the "cherish" stage listed above. Should I be shamed for this? Should I be guilted into learning an instrument and pretending to have ambitions that simply do not exist? No. I create other things as I consume. I write, I code, I debate (believe it or not, that's an art).

In conclusion I posit that consumption itself is not bad. It's our failure as educators, partially as the result of a framing error, that we do not encourage children to progress from consumption into creation. If we can re-frame our thinking on the purpose of consumption and encourage students to use it as inspiration, then we will see (mildly) transformative change in the realm of artistic creative endeavors in our schools.