Creativity crisis

There has been a lot of discussion around the topic of creativity.  Educators and society in general seem to agree on the importance of creativity – but do our schools provide a fertile ground for our teachers and students to develop and cultivate this attribute?

In Will Richardson’s blog, he argues that on the whole schools do not do a very good job at cultivating creativity.  He refers to behavioural therapist, Andrea Kuszewski‘s article The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience in which she argues that children are taught from a young age at school to pay attention, watch the teacher, imitate what the teacher does, stay in your seat, don’t question authority, and receive praise. This, Kuszewski argues is not teaching children to think; we are teaching them to memorize – instead of encouraging them to innovate (or create), we expect them to follow the outline and adhere to rules.    

Kuszewski refers to findings from researcher, Alison Gopnik​ who found that too much direct instruction—showing a child what to do, rather than letting him figure out the solution himself—can severely affect his ability and/or instinct to independently and creatively solve problems, or to explore multiple potential solutions.

America is experiencing a creativity crisis as noted in Richardson’s blog and Thomas L Friedman’s That Used to be Us. In Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s article The Creativity Crisis, research is showing that students’ creativity levels have been falling since 1990 – particularly among those from kindergarten through sixth grade.

According to Bronson and Merryman, American teachers are overwhelmed by curriculum standards and don’t have room in the day for a creativity class. University of Georgia’s Mark Runco calls this “art bias” – the age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. The following paragraph taken from Bronson and Merryman’s article highlights an important point about integrating creativity into the classroom.

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.

Earlier this year, Rupert Murdoch spoke at the G8 Forum about how there has been innovation and progress in all areas of life except education. He calls this a colossal failure of imagination.  Murdoch provides a sobering example of how in every part of life, someone who woke up after a fifty-year nap would not recognise the world around him – except in education. Today’s classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age: a teacher standing in front with a textbook, a blackboard and a piece of chalk.

Rupert suggests that in order to excite the imagination of our students we need to use technology as the vehicle to personalise the learning experience.  He makes the point that technology will never replace the teacher, but it can relieve the drudgery of teaching by taking advantage of the increasingly sophisticated analytics that will help teachers spend more time on things that make us all more human and more creative.

Ken Robinson’s argues in Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative  that contrary to popular belief, being creative is something that can be learnt, and not just for a select few. Creativity, according to Robinson is a step further on from imagination.  Being creative is doing something – it’s a process of putting your imagination to work.  It is applied imagination.

The question is how can educators and students develop creative potential in schools?


7 thoughts on “Creativity crisis

  1. I recently attended the Reggio Emelia conference in Canberra and had the awesome experience of visiting the Hundred Languages of Children exhibition. Observing the amazing projects of Preschool children and the depth of their learning was astounding. We heard from two italian speakers who were humbled by international interest in their work. What was so interesting was the role of the teacher or pedagista in guiding the children’s creative pursuits and constructivist approach to learning. Whilst there were no curriculum restraints as such, there was still the understanding that children be able to demonstrate understanding in many ways particularly relying on art and graphics as the basis for learning in what we would call other Key Learning Areas.

    The irony is that we look at what we can teach the children and don’t listen to what the children can teach us. I acknowledge that explicit instruction needs to occur and there should also be opportunity for implicit learning as well. Data can be collected and is generally neutral however, we need to ask ourselves (and our peers) how can the data be used to challenge the learners? How can we find out what children are interested in and know and how can we stimulate them to learn more?

    What did I learn from the Reggio conference? I learnt to give children opportunities to show me their interests and understandings in creative ways. I learnt to connect the outdoor environment with the indoor one, I learnt to allow learners to reflect on their learning. I learnt to offer children clay, wire, aluminium foil for sculpture, mirrors, light and colour to demonstrate their understanding and learning. I learnt to give children time to tell me what worked and didn’t work rather than to tell them the ‘answer’. I learnt to ask children to explain their learning to me after photographing their group work and was blown away at their metacognitive capabilities. I learnt to listen to the theories of children as an insight into their creative potential.

    A point was also made that we have traditionally had an auditory based delivery which Rip Van Winkle would recognise – the teacher in front of 30+ learners. However, learners have;
    2 eyes,
    2 ears,
    2 hands,
    2 feet
    and only one mouth.

    Shouldn’t we then allow children to be actively engaged in their learning? If we learn to make provocations arounds children’s interests and learning surely this is how we deepen their interest and understandings. Here is the Hundred Languages of Children poem for your reflection.

    The Hundred Languages Of Children
    The child
    is made of one hundred.
    The child has
    a hundred languages
    a hundred hands
    a hundred thoughts
    a hundred ways of thinking
    of playing, of speaking.
    A hundred always a hundred
    ways of listening
    of marveling, of loving
    a hundred joys
    for singing and understanding
    a hundred worlds
    to discover
    a hundred worlds
    to invent
    a hundred worlds
    to dream.
    The child has
    a hundred languages
    (and a hundred hundred hundred more)
    but they steal ninety-nine.
    The school and the culture
    separate the head from the body.
    They tell the child:
    to think without hands
    to do without head
    to listen and not to speak
    to understand without joy
    to love and to marvel
    only at Easter and at Christmas.
    They tell the child:
    to discover the world already there
    and of the hundred
    they steal ninety-nine.
    They tell the child:
    that work and play
    reality and fantasy
    science and imagination
    sky and earth
    reason and dream
    are things
    that do not belong together.

    And thus they tell the child
    that the hundred is not there.
    The child says:
    No way. The hundred is there.

    Loris Malaguzzi
    (translated by Lella Gandini)

  2. “The question is how can educators and students develop creative potential in schools?”

    You answered that in an earlier blog. Look outside the present system and investigate new ideas and innovation from non education department sources.

    There’s plenty out there to find when you look with different eyes. It was Albert Einstein who said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”

  3. Alan, one of the hardest thing to do is to get teachers’ to stand in the shoes of those they teach. If we did more of this perhaps our perspective would change, as you have acknowldeged.

  4. Leanne,

    At the heart of your response is a deep understanding of the human person – both the breadth and depth of what it is to be human. Whatever approach we choose to take in schooing aims to expand young pple’s understanding, if this understanding is not there, then it’s not going to be good learning and teaching. Questions for me always has to be what is the nature of the human person, nature of the child and what is an appropriate learning style for this person – and how can we build on the person’s gifts and not necessarily what has to change.

  5. Greg,
    The background and the understanding behind the documents I emailed the other day will provide an easy way to recognise the child’s individual personality, nature and learning style as well as other valuable information.

  6. This is true and unfortunately, experience has shown me that the result is that many/most students ( other than the bright ones) prefer not to think and not to work things out for themselves because that takes effort. There’s a hill we have to push them over before they’ll give a different approach a go.

    So long as our system works on exams and tests that are measured by right and wrong answers, creativity is hamstrung in schools.

    1. Creativity and the capacity to be creative is present in every person. Despite what we may construct and measure in ‘formal’ education learners will find and exercise their creative self some where else, thank God. If we believe that it is the ‘system’ that conspires to limit opportunity then we have not really got our head around the ‘organic’ nature of learning…Good teaching, good teachers , great learning all require more than a pinch of the creative, and because there are objects set to measure and evaluate learning that appear to be blind to the creative it does not mean that pedagogy strongly inspired by creativity will alienate students from full participation, and reward within our current evaluative framework. How would Da Vinci have fared? What do the ‘not so bright ‘ students do to find fulfilment when there is none provided within the context of ‘formal’ education?

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