Encouraging Creativity in the Face of Administrative Convenience: How Our Schools Discourage Divergent Thinking
Geist, Eugene, Hohn, Jennifer, Education
"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music."--Albert Einstein
Educators of young children are realizing the importance of creativity, imagination, and divergent thinking in the classroom (Epstein, 2008). While many systems of schooling around the world have claim to strive for these traits, historically children that exhibited creative predilections did not always make the best students. Historical figures of genius such as Albert Einstein (who said that "education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school"), Erik Erikson (who was rejected by both Jewish and gentile due to his mixed heritage) and
Thomas Edison (told by a schoolmaster he had a "disarranged mind") all were written off as school failures because of their inability to conform to the requirements of "schooling". The question that we as a society need to ask is do we want to emphasize conformity and homogeneity at the expense of creativity? Luckily for the world, these unique individuals retained their creativity despite the requirements for conformity from their schools, and went on to make a significant impact on our world. Unfortunately, most children are more likely to learn to conform to what is expected rather than fight to retain their creativity and be a school "outsider".
As a parent of a gifted elementary school child, I am personally aware of the struggles to keep the flame of creativity burning in my child. The teachers in his school are competent and caring professionals who, for the most part, have his best interests in mind (Brown, 2008). However, he does often struggle in school. Not with the academic content, which he seems to acquire with or without a teachers help of intervention, but with the requirements of "schooling" and the pressure to conform to a one-size-fits-all learning model. The things that he struggles with do not have to do with learning to read, learning mathematics, or understanding science, but rather with following rules without asking "why?", focusing on repetitious tasks without having his mind wander, and completing the masses of worksheets and assessments that are a constant part of his day. These requirements, which are often mandated by local school boards all the way up to the federal government, discourage him and also his classroom teachers from growing as a creative learner.
For example, once when doing his 3rd grade homework, I noticed him looking at the ceiling for a long period of time. When I asked him why he was "off task" he said he was thinking about what the world would be like if time moved backwards. This lead to a long discussion of how the world would be different. For example, he told me that cars would drive around backwards, which I expected. Then he went on to explain how cars would be environmentally friendly because they would suck the carbon out of the air and make gasoline, which we would get paid for having sucked out of our tanks at the gas station. This level of creativity I didn't expect. We went on for the next week dis cussing how other things would be different. His third grade mind especially enjoyed discussing how our eating habits would be different (along with other bodily functions). This is exactly the type of thinking that is being discouraged in his classroom in favor of "on task" behavior. This is not to say that attention to a task is worthless, just that not all "off task" behaviors are what they may seem to a teacher.
Some of the best tools for promoting the creative process are being deleting elementary schools to make way for more focus on math and reading as a result of No Child Left Behind (Hendrie, 2005; United, Congress, House, & Committee on Science and, Technology, 2002). Time restrictions, academic priorities, educational mandates from local school boards all the way up to federal departments, the overwhelming requirements of testing and assessment, and lack of funding has meant that these activities are slowly disappearing from our schools (Persellin, 2007; Viadero, 2008). …