Teaching Creativity in America's Schools
It’s been more than eight years since former President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) into law. Designed to help students improve their reading and math skills, NCLB requires states to set high standards and establish measurable goals for their students.
Indeed, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ (NAEP) 2009 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) Report Cards, students have improved in reading and math since 2003, but not significantly. The TUDA tests samples of students in fourth and eighth grade in 18 different urban district public schools. The 2009 assessment found that both reading and math scores for 4th graders were unchanged. Scores for 8th graders improved only slightly.
Yet in 2008, American 15 year olds still ranked 25th in math out of 30 industrialized countries, according to Strong American Schools. What’s more is that the United States’ competitiveness continues to erode as well. And there is direct connection between the education of a nation’s people and its economic success and competitiveness.
And NCLB has certainly seen its share of criticism. For instance, according to Wikipedia.org, “the focus on standardized testing (all students in a state take the same test under the same conditions) as the means of assessment encourages teachers to teach a narrow subset of skills that will increase test performance rather than focus on deeper understanding that can readily be transferred to similar problems.”
This focus is one of the reasons writers Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman say America is facing a creativity crisis.
In a must-read article in last week’s Newsweek, Bronson and Merryman say that despite 1,500 CEOs identifying creativity as “the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future” in a recent IBM poll, creativity is decreasing among Americans.
In fact, there’s a “gold standard” in creativity assessments (CQ) that indicates that people who are more creative as children grow up to be more successful than those who are less creative. This “gold standard” is a series of creativity tasks called the “Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking” designed by professor E. Paul Torrance in the 1950s and ’60s.
“The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.”
This sounds great, except that while IQ scores have consistently gone up generation after generation, CQ scores stopped rising in 1990 and have since then “inched downward.”
Bronson and Merryman said it perfectly: “The potential consequences are sweeping. The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. … Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.”
The lack of creativity in schools, teachers say, stems from pressure to meet curriculum standards.
But, “researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into the homeroom. The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false tradeoff. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process.”
Creativity isn’t just about art projects, it’s about the thinking process students take to solve problems in all fields. Bronson and Merryman said that students need problems that require them to first fact-find, then move to problem-finding, idea-finding and then solution-finding. This way, they’re using divergent and convergent thinking to arrive at original solutions.
The good news is that “creativity is one quality which every man is blessed with,” as entreprenuer Katherine Droguett said in her recent blog post. And people who don’t recognize that quality in themselves can learn techniques for uncovering and leveraging their creative potential.
But schools are essential in helping students learn these techniques. And right now they’re falling short.
What can be done to make our schools better able to foster creativity in the students?
Stephanie Susman is a senior account executive and certified innovation facilitator in the Innovation practice group at Fleishman-Hillard. Stephanie leads the practice group’s marketing efforts through various media including their blog, What Are We Thinking?, and two Twitter feeds: @FHInnovation and @ssusman.
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