The Creativity Crisis

I wasn’t aware, until reading this article in Newsweek just now, that we had an accepted scientific way in which to evaluate and measure creativity. I also didn’t know that, since the 1990’s, the creativity scores of American students have been steadily inching downward. I’m not surprised, of course, given the trend in education toward increased testing, and the subsequent elimination of open-ended, discovery-driven programs, but it’s painful to see evidence of it in black and white, on a spreadsheet. I’m embarrassed to confess that I don’t know who our current Secretary of Education is, but I would hope that he or she is taking this seriously. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that decreased creativity is more of a threat to our nation than terrorism. It’s what has defined our nation from its inception. And we cannot allow our politicians to destroy it as they deliberately go about the dismantling of the American public school system… Anyway, that’s enough ranting for now – here’s a clip from the article:

…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.

Like intelligence tests, Torrance’s test—a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist—has been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages. Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. 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.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious”…

Around the world, though, other countries are making creativity development a national priority. In 2008 British secondary-school curricula—from science to foreign language—was revamped to emphasize idea generation, and pilot programs have begun using Torrance’s test to assess their progress. The European Union designated 2009 as the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, holding conferences on the neuroscience of creativity, financing teacher training, and instituting problem-based learning programs—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults. In China there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, Chinese schools are also adopting a problem-based learning approach.

Plucker recently toured a number of such schools in Shanghai and Beijing. He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. 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. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”…

I don’t have the time or energy for a sustained rant right now, but having 30 or more students being taught by one teacher is criminal, and it shouldn’t be happening in a country as wealthy and as supposedly advanced as our own. And they sure as hell shouldn’t be forced to read lesson plans from a book, forcing kids to memorize useless bullshit, in hopes that the kids will fill out their scantron cards correctly, thereby validating the worth of their school district. Teachers should have smaller classes, and they should be free to teach kids more than a predetermined list of facts and numbers. Eduction should be about collaborative open-ended exploration, intensive questioning, and hands-on discovery. Anyone can force kids to learn facts – we need our teachers to encourage them to test their boundaries, learn how to explore new subjects, and, above all else, acquire a love of learning. And I know teachers are doing that now, in the minutes they can steal here and there, but it’s not enough. We need to give them more time, and smaller classrooms. Nothing less that the future of our country is at stake.

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13 Comments

  1. Posted July 19, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    One of the charter schools forces teachers to read from scripts. Lovely, isn’t it?

    I agree with you 100% re: smaller classes. I am lucky because, as a special ed teacher, I get lots of one-to-one and small group time. Everyone (teacher and student) should be so lucky.

    One semi-positive thing is the move towards co-teaching. For example, a special ed teacher like me (who is certified in special ed and “highly qualified” in math, for example) would co-teach a math class with a teacher certified in math. Thus, you get two teachers in the room.

    I’ve done this before and in theory, I was only supposed to help the special ed kids but in practice helped the whole room. I was more “user friendly” than the math teacher (i.e. didn’t kick off my shoes and invite a student to go outside and fight by saying, pluckily, “Bitch, come on”) and so the kids tended to come towards me. The other teacher was pissed at first (“why are they going to YOU? I’M the math teacher”) but then realized having me there would get her out of the actually having to teach. So then she just sat behind her desk while I helped the kids. Oh, wait. Maybe this co-teaching thing isn’t going to work out so well….

  2. Voodoo Doll
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in that Torrance’s stuff. I was a very creative kid, and I grew up to be a loser. I don’t blame the school system. I went to the best, most expensive schools. I am just a lazy ass.
    Get used to it. We lazy shits are in abundance now as never before.

  3. Knox
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Thankfully, it looks like the other side doesn’t have many creative types either. They had Mohamed Atta, and that was about it. After him, it was all poorly executed underwear bombs and shoes with fuses.

  4. Ruth
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this. Of course this is totally in line with all the stuff I am working on, and I love that there is science to back it up. I was so surprised when I found out that there is no correlation between IQ and success a while ago- and now to find out that there IS a correlation with creativity- that is amazing to me.

  5. roots
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

    I was in DC earlier this summer and heard a session on the “Blueprint for Reform” that the US Dept. of Ed. issued in March in preparation for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka NCLB. The language in reference to “standards,” testing, and “teacher effectiveness” were no surprise.

