Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back to Creativity- A Response

I find myself in a discussion on creativity with Kurt Knecht and Bob Woody. I come at creativity from the psychological research side and my experience conducting research on the integration of arts into the elementary curriculum for a decade. I did not measure creativity, in fact I resisted some of the pressures. I find that most measures of creativity are artificially focused on a small subset of tasks without extensive validity to back them up. I am not opposed though to the social science  endeavor studying the phenomena as Kurt has said. I come at it from the educational side and my understanding of how our political and educational leadership systems work.
It is widely perceived that America's advantage in the world is it's creativity. We once manufactured, engineered, were well funded and had a technology edge. As a society we feel that America has lost its edge and we are worried looking for our advantage over China and other threats. Our political system needs to manufacture a solution that will get them elected. The way things go the next logical step is to say: well if our advantage is creativity then how do we promote it from kindergarten and how do we really know children are creative? At this point the big testing companies will offer a test of creativity- a standardized one and we will create a generation of students "uniformly creative" then discover it didn't work and blame teachers and unions. My reluctance is really fear of a series of intended consequences that leads to less time for music and art in school because we have to teach creativity.
Finally a note about the nature of creativity. I believe that creativity is rooted in a deep understanding of a domain as a precursor. Lehrer describes the study of mopping to find a new solution. The key part of the story for me was that Continuum designers studied mopping for 6 months then learned from an expert who was years at the task, that is I believe he described the evidence that creative innovation is actually linked to doing! The second aspect the Lehrer highlights and I actually agree with is having the space to try, fail and retry. It is where schools have the hardest time creating the time and space to experiment. We have packed the curriculum with so much "stuff" so many standards and tests that teachers are hard pressed to find time for their students to experiment and wonder per Kurt Knecht or play per Margaret Latta. Without this space to be wrong creativity is a risk not worth taking.
This space for risk with the notions of Flow and Studio habits of mind are the best linkages to elementary education (my domain).
So in summary I do not think we should shy away from studying creativity, only that we should be very careful as both Kurt and Bob emphasized shy away from over generalizing. My suggestion is always to go back to the original studies and avoid the urge to read journalistic versions.
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