Home   Parenting   Can creativity be learned?

Can creativity be learned?

creativityThis the second post in a series from veteran educator and interview coach Charlie Margolis on creativity, higher order thinking and raising creative children. The first post talked about the process of creative thinking, and how creativity is for everyone. Charlie continues the discussion here …

Why Creativity?

When I coach people who are looking for jobs, I advise them to show they have solved problems. Employers want people who can create new solutions to old problems. Business and industry once sought workers who would conform to the profile of efficiency and productivity. Today and for the foreseeable future, they seek original thinkers. These are individuals who are self-motivated, resourceful and think “outside the box.” Therefore, creative thinking is probably the most valued attribute, whether in an artist, inventor, employee or as a part of everyday living. Whether you are devising the next internet phenomena or cooking without a recipe, everyone needs to be creative.

Can Creativity be learned?

I developed and taught a course called, Exploring Your Creativity. Students were given open-end problems, for which there was no single correct answer. Problems were derived from multiple disciplines. For example, we did the Egg Drop problem, which involves dropping an egg from ceiling to floor. The idea is to protect the egg in a way that will keep it from breaking. They were asked to invent a new game and create an original musical instrument. In between, there were experiences in focused daydreaming, research articles to read and discussions about of the creative process. Exercises challenged their usual way of perceiving the world. Something as routine as brushing your teeth, using your opposite hand, will make you mindful of what is usually done by rote.

At first, the students had no idea what to do when given a problem. They had been taught to look at what had already been done to derive answers. For the first time, they had to look at what could be done. It was frustrating. Gradually, they began to “get it.” Instead of resisting, they learned the phases of the creative process, from inception to production. The transformation was nothing short of astounding. By mid term, they relished each new challenge, begging me to tell them what we would be doing next.

Higher Order Thinking

When I was in 8th grade, I built a science far project about the solar system. There were nine planets in my system. Now, I don’t even know how many planets there are. But, I know how to find-out. Since the days of the one-room school house, the key to academic success has been a good working memory. The ability to retain facts, figures and data pretty much determined how well a student would perform. It was even thought that memorization strengthened the brain, the way exercise strengthens a muscle. Do you remember when the study of US History was confined to a single text book and an occasional film strip? Now, a student can learn more about the Civil War in an evening watching the History Channel than I learned from a year of social studies.

The internet is a never ending source of information – and misinformation – and links. The dusty, old textbook has become obsolete as the Model A Ford. More information than anyone can use is as close as an app on the smart phone. Psychologists call this “transactive memory;” that a great deal of what we know is stored outside our heads. Having information, alone, does not give a person the ability to think. Knowing about the Battle of Gettysburg is not the same as being able to extrapolate the causes and effects of the Civil War. So, how has education adapted? Educators are in the process of finding methods and materials that teach higher level thinking. It’s not enough to know what; students need to know “how, why and what if…”At the top of the higher order thinking pyramid is creativity.

Schools and Creativity

Schools are based on an academic model. While many creative people are extremely intelligent in the traditional IQ standard, there is a point beyond which that does not apply; in fact, many highly creative individuals are not what you might call “super smart.” The No Child Left Behind mandate – begun in President Bush’s administration – continues to be hotly debated. Proponents of competency based testing applaud the mandate because it identifies those schools and programs which do not measure-up to the standard.

Meanwhile, opponents assert that “teaching for the test” is ruining education, because only a limited portion of a student’s proficiency is being measured. Unquestionably, standardized tests have become the driving force behind classrooms and curriculums. Music, art and other creative/expressive experiences have been reduced or eliminated, to make time for more academic enhancement. It is imperative that teachers have the time and resources to design and implement curriculums that address creative thinking. Practically, the jobs of the future will not be based on the skills of the past.

Share your thoughts below … and then join us for Charlie’s last post in the series titled Raising creative children”!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *