Wilderness and Invention

“Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the Unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into.” - Wendell Berry    

    In the recent NY Times op-ed (Dec. 3, 2017), writer David Leonhardt brings to the fore research by Stanford professor Raj Chetty showing how invention and creativity are tied to socio-economic factors. 
      In his article "Lost Einsteins: The Innovations We’re Missing," Leonhardt points out that one of the striking facts from Chetty's research is "Low-income students who are among the very best math students — those who score in the top 5 percent of all third graders — are no more likely to become inventors than below-average math students from affluent families."  
     Entrepreneur Steven Case assesses the situation as "creativity is broadly distributed.  Opportunity is not."  
     So how do students like our very own Mariah and Cintli grow in their creativity instead of having it stifled?  (CONTINUED FROM NEWSLETTER) According to Chetty, "Children who grow up exposed to a particular type of invention or inventor are far more likely to follow that path. Growing up around patent holders for, say, amplifiers makes someone far more likely to become an amplifier-related inventor. Similarly, girls who grow up in areas with a lot of female patent holders — like central New Jersey (a biotech hub) or Honolulu — are more likely to become inventors."  
     For this reason, Rise Prep's relationship with Dayspring Technologies is such a crucial one.  Programmers Shane Chao and Lauren Chinn have just finished teaching the students coding for sphero robots, but maybe even more powerful than this teaching is Mr. Chao and Ms. Chinn as role models for our students.  The students rub shoulders with Dayspring staff on a weekly basis.  Exposure to opportunities and careers is what also drives how crucial field trips are in Rise Prep's pedagogy. 
    In a recent field trip to Thumbtack--the website where customers can connect with qualified, local professionals, Thumbtack employees Andrew, Nathan and Kyle led the students in an activity to fill in 30 circles with whatever images they desired.  No other parameters were set, and the students filled in their circles in one minute with emojis, rainbows, and stars.  The exercise was to help free students to think creatively and quickly and not be bounded by so many self-imposed restrictions that grow over the course of someone's life.  Rise students also heard from a panel of women engineers and designers about their story of entering into the tech industry. 
     Andrew Lee commented, "I was very happy to see women engineers like Heidy and women designers like Kimi and Porter engaging with the students, because I hope that in hearing these women's stories, the Rise students would be able to think, 'Hey, if she can do it, so can I.' The gender imbalance in tech right now comes from the subtle but consistent stream of disapproval for young girls who may be interested in programming, but are told or made to feel like coding is more of a guy activity. Like the circle activity that they learned, they suddenly become imposed by their own restrictions of themselves, restrictions that they've internalized from the outside world."
     After the field trip, both Cristian Cruz and Miracle Thompson had been opened up and drew pictures of themselves working at Thumbtack, asking employees, "How can I get a job here?"   
     Invention and creativity do not originate from a vacuum, but emerge from a mix of factors that include exposure and modeling.  As those who have the privilege of walking with the students daily, the teachers, staff at Redeemer Community Church, and the designers and programmers at Dayspring Technologies get to be part of walking into the "wilderness" together and finding out who God has made us all to be.