The Frontal Cortex

Classroom Creativity

Everybody wants a creative child – in theory. The reality of creativity, however, is a little more complicated, as creative thoughts tend to emerge when we’re distracted, daydreaming, disinhibited and not following the rules. In other words, the most imaginative kids are often the trouble-makers.

Eric Barker recently referred me to this interesting study, which looked at how elementary school teachers perceived creativity in their students. While the teachers said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they actually didn’t. In fact, when they were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures – the list included everything from “individualistic” to “risk-seeking” to “accepting of authority” – the traits mostly closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their “least favorite” students. As the researchers note, “Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity.”

This shouldn’t be too surprising: Would you really want a little Picasso in your class? How about a baby Gertrude Stein? Or a teenage Eminem? The point is that the classroom isn’t designed for impulsive expression – that’s called talking out of turn. Instead, it’s all about obeying group dynamics and exerting focused attention. Those are important life skills, of course, but decades of psychological research suggest that such skills have little to do with creativity.

Look, for instance, at daydreaming. It’s hard to imagine a cognitive process that’s less suitable for the classroom, which is why I was always castigated for staring out the window instead of looking at the blackboard. In a culture obsessed with efficiency, daydreaming is derided as a lazy habit or a lack of discipline, the kind of thinking we rely on when we don’t really want to think. It’s a sign of procrastination, not productivity.

In recent years, however, it’s become clear that daydreaming is actually an important element of the creative process, allowing the brain to remix ideas, explore counterfactuals and turn the spotlight of attention inwards. (That’s why increased daydreaming correlates with measures of creativity.) Virginia Woolf, in her novel To The Lighthouse, eloquently describes this mental process as it unfolds inside the mind of a character named Lily:

“Certainly she was losing consciousness of the outer things. And as she lost consciousness of outer things, her mind kept throwing things up from its depths, scenes and names, sayings, memories and ideas, life a fountain spurting over that glaring, hideously difficult white space.”

A daydream is that “fountain spurting,” as the brain mixes together ideas, memories and concepts that are normally filed away in discrete mental folders. The end result is a kind of subterranean creativity, as the mind makes new connections on its own.

Of course, daydreaming is less helpful when we’re supposed to be learning our multiplication tables, or studying for a standardized test. In such instances, the lack of focused attention is a classroom failure, and not a potentially useful state of mind. The danger, however, is that we’re teaching our kids a very narrow and stultifying model of cognition, in which conscientiousness is privileged above all.

The solution, I suppose, is rather banal: we really do need arts education in our schools, if only to give kids a break from this one-size-fits-all model of thinking. Because sometimes we need to daydream. And sometimes we just need to let it all out, even if we haven’t raised our hand.

Comments

  1. #1 Matt
    April 12, 2010

    We could also teach Math as art.
    http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf
    Perhaps not entirely realistic in its ideas, but we should be allowed to daydream, shouldn’t we?

  2. #2 donna
    April 12, 2010

    Math is art — and music, and architecture, and… so many things…

    I raised two very creative kids, very smart — but their grades certainly didn’t always show it. ;^)

    I still remember my son’s first grade teacher calling me up — “Jonathan is such a delightful child and has so many great ideas — how do you shut him up?”

  3. #3 abb3w
    April 12, 2010

    Jonah Lehrer: Everybody wants a creative child – in theory.

    I’m not sure of that; you may be projecting.

    One group of questions used in the GSS from 1973-1986 asked people to rate the desirability of traits for children. “Creative” was not one of them; however, it doesn’t seem conceptually far from “Interested in How and Why Things Happen”. (INTEREST; others variables in the group are MANNERS, SUCCESS, HONEST, CLEAN, JUDGMENT, CONTROL, ROLE, AMICABLE, OBEYS, RESPONSI, CONSIDER, and STUDIOUS. A variant group of questions was used for some of the later years, and is coded with similar names; look ‘em up if you care.)

