Drop in creativity documented

Read between the lines of Newsweek’s report The Creativity Crisis, and you are likely to pick up the idea that America’s declining educational effectiveness stems, at least in part, from misguided federally-imposed standards.

The average person thinks “art” in its various forms when you say “creativity,” but as this article points out, creativity is much, much broader than that and fostered by disparate activities. Creativity involves bringing together divergent and convergent thinking–generating possibilities, then combining those possibilities and evaluating them for usefulness.

The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

I’m impressed that the scholarship that has tracked a group of “Torrance kids” who were tested and then followed for 50 years to see how well the tests predicted creativity recorded more than the stereotypical accomplishments, recognizing the creativity required in a variety of life activities.

[S]cholars—first led by Torrance, now his colleague, Garnet Millar—have been tracking the children, recording every patent earned, every business founded, every research paper published, and every grant awarded. They tallied the books, dances, radio shows, art exhibitions, software programs, advertising campaigns, hardware innovations, music compositions, public policies (written or implemented), leadership positions, invited lectures, and buildings designed.

Only recently in looking at shifting patterns have those scholars been able to pinpoint 1990 as a year in which, for the first time, creativity scores among young people began to drop. Whatever the cause (and several possible are posited in the article) I find this paragraph to be one of the saddest observations of the situation:

Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions. [Emphasis mine: DK]

It’s not just the asking of questions but also the encouragement to ask them and then to seek the answers that seems to foster creativity. In many ways, colleges are now tasked with countering this trend toward decreasing creativity at the very time political and societal forces are pressuring them (us) to standardize curricula and move students through as quickly as possible into jobs. People need jobs, but I fear that we are completely misunderstanding the preparation required in order to be able to do them.

Creativity is hard to measure, and if we are to serve the needs of our nation and our world, colleges must resist the temptation and the pressure to engage in that which is easy to measure, simply because it is easy to measure.

Share this, please!

Author: Donn King

Donn King works with individuals and organizations who want to forge top-notch communication skills to increase their influence and impact. He is associate professor of speech and journalism at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.