13 July, 2010

Newsweek Cover Story Says It All

Sometimes I cannot believe how good the timing is when particular magazines come out with information relevant to the projects in my life. English Journal has done this a fair number of times and today I could not believe my "luck" when the cover story for Newsweek this week is "Creativity in America"! The article is all about the declining level of creativity in American students. Unlike IQ, which continually rises by about ten points per generation in accordance with the Flynn Effect (we, as a culture, continue to get smarter), CQ (Creativity Quotient) is showing the opposite trend; we are getting less creative by each generation.

This, honestly, does not come as a surprise to me and might not come as a surprise to the majority of teachers I talk to on a regular basis. Rather than bemoaning this fact, however, I think it is pretty clear that the type of inquiry teaching and learning my team is working to coherently and consistently implement can easily address this issue.

The article states, "The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful," but I would like to take that a few steps further. In my Psychology of Thinking course that I took this past semester, I learned about the different levels of creativity; meaning, there are different stages of creative reasoning and we thinkers engage in the stage appropriate to the task at hand. For example, sometimes the purpose of a project is to recreate an already produced product to reaffirm its truth (i.e, that's what research tends to do -- people try to replicate studies to prove their reliability). That can't be the one and only stage of creativity, though. Once a person has affirmed the truth of an established product, s/he can take further steps to perhaps change the direction of thinking involved, or s/he can return a group to an original state in order to redirect them. S/he can take the product where it's never gone before, whether teammates are ready to move in that direction or perhaps are not ready to move in that direction. Those two situations are actually different stages of creativity.

I think this is something that we can articulate in the classroom and can be evident in most everything we require students to do. This even works for content; the article mentions a certain project some middle school students did that involved solving a problem in the school (makes me feel good that I did something like this last year with one of my classes). The first stage of solving the problem was "fact finding." Students had to learn about particular scientific principles in order to inform their decisions. Without detailing the entire procedure, the article does make a point to say that, "Along the way, kids demonstrated the very definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas. And they'd unwittingly mastered Ohio's required fifth-grade curriculum - from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing."

There does not need to be a "creativity class." It is something that can be so integral to anything that any teacher wants to do. It just won't happen if classes are still 100% focused on content attainment as its own end.

Part of this article also made me smile a little because it pointed out how creativity tends to sprout in children who have parents with very different field specialties. (My mother is an artist and my father is an engineer. How more polar opposite can you get?) To quote, "...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." It's so true. I could practically walk in between two different worlds at times if I wanted to -- depending upon the mood I was in, I could seek out a particular parent to fit that mood and what I wanted to be doing.

I like how the article points out, also, that creativity is not something limited to the arts. My dad, the engineer, is by far as creative as my mother, the artist; it just shows up differently. Both of them create in their field; both of them copy what is already there and then work to tweak it to become their own. Both find solutions to problems in their field. And that is what seems to be at the heart of creativity: finding a novel situation that can grow out of an already established one, which is actually quite in line with the definition offered by the article in the first place.


"And They're Off"

Here it is: the first entry on the new blog dedicated to all things progressive in education. Our team's first assignment is to establish blogs (done!) and to read Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. As someone who has never read this book (or seen the movie) I am thrilled to experience it for the first time with this team of teachers devoted to interdisciplinary education.