    Comparing to political orientation POLVIEWS, there is a significant correlation: liberals want inquisitive kids, conservatives don’t. I suspect “creative” might have a related correlation: liberals want creative, conservatives prefer conventionality.

    The dislike of the traits marking creative students may reflect some conservative attitudes in the otherwise “liberal education establishment”.

  4. #4 Tamara
    April 12, 2010

    It’s not necessarily teachers’ faults. If you have thirty first graders and a list a mile long of standardized criteria that must be accomplished by the end ofthe quarter, much of it developmentally inappropriate, you can’t allow the children to break out of lockstep conformity for a moment.

    Just for an example, in the district where I live and no longer educate my children, in order to be absolutely sure that all children read well above average by the third grade standardized tests, they demand that all children read at that level in second grade, which means that they expect children to have acheived that level by the close of first grade…so that when parents enroll their children in kindergarten they are told that the curriculum expects that all children will be reading at a second grade level by the end of kindergarten. (Yes, it is crazy).

    Anyone wonder why homeschooling is exploding in the non evangelical population?

  5. #5 Farley Gwazda
    April 12, 2010

    As a person who values his creativity I identify with Jonah’s experiences and seem to exceed him in my outrage over how creative youth are treated by the American public education system.

    I am currently a practicing artist, designer and writer who has obtained his Masters of Fine Arts degree. This speaks to my belief that it is possible for art practice to be taught (others may not agree). I gather from past articles that Jonah may agree that it is possible to teach creativity, or at least to create conditions where creative thought is not suppressed. However, I am not sure that the classroom is ideal for these conditions. I am particularly interested in the potential of radical educational alternatives, such as unschooling, to contribute to the rethinking of American creative education (for more on unschooling, consider Astra Taylor’s excellent lecture; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwIyy1Fi-4Q – I’d love to get Jonah’s take on this…).

    What I see lacking in this discussion is a genuine sense of outrage over what the suppression of creativity means; the oppression of our youth’s psyche, the deadening of our national character (with quantifiable economic impacts), and the loss of untold marvelous volumes of work that would serve to enlighten our experience. I am certain that, like Jonah, many creative people have the experience of being punished for expressing themselves creatively by teachers made small-minded by a wrong-headed educational system. My experience is that genuinely destructive behavior such as taunting and physical bullying is tolerated while creative behavior is ruthlessly suppressed. Children intuitively pick up on this and attempt to alter their behavior. The most creative students’ irrepressible spirits often causes them to repeatedly clash with authority, leading to psychic damage. Awful stuff!

    Educators need to blaze an enlightened path for a post-industrial society in order to realize both the intangible evolution of the human spirit and the concrete functioning of a service-oriented economy that requires highly-skilled and flexible workers. This will require a reformation of current educational practices which are designed for an industrial economy/society with its emphasis on social conditioning, testable subjects, and skills for an anticipated workplace. Even the staunchest defenders of the status quo should realize that the (overstated) risk of social revolution associated with a create population is nothing compared to the loss of innovative thinking that will be the result of the no child left behind educational system.

    I’d love to see Jonah further his commitment to understanding creativity by investigating currently realized alternative and experimental education systems, offering real data on methodologies and results, with an emphasis on the cognitive rational behind the functioning of the successful systems.

  6. #6 NDP
    April 12, 2010

    What I’m reading in the comments here, seems to show a common thread with the article:

    Institutionalized learning = cookie-cutter, mass-produced minds = bad. (fixable. . . how? – make learning more “fun”? – understand different types of learning “styles” and customize teaching methods to better fit different types of students?)

    Individualized learning (ie. homeschooling, national educational reform (again), other methods. . . (montessori? etc.)) = more respect for children as individuals = encourages creativity = good. (produces. . . a better society? or – a better outcome for “MY” kids?)

    I’m also hearing – I think, sort of a complaint that we (as a nation/culture/civilization) are in stasis, or that we’re falling behind (with regard to producing creative geniuses), or regressing. (we also commonly hear this complaint leveled at everything from mass-media, to social networking sites, to cell-phone text-messaging, swing-dancing, jazz music, illegal immigration, and marijuana cigarettes). Possibly true? Measurable? Is there data to back this assertion up?

