23 December 2011

Creativity and Education

From Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom?, a good review paper. What the paper shows is that the characteristics that teachers use to describe their favorite student correlate negatively with the characteristics associated with creativity. In addition, although teachers say that they like creative students, teachers also say creative students are “sincere, responsible, good-natured and reliable.” In other words, the teachers don’t know what creative students are actually like.  (FYI, the research design would have been stronger if the researchers had actually tested the students for creativity.)  As a result, schooling has a negative effect on creativity. [Emphasis added.]

Of course it does. Only a fool labors under the delusion that schooling exists for any purpose other than to train children to be allegiant to the state, comply readily to orders, and to stamp out any and all forms of individualism from children.  Simply look at the metrics of schooling:  everything is centered around getting good grades, wherein all students come to the exact same answer in the exact same way.  Diverging from the standard answer results in a bad grade, with the implicit message being that one is never to disagree with the official answer for any reason.

Thinking for one’s self is roundly discouraged, as is creativity and individualism.  All students are expected to comport themselves the same, reach the same answers, and sometimes even dress the same.

Furthermore, schooling is not even about education, at least in a general sense. The schooling regimen is so compartmentalized that it bears no resemblance to actual learning.  Many courses of study are interrelated.  One cannot study a given branch of scientific study without first knowing the language of the text, nor can one generally study science without also having some mathematical knowledge (at least number sense, as well as addition, subtraction, etc.).  One may even find it useful to know the history of the discipline as well.  Yet, “educators” somehow get into their heads that somehow each of these elements are separate things to be taught separately, with no regard for how they relate to one another.

Basically, public education has no value outside of forcing children to surrender their individuality and creativity to cultural conformity imposed, from above, by the state.  As such, it is time that we disabuse ourselves of the silly notion that schools can be used for education and inspiring creativity.


  1. Swan,

    I was re-reading Well-Trained Mind the other day. I have plans to homeschool and the time to develop curricula is here. If you've not read it, I recommend. The text is centered on the Classical Trivium method of learning.

    In it, Wise and Wise-Bauer (mother-daughter writing team) discuss what they see wrong with public schooling. One of the passages from Wise quotes Ruth Beechick:

    "Our society is so obsessed with creativity that people want children to be creative before they have any knowledge or skills to be creative with"

    Now, I agree that creativity and free thinking are important, but so is factual knowledge. Rote learning and memorization is appropriate for grammar school kids, because their minds are sponges. They don't understand all the facts they're absorbing, nor can they form opinions yet because they have little understanding of their thoughts and feelings on matters. Those things exist, but the child doesn't have the skill to express them yet. But creativity and imaginative play and self-expression are taught in the young years, at the expense of gathering sound reading skills, a large body of factual knowledge, and figuring skills. Then when high school rolls around, teachers often find students unprepared enough to take the step into creative and independent thinking, because the foundation is not there.

    And roundly, drill and rote work is despised. It does have its place. Part of the issue is the age-based segregation done in schools. Ability is what matters, yet schools seem to think that mixing a 5 year old and an 8 year old is damaging to self-esteem.

  2. Meant to expand on the last sentence:

    Self-esteem and social skills with peers become an important marker of where you are allowed to progress. When in life are we ever, ever segregated by peer group or work only with others our own age? I've seldom been in a work place where all of my co-workers were of my own age. Think of the way independent thinking, mentoring and interacting skills, and creativity in problem solving could be augmented by allowing students to mix across the traditional grade spectrum. At minimum, they would find out that they have as much to learn from one another as from a teacher.

  3. @MadBiker- I'm in the middle of reading a book on the failures of performance testing (review to come), and one thing that's striking is how there has been great emphasis placed on test-taking strategies, particularly in recent years. Kids aren't even being taught basic stuff anymore, they're being taught how to score well on arbitrary metrics.

    I agree that rote learning is necessary, but from my direct observation the school system gets everything backwards. In the primary years students are taught social compliance and a very inane version of creativity (both my parents are school teachers, and they often complain about how young students are expected to be creative without having any knowledge of anything). Come high school, social compliance is still the primary standard, except focus shifts to rote learning that leads to identical outcomes. This, then, is how creativity is destroyed: they never build the knowledge base for creativity when students are young, and when they are old enough to start being creative they effectively try to stamp it out.

  4. You've got it exactly right. I was a public high school teacher. The up-ending of the pyramid from rote-to-creativity to creativity-to-rote is the main frustration that kids, parents, and teachers are feeling, but they have no will to say it or change it.

    Prior to teaching I had a corporate career, and a career with the world's premier educational testing firms. Tests are BS, and it cannot be said enough. Teaching strategies to pass arbitrary metrics, as you correctly point out, is a failing strategy. Yet states need a metric to say "we're doing well with our kids." So the tests remain.

    It might sound crazy, but the decline of the production and ag sectors of our economy are one of the drivers of poor performance. When we could gainfully employ persons with lower education levels, it wasn't so bad that we didn't graduate every secondary student. Enough reading, writing, and figuring to operate machinery got one by, but not so now. Only now, instead of having uneducated or undereducated (on paper) people working in factories, they are now running the streets turning to crime or under the table work or just sucking of the welfare state to live.

    I sometimes wonder if isolationism is such a bad thing. I understand the rudiments of trade and its benefits, but if we were to truly turn inwards, close our borders and nurture our own people and spirit, could it be so bad? And that is a serious question from me; forgive my lack of deep knowledge about such things. I'm still growing my body of economic and political knowledge, but some things seem like they should be as simple as tending a cold: rest, chicken soup, more rest, and care from loved ones.

  5. "I sometimes wonder if isolationism is such a bad thing. I understand the rudiments of trade and its benefits, but if we were to truly turn inwards, close our borders and nurture our own people and spirit, could it be so bad?"

    The more relevant question is: Would it be possible? I've written about this subject extensively on the blog, and the bottom line is that isolation will only work to a limited extent. It will improve the jobs situation, but ultimately the federal government has to stop outlawing competition and productivity. The current free trade situation simply masks the problems created by current federal domestic economic policy.