    Here is an excerpt from its preface:

    This blueprint builds on the significant reforms already made in response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 around four areas: (1) Improving teacher and principal effectiveness to ensure that every classroom has a great teacher and every school has a great leader; (2) Providing information to families to help them evaluate and improve their children’s schools, and to educators to help them improve their students’ learning; (3) Implementing college- and career-ready standards and developing improved assessments aligned with those standards; and (4) Improving student learning and achievement in America’s lowest-performing schools by providing intensive support and effective interventions.

    It goes on to explain the four areas in greater detail, and while none of it sounds “bad” per se (who doesn’t want effective teachers and students who can use higher-order thinking skills?), it does seem to point away from creativity in pretty much every respect. You should read more if you’re interested, especially because Congress will (likely) be voting on the ESEA sometime next year.

    www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/blueprint/blueprint.pdf

  6. Posted July 20, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    It’s obvious that our current education system stifles creativity and no amount of well intentioned research, particularly when the results of that research are interpreted and instituted by any bureaucracy, can, does or will stimulate creativity in any discipline or endeavor.

  7. Posted July 20, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    A friend of mine posted this today on Facebook:
    (The following was read as the valedictorian’s speech at Coxsackie-Athens High School in recent weeks, creating quite a stir among administrators, to great applause from students and many of their parents)

    There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master: “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen?” The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years . .” (The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast – How long then?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?” (Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

    This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

    Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

    I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.

    John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.
    H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States. (Gatto)

    To illustrate this idea, doesn’t it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

    This was happening to me, and if it wasn’t for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

    And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

    We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

    The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

    For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.
    For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

    For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

    So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

    I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!

    Erica Goldson
    Athens, NY

  8. Dirtgrain
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    MSU professor Yong Zhao published a book about this last year: Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. Here is an earlier article by Zhao that relates: Education in the Flat World.

    From his book: “What China wants is what America is eager throw away–an education that respects individual talents, supports divergent thinking, tolerates deviation, and encourages creativity; a system in which government does not dictate what students learn or how teachers teach; and culture that does not rank or judge the success of a school, a teacher, or a child based on only test scores in a few subjects determined by the government…An innovation-driven society is driven by innovative people. Innovative people cannot come from schools that force students to memorize correct answers on standardized tests or reward students who excel at regurgitating dictated spoon-fed knowledge…why does America want to adopt practices that China and many other countries have been so eager to give up.”

    Politicians don’t seem to be reading it–Yin and Yang out of balance again. As they try to create a utopia, they rely more and more on control to “guide” the people. Unopposed, the system will trend puritanical, dictatorial, restrictive, dystopic, and, worst of all, uncreative.

    Michigan has been pushing standards on local school districts for two decades or so. Last year, in my school, administrators, per state dictates, were requiring teachers of the same classes to make common assessments, another step in their ultimate goal of doing away with variety in the curriculum. Our leader stated that he wanted to be able to walk down the hall and hear the same lessons going on in each classroom (I was shocked, as this cliche had been often used as exaggeration in discussions on pedagogy that I had previously). He wanted to do away with our electives (we convinced him to hold back on this)–cookie cutter, paint-by-numbers, lock-step education.

    I asked, “If trapped on an isolated, undeveloped island, would you prefer to be surrounded by others who all had the exact same educational experiences as you, or to be surrounded by people with a variety of educational backgrounds and experiences?” My school’s administrators ignored this, pushing on with the State’s agenda. It’s scary how little thought goes into it all.

  9. Ting
    Posted July 21, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    To those who say that we simply don’t have the money to fund education.

    CHECK THIS OUT:
    http://i.imgur.com/GT5Xd.png

  10. Dr Cherry
    Posted July 22, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Don’t worry Mark, when we start to run out of oil, people are suddenly going to get very creative.

  11. Ted
    Posted July 22, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    We’ll be hunting fat people like whales.

  12. Posted July 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    So, I sense a little desire for creativity in education as a concept. So I’m going to spam: http://www.afreesociety.org/marom-reimagining-the-school

    I’d like to suggest that if teachers are encouraging students to test their boundaries, teachers be doing so for themselves as well. In other words, learning and growth don’t stop at the edge of an institutionalized role. If we’re going to reimagine how education functions in a good society (presumably the one we all want to live in), then it takes a radical analysis to do it.

  13. Kevin Paul
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Something else to chew on:

    School isn’t for learning — “School isn’t about learning ‘material,’ school is about learning to accept workplace domination and ranking, and tolerating long hours of doing boring stuff exactly when and how you are told.”

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/08/school-isnt-about-learning.html

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