    I wonder if some of this isn’t just a bit of folklore. Or cultural insecurity. Hasn’t institutionalized learning ALWAYS been blamed for depersonalizing kids, and producing bland, conforming, “normal” worker-drones? – it’s practically a cliche.

    (we don’t need no education. we don’t need no thoughts controlled.)

    (I haven’t heard – yet – “oh, horror! the school said my child has ADD, and they want me to drug him because he’s disruptive in class!” – oh, surely!)

    The obvious alternatives are in front of our faces, of course. Homeschooling. Or “smarter” institutionalized learning. Which really boils down to an ad reducto absurdium of either snake oil (“come and get your latest super-cool, designed by French researchers homeschooling curriculum, scientifically engineered to turn your children into supermen and superwomen, give them x-ray vision, metabolize high-frutcose corn syrup without becoming obese, and the ability to drive and talk on cell-phones simultaneously! Just $19.95!”), or – the other choice – improving Institutionalized Learning, an inherently political and money-oriented system, via inherently political and money-oriented methods (our Department of Education, and the political system that drives its policies).

    Those are our two real-choices. Oh, I suppose there are private schools too. Pick your poison. Depending on the degree to which the government intervenes in the private school’s standards and methods.

    In the end – we’ve all got anecdotes of creative geniuses emerging from the best and worst examples of both of these worlds. And, I’m sure we’ve all got anecdotes of the opposite, as well.

    The fact is: the real creative kids, are the ones who come up through the worst circumstances, whether it’s a set of ignorant parents abusively homeschooling him or her, specifically for the purpose of isolating and protecting, or whether it’s a chronically underfunded public school in an urban setting overrun by drugs, gangs, and teachers who are concerned only with their paycheck, or even a very expensive private boarding school where students are subject to corporal punishment, humiliation, and ridicule to enforce every form of group conformity possible, the REAL creative kids are the ones who figure out a way to develop and maintain an individuality, and persevere THROUGH that. Whatever has driven THAT kind of initiative and fortitude – is probably strong enough to survive the banality of ADULT life as well. Which is the real test, isn’t it?

    Has anyone ever set out – on purpose, to “create” a creative genius, and succeeded? (Mozart? Michael Jackson?)

    (I’m not suggesting this as a methodical approach towards engineering creativity as a general trait. Just pointing out an ironic observation.)

  7. #7 William
    April 12, 2010

    Ugh, I know you write for a general audience, but don’t you feel including Eminem in a list with Picasso and Gertrude Stein is rather condescending?

  8. #8 Anodyne
    April 12, 2010

    I was one of those “creative” kids. Because of this, I had TWO teachers (one in 3rd grade, one in 6th) recommend that my parents take me to be evaluated for “ADD”. Apparently my lack of desire to pay attention in class was due to some sort of personal flaw, not that the material was presented in an utterly uninspiring and brain-dead way or that I was bored by the material because I was too smart for the class. It’s great that some kids do fine in that environment, but for the many kids like me, it’s utterly worthless BS. I’ve been trying for about 80 seconds, and I can’t think of one single thing I learned in school that was of any use other than “the three Rs” in elementary school and smatterings of science and health classes throughout the years. This excludes electives like pottery or band.

    In my experience, being creative means I conjure up all kinds of questions when I don’t understand something–or even if I do, but I want to understand more thoroughly. In reality, most teachers don’t like students that ask questions. They’ll answer the first, answer the second, and then label you as a distraction or a troublemaker and suggestively belittle you as though you were an idiot if you ask more. Wanting to learn is what caused me to hate school (academically, that is. I also had plenty of social reasons outside that arena to dislike it.)

    We could also teach Math as art.
    http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf
    Perhaps not entirely realistic in its ideas, but we should be allowed to daydream, shouldn’t we?

    I absolutely, positively agree with the conclusion of this piece.

