The Case for Creativity

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If creativity's so important to top CEOs, shouldn't it be taught in school?

You never hear school reformers talking about how we need to train more teachers in the arts, do you? You DO hear public school art, music and drama teachers lament that arts get the shaft at their school: kids are lucky to get an art class a week. It’s no wonder the arts get the shaft given the current obsession with standards and testing related to science, math, technology and engineering (STEM). Annual federal funding for science is $5 billion, but only $250 million for the arts. But with creativity valued so highly today (it’s the driving force behind corporate success), one has to ask, shouldn’t we be taking a look at how to get more arts education to our kids?

“Right now we are grooming our kids to think in a very particular way, which assumes that the right way to be thinking is to be attentive, to stare straight ahead — which is why we diagnose 20 percent of kids in many classrooms as having attention deficit disorders, when the research is actually more complicated,” says Jonah Lehrer in his best-selling book Imagine: How Creativity Works (Houghton Miflin; 2012).

Ingenuity, inventiveness and problem solving comes from creativity, yet only two years ago, research assimilated through the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) sampled from kids in grades K – 12 from 1984 – 1990 came out showing that creativity is clearly in decline among the young. Measuring creativity is the opposite of measuring intelligence: any test with questions that have just one right answer or one correct path to an outcome is NOT a test of creativity. An example of the TTCT: kids are given sample shapes and are asked to use them or to combine them in a picture or to complete a partial picture. Results are based on what’s more or less creative, which is inherently problematic: creativity begs open mindedness.

The Creativity Paradox

Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stunted by continuous monitoring and pressure to conform. In school, kids repeatedly take tests requiring one right answer when in truth, few problems in life have only one right solution. Meanwhile parents want their kids to be inventive and imaginative — but they also want them to perform well in school. This is looked at in Lehrer’s book. While our public education system and its social strata discourage “out-of-the-box” thinking, kids are naturally creative. So when schools emphasize rote learning, standardized tests and uniformity it shuts down creativity which requires daydreaming, hands-on experimentation and an unstructured, free environment.

We’re all born creative, imaginative beings. We have our first few years to play and explore before someone starts trying to mold us. Ask a second grader if he’s creative and upwards of 95 percent of them will answer “Yes,” says Lehrer. Three years later though, somewhere around the fifth grade, as kids begin to mature and take note of what others think about them, they begin to stifle themselves. By the time a kid’s a senior in high school, if you ask him if he’s creative, you’ll get a “Yes” from about 5 percent. Most kids would rather not suffer the embarrassment that comes from taking the risk that creativity requires. This is why, during the early years of your child’s life, and continuing as he grows, Lehrer says, it’s important to find a way to help your child let go.

Creativity Education at Home

While some people think public schools should change the current emphasis on STEM to STEAM (getting the “A” for arts in there), with the current controversy in public education (aka the Common Core debacle) it’s not going to happen anytime soon. While your school may offer weekly music and art class, that’s not going to cover enough ground. You’ll have to take matters into your own hands if you want to have a creative child.

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.

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