Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Creativity Crisis

An interesting article The Creativity Crisis appeared in Newsweek on the week of July 10, 2010.  I became aware of it through a podcast and have ordered the book.

I think everyone with children should consider what this article is stating.

I was never in question about homeschooling my children.  I have been supportive of the idea since before my children were born, but this article re-affirms my beliefs:

I will give you a quick overview: Professor E. Paul Torrance designed a test to measure children's creativity in the late 1950's.  Children who scored well on this test grew up to be entrepreneurs and business leaders.  This test was more of an indicator of a child's success than an IQ test.  However, if the child's creativity was not encouraged, that child may end up dropping out of school.  Ironically, children from hardship backgrounds did better overall, probably because they needed to be flexible and learned flexibility.

There are some programs, in some schools that keep this in mind and students report a higher sense of satisfaction with school.  Schools in other countries honor this.  But the scores are dropping in the United States.

" 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.” reports Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman in the Newsweek article "The Creativity Crisis" from July 10, 2010.

We know that the number one leadership trait Fortune 500 CEO's look for is creativity.  We know that in order to solve the devastating oil spill we will need to be creative.  We know that in order to win the war on terror, we need to be extremely creative.  If our children's creativity scores are dropping, how will we ever meet these demands?

"It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children," Bronson and Merryman report.

Here is a telling statement from the article: " 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.’ ”

What we can strive to do as homeschool parents: "Having studied the childhoods of highly creative people for decades, Claremont Graduate University’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and University of Northern Iowa’s Gary G. Gute found highly creative adults tended to grow up in families embodying opposites. Parents encouraged uniqueness, yet provided stability. They were highly responsive to kids’ needs, yet challenged kids to develop skills. This resulted in a sort of adaptability: in times of anxiousness, clear rules could reduce chaos—yet when kids were bored, they could seek change, too. In the space between anxiety and boredom was where creativity flourished."

Another interesting point from the article: "From fourth grade on, creativity no longer occurs in a vacuum; researching and studying become an integral part of coming up with useful solutions. But this transition isn’t easy. As school stuffs more complex information into their heads, kids get overloaded, and creativity suffers. When creative children have a supportive teacher—someone tolerant of unconventional answers, occasional disruptions, or detours of curiosity—they tend to excel. When they don’t, they tend to underperform and drop out of high school or don’t finish college at high rates.

They’re quitting because they’re discouraged and bored, not because they’re dark, depressed, anxious, or neurotic. It’s a myth that creative people have these traits. (Those traits actually shut down creativity; they make people less open to experience and less interested in novelty.) Rather, creative people, for the most part, exhibit active moods and positive affect. They’re not particularly happy—contentment is a kind of complacency creative people rarely have. But they’re engaged, motivated, and open to the world."

I HIGHLY recommend reading the entire article on your own if you get the opportunity.

This summer my wife is preparing to homeschool by de-schooling.  We have not really asked our girls to read, nor have we asked them math facts.  Ironically, we catch our girls reading on the porch, in bed and on the couch at all hours.  Our oldest daughter has developed an interest in buildings and created a book for herself about different architectural styles, where the tallest buildings are located.  A few weeks ago, she was constantly telling me about how architects and builders adjust their plans and materials according to the natural phenomenon of an area: buildings built near water would be built different than building built in an area that gets earthquakes.  

After watching "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" the other evening, she is now researching Greek mythology, printing out information and creating a book on the topic.

During the school year she is so bogged down with all that she "has to learn" that she doesn't have time for these things that interest her.  My fear is that over time, she would stop being interested in anything.