    I’m an intelligent person, but the thorn in my side has always been math (I don’t even want to know how high my SAT score would have been if I had any idea what I was doing in the math section) Math for me is devoid of all creative thought. I have the same problem with it as I do religion. Teaching some formula and telling a student “that’s how it is because your book says so” without explaining a goddamned thing to me is like asking a biology teacher about why humans are occasionally born with tails and being told “goddidit!”.

    Bah!!!!

    I’d really like to know what society would be like if we actually taught based on what works, not based on the best we can do while still using the same old shitty teaching methods from centuries before.

    It’s true–no one wants a creative student. They want kids that will sit down, shut up, and fit neatly into the tiny little box to which the school board says they must conform. …and they wonder why students quickly become disenfranchised…

    Aaaand I’m starting to ramble. Too much coffee coursing through m’veins! *twitches*

  9. #9 Tom
    April 12, 2010

    If you aren’t already familiar with his work, google Sir Ken Robinson. He has made an entire lecture circuit career on the subject of creativity and the education system as well as creativity in general.

    Jonah, having read your books, you need to get out on the speaking circuit as well. A fantastic melding of multiple worlds and viewpoints.

  10. #10 Anodyne
    April 12, 2010

    The fact is: the real creative kids, are the ones who come up through the worst circumstances, whether it’s a set of ignorant parents abusively homeschooling him or her, specifically for the purpose of isolating and protecting, or whether it’s a chronically underfunded public school in an urban setting overrun by drugs, gangs, and teachers who are concerned only with their paycheck, or even a very expensive private boarding school where students are subject to corporal punishment, humiliation, and ridicule to enforce every form of group conformity possible, the REAL creative kids are the ones who figure out a way to develop and maintain an individuality, and persevere THROUGH that. Whatever has driven THAT kind of initiative and fortitude – is probably strong enough to survive the banality of ADULT life as well. Which is the real test, isn’t it?

    Tell us, oh wise one: what is your definition of REAL creative kids, as opposed to, you know, the ones that are just faking it?

  11. #11 Vesper de Vil
    April 12, 2010

    I definitely agree, and thanks for your very balanced perspective.

  12. #12 sciencegoddess
    April 12, 2010

    Jonah, You might enjoy my most favored book in the world,
    one I ask my children to read, still considered an all time best seller in Japan, called “Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window” by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, a famous TV personality and philanthropist. It is a collection of stories from her childhood at an alternative school since she did not fit in Japan’s stringent public schools in circa WWII Japan. I read this book when I was 17, on a plane flight from modeling in Tokyo towards college in Illinois. Reading how every child deserved the opportunity to learn in the manner that best suits them opened my eyes to a new way of teaching. Nowadays this type of thinking is understood even if it not implemented. Although I started college with the goal of becoming a physician, my natural predilection toward teaching, partly inspired by the book, led me to pursue a PhD so I could instruct at the college level, which is what I chose to do over managing a research lab. It even inspired me to homeschool all four of my children until they were in third grade.

    It is a short and enjoyable read. It is the book that inspired me to do what I do, the way I do it, when it comes to sharing my love of science. :) -Joanne

  13. #13 MattXIV
    April 12, 2010

    The solution, I suppose, is rather banal: we really do need arts education in our schools, if only to give kids a break from this one-size-fits-all model of thinking.

    Given that arts education in most schools is just as cookie cutter and one-size-fits-all as math, that’s hardly an improvement. Band class was here’s your instrument (no, you don’t get to choose), here’s the music, and you’re going to play it over and over again – you get an A if it sounds half decent and a B as long as you show up for class fairly consistently. Art class granted slightly more latitude, but rarely any more than writing an essay in English class.

    The issue is deeper than subject matter – it’s the fact that by design the path to success is to follow the instructions accurately and produce an end result that complies with a set of standards, and that anybody who does should be able to get a good grade. This isn’t a bad thing, even in the arts where good old fashioned “do what I say until you get it right” exercises are the best way to develop good technique, but it doesn’t reward and sometimes punishes creativity.

