There are universities filled with academic departments of all kinds: physics, math, sociology, music, political science, philosophy, oceanography, education, and so forth. You get the picture. We have these academic discipline-based divisions in America. Yet, statistical records that compare American education of kindergarten through the university level show that American kids today are less knowledgeable than their parents! How can that be? Don’t we have a National Science Foundation pumping billions into research and educational activities? Don’t we have associations like the AAAS, the AMS and the AGU to foster education in the technical disciplines?

The answer to all the above is yes; billions and billions of dollars spent over the decades since the end of WWII have gone into educating Americans. To what avail? Our national ranking nears the bottom of the other industrialized countries according to some objective set of metrics. There was an initiative a few years ago at the NSF called CDI (Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation). To my mind this was a great concept, an initiative to foster innovation backed by money (funding). However, I think that the NSF bureaucracy got in the way of its stated desire to seek out innovation and discovery by having uncreative people in charge of determining what was a creative concept and what was not.
[NB: the review committee is made up of heads of departments within NSF, tethered to the protection of their specialized areas of concern]. It did not seem that the NSF sought to leapfrog into the future for new out-of-the-box creative thinking but sought to infuse (or tweek) with a bit more cash what is already done in the way of research, relabeling new activities as CDI.

How can America improve the education of the next generation so that it is smarter and more creative than the present generation? The idea was suggested to me by the title of a book written in Europe about 20 years ago: “The Discipline of Creativity.” Maybe we need to think about how to create academic disciplines (or departments) along non-traditional lines: the Department of Innovation, the Department of Creativity, the Department of Discovery, and the Department of Improvization.

Students and their teachers and professors can earn certificates in, innovation, creativity, discovery or improvisation, along with their tradition BA, MA or PhD from a traditional, societally accepted discipline.

Personally, I think Sparetime University (STU) is one of those undisciplined non-traditional approaches to fostering out-of the-box thinking. It is not rocket science but is a way to share as well as create knowledge, free to the recipients, and taken in at will, independent of time, place and level of education. So, STU will foster the non-traditional academic disciplines of creativity, innovation, discovery and improvisation. Maybe this can help America (and other countries as well) climb back toward single digit rankings in various categories of levels of knowledge, including but clearly not limited to science and math.

By Ross

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