The challenge with teaching creativity

Attempting to “teach” creativity is difficult. I would argue it can’t be done well in our standard, current educational environment.

When your expectations involve creativity, the task of training or optimizing for it becomes difficult, if not entirely impossible. How do you measure what’s truly creative when there are expectations set? How can anyone value whether something is creative or not if creative ideas exist, by nature, outside of expectations?

As Cevin Soling mentions in Can Any School Foster Pure Creativity?:

“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. All of these experiences run counter to what’s measured, and thus valued, in the public school system.”

A popular retelling of this exact situation comes from Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk How schools kill creativity. In the talk, Sir Robinson tells us:

“I heard a great story recently…of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this little girl hardly ever paid attention, and in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated and she went over to her and she said, ‘What are you drawing?’ And the girl said, 'I’m drawing a picture of God.’ And the teacher said, 'But nobody knows what God looks like.’ And the girl said, 'They will in a minute.'”

Note the reaction the teacher had in this story when she heard what the little girl was drawing. Rather than viewing the girl’s approach as creative and imaginative, the teacher has an initial reaction to explain to the girl that she simply couldn’t be drawing god, nobody knows what he looks like.

In teaching creativity, we run into this problem again and again: how do educators remove their own biases to make way for natural creative insights? How do we, as advocates for promoting creativity in the workplace (as an example), get out of our own way?

Rather than trying to teach creativity (the act of generating unique and valuable thoughts), it’s worthwhile to instead teach and actively promote the attributes that make up creativity.

Exercises that build confidence, that promote curiosity and exploration, that force participants to be resourceful, those are worthwhile endeavors that build creativity.

We also know that these are attributes that can be taught without hindering the process of teaching or grading them. We can teach students and employees to be resourceful and curious by offering them playful challenges. We can instill a sense of humility in those we teach, and encourage a mindset that allows restful breaks whenever they’re needed.

If we want to teach creativity to our children, peers, co-workers, or ourselves, we have to focus on the individual attributes that drive it, not merely on the act of generating ideas.

To teach and encourage creativity yourself, look to the various attributes that cause creativity. When those aspects are built or strengthened, the result is almost always some level of creative output.

Photo via Flickr.

Is it time to change the way we educate?

What do you think: when it comes to creativity, does a standard education – established by traditional studies and achievements, evaluated by standardized testing – affect creativity?

The New York Times recently asked a slightly different – albeit related – question: Are we educating students on the important stuff, or just how to pass the test?

In the NYT article, a unique, changing, education system is on the rise at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood, New Jersey: “The school is rooted in a theory by Harvard University professor Howard Gardner that asserts that in addition to teaching reading and math, schools should focus on how children interact with one another and express themselves through nature, art and movement.”

The article expands on how education has changed at Seth Boyden Elementary School, and notes on what the changes are doing for the students: “The approach seemed to work: test scores went up and the school moved off the district’s list of schools in need of improvement.”

Consider your formal education: did you learn how to exercise your creativity and experiment with variables? Were you educated into believing that there are more ways to get “4” than simply “2+2”? Or were you led to believe that there is always a right way to do something and a wrong way?

Consider a comment from a post from GOOD Magazine titled Can Teaching Around the Test Marry Creativity and Standards? which reads:

I’ve always believed in a creative education and somehow standardized testing does NOT cover all aspects of capability. It merely reflects how much one remembers and how much one is methodical.

What do you think? Is it time to re‒consider what education means to you? Is it time to re‒evaluate how you learn and how we – as a society – educate each other?

Does schooling lead away from creativity?

Schooling has been promoted as a road to success for quite some time now. However, as the perceived importance of formal education has grown, true creativity appears to be on the decline. But why?

For all of the education we are getting as a society ‒ in the United States specifically ‒ we seem to have lost sight of what it takes to be a modern‒day Edison, Wright, or Einstein.

It’s not a new idea, Sir Ken Robinson has given a tremendously popular talk on the topic of schools killing creativity. Talk with any creative thinker and they’ll tell you that the current formal education is designed to produce workers not thinkers.

And we have to give credit where credit is due.

When the current schooling system was designed it was done so in a way that would help promote the industrial revolution. Assembly factories were popping up across the world, and those factories needed workers.

At the time our current education system was being developed the world was racing for the moon, fighting cold wars, and worrying about the possibility of a missile‒ intense war.

Back then we needed people who could do one job, very well, repeatedly, day‒in and day‒out.

But schooling wasn’t designed to only produce workers, the US government needed to easily identify those geniuses amongst us who could help develop the next factory or nuclear weapon or rocket engine. So an emphasis was placed on mathematics and the sciences. Music, art, and many other important learning opportunities have been put on the sidelines and, in many areas around the world, have even been abolished from education entirely.

As a result, students are forced into a methodological way of thinking that deprives them of creativity.

Students cannot explore themselves or their creativity with the current schooling system. Rather than being given the opportunity to explore their interests, their talents, and the activities that make them feel happy, students are forced to learn topics and methods that ‒ while beneficial ‒ ultimately deprive them of being creative and finding who they are.

Are all schools bad? Not at all. In‒fact, there are countless art institutes and creative‒incubators around the world for students who want to explore topics outside of the generic “norm”. However, most creative schools come later in life, after the average student has already been taught that a creative lifestyle is an unproductive one ‒ or, at the very least, a poor one.