    The traditional school enviroment is designed to support that style of teaching and thus is inherently indifferent to hostile towards creativity; to make it more supportive of creativity would render it less effective at the style of highly structured teaching it is designed to support. Relying on schools to foster creativity is like insisting on using a screwdriver to hammer nails.

    Also, I hate to say it as someone who considers themself to have been “too creative” for the school environment, but in both the artistic and technical areas I’ve dabbled in most people would benefit more from additional skill than creativity. It’s not that suprising; after all, daydreaming is easy, studying is hard.

  14. #14 Edward Lam
    April 13, 2010

    I think people often argue for ‘creativity’ when what they actually want is perceptivity.

  15. #15 Mary Golden
    April 13, 2010

    I lead a volunteer program called the Cool Girls Science and Art Club, which brings science and art professionals together with elementary-age children to have fun exploring the various fields and making related art together. We work and play with two typical classrooms, one of first-grade and the other of fourth-grade girls and boys, and three after-school groups of girls in grades 1-2 and 3-5. (The same girls who are restrained in the larger coed classes are forthcoming in the smaller, girls-only groups.)

    One challenge is to help adult scientists and artists to remember their own experiences as children and to make space in their presentations for the young scientists-artists to emerge from the oppression they have already internalized and freely contribute their own ideas, sometimes boisterously, goofily and insightfully.

    The girls formed and named the club, they choose the topics each term, and they evaluate delivery. Their criteria include whether presenters follow the 80:20 ratio of kid talk to adult talk and whether the presentations infringe on their recess time on the playground, during which they also draw or make notes in their science notebooks about topics of interest to them.

    To help prevent girls from leaking out of the STEM pipeline as they grow older, I believe we must remember Rousseau’s question: “Is it nothing to be happy? Nothing to skip, play and run around all day long?”

  16. #16 Ovid
    April 13, 2010

    The negative, stifling responses to creativity continue far beyond elementary school classrooms. I’m a college professor whose ‘creative’ approach to teaching developmental English using poetry has been met with all sorts of public and private criticism/obstacles
    from my colleagues, most of whom teach and defend ‘the five-paragraph essay’ as the
    only valid form of expression for college writing. Whether they actually believe this, or whether they haven’t the imagination to see other writing forms as valid isn’t clear.The students–many of whom do not believe they can write, think, or do much of anything–
    actually thrive through writing poetry!! They can learn grammar this way, as well as organizational, development, and rhetorical strategies–all of which are central to traditional essay-writing. And they have fun!!! Believe it or not….
    While I have had great success with this creative approach, ‘success’ is not measured by
    creativity or its accompanying feelings of self-esteem and joy which students
    frequently experience through creative self-expression via poetry. The only ‘creativity’ I’ve seen from these colleagues is how far they’ll go and by what means to thwart my efforts / pressure me to use only THE traditional teaching methods/syllabi.

  17. #17 Riley
    April 13, 2010

    I would like to know more about the alternatives to putting to kids on medicine for ADD. My niece is highly creative, she gets all A’s. She is 8. However, they decided last year that her absent mindedness and inability to focus was too much. If it was not addressed, her life skills would suffer long term. Therefore she was put on medicine for ADD. What bothers me more is the ADD label. My sister has been very transparent about the issue and the chosen solution, which is great, however she is somewhat proud of her “condition.” It’s something they joke about and label her with and I wonder what will be the consequences of this over time. I also worry that the Christian school she is in is just not the right fit for her. Perhaps a Montessori school would be better suited for her. Is the format the problem and not the child? Or is there some degree of discipline that is just necessary. Schools were much more disciplined in the past and creative people survived them. I’m just not clear on what the answer is.

  18. #18 Leslie Martin
    April 13, 2010

    As a high school teacher and a creative individual I just have to point something out: not all creative students have problems paying attention and not all students who have problems paying attention are creative. And can we please stop acting like public education is completely deplorable. Yes, there are some bad schools and some bad teachers. But there are also some really fine ones out there too. I am tired of listening to people categorically condem our schools when as far as I’m aware none of them have ever sat in my classroom.

