Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

The Creativity Crisis In Our Schools

CJ Westerberg, December 13, 2010 1:30 AM


"The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment
was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ."

"It is the scores of younger children in America
- from kindergarten through sixth grade -
for whom the decline is "most serious.'"

A powerfully provocative and must-read cover story from the current Newsweek  - about the shortage of creativity in our schools, especially apparent in the younger grades.

We've been very concerned about the growing lack of prioritization for creativity, innovation and imagination in schools, which is being replaced with an increased concentration of standardization and conformity (from such laws as No Child Left Behind), exactly the opposite characteristics imbued by creativity.

What's the first mental exercise to be cut from schools, with our obsession on test scores?  When creativity is relegated to Art class, no wonder why our great minds can't find "the right answers" for our oil spill crisis and our financial/ job crisis.  Those answers can't be found on a multiple choice test.

Many parents are being "trained" to obsess about standardized test scores so their children can get into college, which sadly seems to have become, for many, the one singular mission of "an education."  We hear both parents and teachers labeling a child who is "good at school" as "smart" while relegating another child who displays creative traits as being "creative," as if being creative is not synonymous with smart.  Why does the word creative connote images of a lack of discipline, analytical skills and logic? 

Newsweek tackles these subjects head-on, first with a delve into the background of the  "'Torrance kids,' a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance."  First off, an excerpt of what defines creativity:

The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful, and that's what's reflected in the tests. There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).

Does this sound anything like what is valued in most schools?  Torrance is explored further:

"In the 50 years since Schwarzrock and the others took their tests, scholars - first led by Torrance, now his colleague, Garnet Millar - have been tracking the children, recording every patent earned, every business founded, every research paper published, and every grant awarded. They tallied the books, dances, radio shows, art exhibitions, software programs, advertising campaigns, hardware innovations, music compositions, public policies (written or implemented), leadership positions, invited lectures, and buildings designed.

Nobody would argue that Torrance's tasks, which have become the gold standard in creativity assessment, measure creativity perfectly. What's shocking is how incredibly well Torrance's creativity index predicted those kids' creative accomplishments as adults. Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance's tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently reanalyzed Torrance's data. The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.

 . . . Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling."

What's more, according to the Kyung Yee Kim's research (College of William and Mary),  "It is the scores of younger children in America - from kindergarten through sixth grade - for whom the decline is "most serious.'

"The potential consequences are sweeping. The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. . . A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 "leadership competency" of the future. Yet itís not just about sustaining our nation's economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others."

"The Creativity Crisis" continues with speculation why creativity is falling, an overview of how so-called "non-creative" countries, such as China are catching up:

"When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. 'After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,' Plucker says. 'They said, "You're racing toward our old model (of rote, testing, stanardization).  But we're racing toward your model (creativity, innovation), as fast as we can.' "  Parenthesis are editor's additions. For related article, "The Chinese Curse: Is America Next?".

One of the most interesting aspects is how we address creativity in our classrooms, why creativity is so misinterpreted, and how it should not be separated in distinct right and left brain boxes:

"Overwhelmed by curriculum standards, American teachers warn there's no room in the day for a creativity class. Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week. But to scientists, this is a non sequitur, borne out of what University of Georgia's Mark Runco calls 'art bias.' The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening - ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

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.

To understand exactly what should be done requires first understanding the new story emerging from neuroscience. . . "

Continue full Newsweek article HERE.

"How Creative Are You?" related article HERE.

Other related articles on creativity in our schools Here and Here.

Originally published by The Daily Riff July  0, 2010.

Artwork by Rosemarie Fiore, realized through exploding and containing live fireworks on paper.   Priskajusch Fine Art for image in its correct dimension below via Design Therapy: 

Art.fireworks3.correct size.png
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