Supporting Creativity in Schools

Source: Mindshift, Mar 2014

The correlation between creativity and self-actualization seems implicit. Presumably, children’s aspirations include a meaningful personal engagement with whatever it is they want to achieve. Creativity can be broadly defined as the phenomenon of developing new processes, constructs, or ideas. But can creativity be measured?

Measuring creativity typically involves evaluating the quantity and originality of responses to prompts that do not demand a specific answer. For instance, a child could be asked to come up with as many original or unusual functions as he can conceive for a toy airplane, or ways he would want to alter it to make it more fun.

… another study investigated specific individuals over time and revealed that self-reported conceptions of creativity markedly decline after second grade. Whereas 95 percent of second-graders self-reported being creative, only 5 percent of high school seniors believe they are creative. The most readily apparent inference to be drawn is the significant role that schools play in this reported decline. The hows and whys are evident. Creativity is based on thinking unconventionally, having time to daydream or simply reflect, understanding that there is no single right answer, and appreciating and valuing failure.

Because schools must work with large numbers of students, they’re perpetually bound by the limitations of bureaucratic efficiency. Discipline, order, and obedience must be maintained, and while the degree of enforcement varies among schools, this level of order defines the institution. Curricula may have dramatically changed since the inception of compulsory schooling, but the autocratic design remains unchanged.

Because of the emphasis on maintaining order in a compulsory school environment, teachers are compelled to adopt policies that adhere to the rigid requirements of the institution. And in turn, students who embrace conformity and deference to authority are better-suited in these environments. For teachers to engage with an entire classroom of students, everyone must be acquiescent. The inevitable outcome, as studies consistently show, is a widespread aversion to traits associated with creativity in the public school environment.

Promoting creativity would require an entirely new conception of public schooling. Teachers would have to be transformed into mentors whose mission would be to support the individual interests of each child and introduce them to new ideas and possibilities, which the student may or may not opt to embrace. Traditional testing would have to be eliminated — tests implicitly teach that failure is bad and that there is only one right answer. Creative learning would be more effectively promoted by having students actively engage in their creative pursuits as opposed to being confined to a classroom.

the idea of teaching creativity in an environment that requires assessment, evaluation, and grading seems unlikely, if not impossible. Even where opportunities to show creativity might be devised, students may be inclined to self-censoring: A student who wants a good grade may not feel completely free to produce something that might be offensive.

So what’s the result? Creativity scores decline, and school administrators wonder why their efforts towards boosting creativity have failed. What’s more, the paradox of expecting students to exhibit creativity in an environment that suppresses such displays becomes a breeding ground for neurotic children.


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