Creativity crisis in modern society
Some years ago a researcher gave a variety of tests of creativity to a number of children.
A sample of the tests of creativity are: list the objects that have a circle as the main element in their basic design; list all the uses you can think of for junk automobiles; think of as many fluids that burn, as you can; and list as many impossibilities as you can think of in 5 minutes.
The researchers followed those children who came up with more creative as well as useful ideas and found as adults they became entrepreneurs, inventors, authors, physicians, diplomats and computer software developers.
All well and good, but new worries have developed: from kindergarten to the sixth grade, creativity scores among our children are falling and in the sixth grade the decreases in creativity scores is most concerning.
And all of this is occurring when the IQ scores of our children have been rising for generations.
In the early 1980s, James Flynn studied IQ variations in 20 countries and reported that IQ scores rose from six to 10 points every generation.
He has recently said that such increases in IQs have leveled off, but while intelligence scores were rising, creativity scores were falling.
Teachers, developmental psychologists and parents are concerned. And in a recent IBM poll of 2,500 CEOs, these business experts identified “creativity” as the number one “leadership competency” of the future.
Why are creativity scores falling? People typically blame video games obsessions and sitting in front of a TV set for hours. For example, research data out of the University of Texas suggests that for every hour a child watches television, the child’s overall time in more creative activities drops as much as 11 per cent.
Most of the concern, however, focuses on the public school system which is “not fostering creativity in our children.” Experts argue that there is no concerted effort to nurture the creative process in school children who are smothered in “drill-and-kill” pedagogical procedures.
The creative process, first of all, involves what is known as a divergent intellectual style — generating as many unique ideas as possible. This is followed by a convergent intellectual style — combing those different ideas into the most functional or useful result. Creative ideas must not only be unusual, but they must also be useful.
Developmental psychologists tell us that young children ask about 100 questions per day. Some parents, suffering from “question fatigue” wish the questioning would stop, and tragically, this questioning, curious attitude does stop.
Somewhere around the sixth/seventh grade, children stop asking questions. At this time too, student academic engagement and motivation decline as well. Experts say that children do not stop asking questions because they are no longer interested, rather they lose interest because they have stopped asking questions.
While this is worrying enough, there is now evidence that a creative imagination may also reduce risk factors in the emotional lives of our children.
Mark Runco, professor of creative studies at the University of Georgia, asked university students to: “Think of all the things that could interfere with graduating from university.” Then Runco asked them to pick one of these obstacles and come up with as many solutions for that problem as possible.
What Runco found was that some of the students were able to list the things that might go wrong to prevent them from graduating from university, but they were incapable of coming up with creative solutions to the problem.
Professor Runco concluded that those students who were unable to generate alternative approaches to the problem were those most likely to become depressed and develop suicidal ideation. Surely such an atrophy of the creative imagination has important implications for our educational systems as well as family life.
As a teacher, I share some of the guilt.
I give my students multiple choice exams — surely the ultimate method tapping merely a convergent intellectual style — searching for that one correct answer.
Some of my more creative students will suggest, sometime vehemently, that there exist many more correct answers than the four limited choices I provide.
It is surely possible that our educational system can encourage creativity, using a variety of approaches to the subject matter, for example an inquiry based approach. But most of all we must encourage a student’s full engagement and encourage cognitive flexibility.
This means that we as teachers must cultivate our own openness as well as that of our students. We must cultivate an openness to the world’s variety all around us, full of ambiguity and irony and though it may sound heretical, perhaps that single correct response to deep questions may not even exist.