Keep Creativity Alive in Children

I just stumbled on a fascinating essay about creativity in schools. It could have been written yesterday! Read to the end to find out who the famous author is, and what year it was written:

How can we keep creativity alive in children?

Creative children are likely to be unusual children. They get bored with the idea of Jack’s always going up the hill with Jill. They do not accept things as they are; they do not easily settle down to their lessons as they are given to them.

The good teacher may be genuinely searching for creativity in her pupils. But she is continually defeated in her efforts by the demands of her supervisor, the politics of the local school system, the lack of space, the lack of materials, the lack of assistance, the size of the class. Given these obstacles, she is unprepared to cope with the child who uses his creativity to defeat her. The child who constructs questions that will arouse the boys to raucous laughter, whose raised hand she must therefore distrust; the child who invents secret clubs and ciphers and signals and ceremonies that turn the classroom into something strange and unpredictable.

We fail to see obstructiveness as an aspect of creativity. The teacher cannot risk disrupting the precarious balance of her overcrowded classroom. The best teacher has little time or energy for any kind of creativity, and none for the disruptive sort. But we can remedy these things quite easily and inexpensively. We can build enough schools. We can hire clerks and janitors and guards to take much of the burdensome load off the teacher’s back. We can pay our teachers well enough to keep as teachers all those who really want to teach.

We want people who are original, creative, spontaneous, innovative. But we want them to be produced by teachers whom we condemn in a hundred ways to be overworked and uninspired, unrespected and underpaid. We would like the children of America to be creative, to learn about creativity, while we make the best change they have to learn, to respond to teaching, as uncreative as possible. There is only one sure way to develop creativity in all the different kinds of children in schools. We must cherish the creativity of all those who have elected to become teachers because they want to teach.

If we are to give more than lip service to creativity in children, we must actively support the creativity of the teacher. We must come to recognize fully the creativity of good teaching.

Year: 1962

Author: Anthropologist Margaret Mead, author of the famous book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)

This article was published as “Where education fits in” in Think magazine, Nov-Dec 1962, pp. 16-21.

Educating for Creative Minds

I just returned from San Francisco, where I gave a keynote at the “Learning & the Brain” conference. In my talk, “Creative Teaching for the 21st Century,” I described the learning outcomes students need to become creative, and I identified the central features of learning environments that foster creative learning. The very receptive audience included over 1,500 dedicated educators–teachers, school leaders, education entrepreneurs.

I really enjoyed spending time with my creativity research colleagues. I chatted with other creativity experts on the program, including:

  • Ronald Beghetto, professor at University of Oregon and co-editor of Nurturing Creativity in the Classroom
  • Shelley Carson, author of Your Creative Brain
  • Charles Fadel, author of 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times
  • James Kaufman, professor at Cal State San Bernardino, and author of Creativity 101
  • Tina Seelig, Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and author of inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity

There were several other colleagues in San Francisco that I wanted to meet, but I just couldn’t find them among the 1,500 people: Nancy Andreasen, Mark Beeman, John Seely Brown, Scott Barry Kaufman, John Kounios, Dean Keith Simonton, and many others. The conference organizers did a great job of bringing together the top people working on creativity and learning.

Thank you to all of the educators who came up to me after my talk, to tell me about their own efforts to redesign schools to foster greater creativity. You are pointing the way toward the future!

American Innovation: In Decline?

If you’ve been in a newstand this month, you’ve probably seen the cover of Newsweek magazine shouting out its cover theme: “The Decline of American Innovation.” It turns out that the article is actually about how Americans are worried about potential decline, not about any actual documented decline. And Americans are worried, according to the polls cited in this article: 61% of Americans think the recession has lowered the country’s ability to innovate. Only 41% think that American is staying ahead of China when it comes to innovation. Only 55% of Americans think America is staying ahead of India, only 32% think we’re staying ahead of Japan.

But what’s fascinating about the survey is that Newsweek also interviewed people in China about our two country’s relative innovation potential. And the Americans were consistently more negative about American innovation than the Chinese were. Take a look at these differences:

Is the U.S. staying ahead of China on innovation?

U.S. percentage yes: 41%
Chinese percentage yes: 81%

Is the U.S. staying ahead of India?

U.S. percentage yes: 55%
Chinese percentage yes: 87%

This Fall, I’m a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge. From Europe, the U.S. looks like an innovation powerhouse and it seems to be unstoppable. I just read a magazine here where designers and thought leaders were asked “What should we nickname the decade of the ’00s?” and over half of them referred to the iPhone or to Apple. Perhaps there’s something about the American mindset that leads us to think we’re less successful than we seem to others?

I’m spending my time at Cambridge in the Faculty of Education, studying creative teaching and learning, so I was also interested to see that the questionnaire asked why Americans are falling behind in innovation. 42% said the main reason was “Our schools are lagging in math and science education.” So how do the interview respondents think schools should change to give students creative skills?

Again, the Americans and Chinese gave radically different answers:

Increase math and computer science skills :

U.S. respondents: 52%
Chinese respondents: 9%

Teach students creative approaches to problem solving :

U.S. respondents: 18%
Chinese respondents: 45%

These last two are the most intriguing findings of the entire survey. Do Americans really think that knowing more math will make children more creative? I think the Chinese are ahead of us on this one.