Up to our elbows in spiral notebooks is part of the national “back-to-school” mentality, but let’s consider what we are putting in our students’ heads, instead of into the back-to-school shopping cart.
Perhaps the most important component for economic health is creativity. A Newsweek article, “The Creativity Crisis,” cited a study in which 1,500 CEO’s said creativity was the number one most important “leadership competency.”
What is creativity? The article suggests a definition of creativity as: requiring the ability for “divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).”
So, how we are doing nurturing creativity in our classrooms and in our culture?
Newsweek reported that for the first time in the decades that it has been measured, American creativity is declining. A report by the Alliance for Childhood, documents that creative learning and the arts are being programmed out of schools starting as early as kindergarten (Edward Miller and Joan Almon, Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School. Alliance for Childhood: College Park, 2009.)
The authors found that in some of today’s classrooms, children are so unfamiliar with open-ended creative play, that “as one kindergarten teacher put it, ‘If I give the children time to play, they don’t know what to do. They have no ideas of their own.’” (8) For me, it is almost too depressing to accept that children in our communities do not have a concept of play.
The report summarizes, “Research shows that children who engage in complex forms of socio-dramatic play have greater language skills than nonplayers, better social skills, more empathy, more imagination, and more of the subtle capacity to know what others mean. They are less aggressive and show more self-control and higher levels of thinking. Animal research suggests that they have larger brains with more complex neurological structures than nonplayers.” (7). These seem to be qualities it would be helpful to nurture in the next generation on our fragile planet.
How much damage has “teaching to the test” done to the ability of our students to ask questions, think independently, look for novel solutions, or engage in discussions presenting various points of view? How much damage has the amount of time taken from the arts –and even recess—done to minimize the sparkle in the eyes of an elementary student? (Or an elementary teacher?)
I remember when I was volunteering in my son’s 3rd grade class and I was helping supervising “free time”. One student had finished his math and English and was doodling. I approved his use of time. Then I was reprimanded by the classroom teacher, “After 2nd grade, there’s no doodling in the classroom. Refocus him on math or English.”
Richard Florida in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, argues that creativity is the key economic and healthy-community resource of the future. Having an enclave of creative thinkers, or “creative class” as he calls it, will bring businesses, (with jobs), economic vitality and economic stability to a region. He writes that jobs don’t “come to a region.” They come to an area where creative people have nurtured an inspiring, creative community. (xix). “At all levels of government and even in the private sector, Americans have been cutting back crucial investment in creativity—in education, in research, in arts and culture—while pouring billions into low-return or no-return public projects like sports stadiums. …The real threat to American security is not terrorism, it’s that creative and talented people may stop wanting to come here.” (xxiv)
Consider for example that other countries are identifying creativity as a national priority:
– In 2008, British secondary-school curricula was rewritten to focus on “idea-generation.”
– The European Union identified 2009 as the European Year of Creativity and Innovation.
– In China, “there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, Chinese schools are also adopting a problem-based learning approach.” (These points are from the Newsweek article, “Creativity Crisis.”)
Think about it: it’s the creative members of a community that solve the problems, offer new opportunities, new products, new ways of using resources—the creative class offers the excitement and hope for the future. And it is a vital resource. Richard Florida says, “Creativity is not a tangible asset like mineral deposits that can be hoarded or fought over or even bought or sold. We must begin to think of creativity as a common good, like liberty or security. It is something essential that belongs to all of us, and that must always be fed, renewed and maintained—or else it will slip away.” (xxvi)
It is linear thinking that confines creativity and innovation exclusively to art classes. These vital skills can be honed in many divergent forums. Although I am a huge advocate (naturally) of keeping the fine arts in all or our lives and in our curricula, perhaps, as the Newsweek article suggests it would be more palatable to introduce creativity in other areas of instruction, like in history or writing term papers. “Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom. The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process. Scholars argue that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way.” (Newsweek).
Creativity and imagination are vital in science too, not only in discovery but in disproving, challenging and proving theses. “The obvious role of imagination is in the context of discovery. Unimaginative scientists don’t produce radically new ideas. But even in science imagination plays a role in justification too. Experiment and calculation cannot do all its work.” (Timothy Williamson, New York Times: Opinionator, “Reclaiming the Imagination,” August 15, 2010.)
Another benefit to society of using creativity and imagination, as suggested by Florida, is that it goes beyond problem solving, “Along with problem solving…work may entail problem finding: not just building a better mousetrap, but noticing first that a better mousetrap would be a handy thing to have.” (69)
Are the students you know given:
- enough introduction to the arts?
- enough time to find their voices through creativity?
- enough time to process and problem solve through open-ended creative play or group problem solving?
- enough immersion in a curriculum built around thinking in order to develop divergent thinking and convergent thinking?
Are students in your community supported for engaging in the arts such as the visual arts, music, theater, dance, film, performance art, or writing? Are opportunities available? Is creative thinking and problem solving important? Is it important that students have a chance to stretch their creative wings?
The video “Schools Kill Creativity,” from TED.com will challenge your concept of creativity and how we are bludgeoning it out of our educational systems.
Emory University appointed the Dalai Lama as a Presidential Distinguished Professor. www.emory.edu/tweetpeace has a number of YouTube videos, etc. Some discuss the relationship between spirituality and creativity, some talk about the difference in creativity between the East and the West, and about how those differences express themselves in our art. It’s another point of view to broaden the discussion.
Let’s get real about true intelligence, knowledge and the skills we need to survive and thrive. Problem solving with divergent and convergent thinking are way up at the top. I think our culture and our schools are bludgeoning creativity to death.
Think about creativity. Watch the video on TED.com and think about what we each can do to put the emphasis on the right side of the brain in our schools and in our society.