  19. #19 Jennifer
    April 13, 2010

    I actually really, really relate to this – I’ve been in school forever and have never been liked by my teachers, something that I can afford because of a strong GPA (grades are to class what money is to the real world – in class you “walk the walk” when your grades come out)…

    I come from a very creative family and need to multitask to focus – in high school I spent class doodling while taking notes, in college I’ve been able to multitask on my laptop.

    More importantly, though, I get excited about making connections and challenging ideas – or else I get bored and disengaged in class – and this deviation from the lesson plan is rarely welcomed by professors. I ended up starting a blog which gave me an outlet for my “alternative” ideas, creative energy, and multi-tasking in class…. I’m just bummed it didn’t come until now. My grades have never been better :)

  20. #20 Gina Pera
    April 13, 2010

    Very interesting post, as usual!

    I’m not an expert in creativity, but I’m not sure the qualities inherent to creativity can be codified or agreed upon. So, I’d be interested to know how this study’s researchers came up with “creative” qualities. It seems a bit facile to assume that rebelliousness, risk-seeking, and the like equals creativity.

    By these researcher’s standards, kids with ADHD would probably be considered creative. Yet, the limited research in this area shows that kids with ADHD are no more creative than kids in the control group. And, anecdotal evidence is that these kids (and adults) might actually be less creative in the sense that they don’t follow through on creating a finished product. This can be an endless source of dispiriting frustration for them– a vexation to “creativity” if there ever was one.

    One problem with these romantic notions about creativity vis a vis ADHD is that they create more misinformation about medications, that they will “stifle creativity.” In fact, when competently prescribed and accompanied by healthy lifestyle habits, they can often help a person to select the best from among a flood of ideas and follow them through to fruition.

    Here is one study on creativity and ADHD:
    1: J Atten Disord. 2005 Feb;8(3):88-95.
    An exploration into the creative abilities of children with ADHD.
    Healey D, Rucklidge JJ.
    Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

    The purpose of this study is to explore whether ADHD is associated with high creative ability. Sixty-seven children, ages 10 to 12 (33 ADHD and 34 controls) completed the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), Maier’s Two-String Problem, and the Block Design and Vocabulary subsets of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-III). The results show that there is no significant difference between the ADHD group’s and control group’s performance on either the TTCT, Maier’s Two-String Problem, or WISC-III, suggesting that children diagnosed with ADHD are no more creative than children without the diagnosis.

    Gina Pera, author
    Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?
    http//www.ADHDRollerCoaster.org

  21. #21 Yoon Jae
    April 13, 2010

    “I was one of those “creative” kids. Because of this, I had TWO teachers (one in 3rd grade, one in 6th) recommend that my parents take me to be evaluated for “ADD”. Apparently my lack of desire to pay attention in class was due to some sort of personal flaw, not that the material was presented in an utterly uninspiring and brain-dead way or that I was bored by the material because I was too smart for the class.” – Anodyne

    I too was suggested that I be evaluated for ADD. Apparently I passed (or failed) the test leading to my thrice daily intake of ritalin (I think, this was when I was a child after all…) for grades 3-5. I was also placed in special (3-5 student) advanced classes. After the fifth grade, this “solution” was remedied by my skipping of the 6th grade, in order for me to be with students of my “maturity” and “cognitive ability” level. These solutions seemed to work for me, and I can recall countless lessons that I learned in “that environment” (including and beyond “the three Rs”). To me, pottery and band were the least useful (maybe, useless?) classes of my elementary school career.

    “I’m an intelligent person, but the thorn in my side has always been math (I don’t even want to know how high my SAT score would have been if I had any idea what I was doing in the math section) Math for me is devoid of all creative thought. I have the same problem with it as I do religion. Teaching some formula and telling a student “that’s how it is because your book says so” without explaining a goddamned thing to me is like asking a biology teacher about why humans are occasionally born with tails and being told “goddidit!”.” – Anodyne

    I disagree with both your comment on math and on religion, however since this is an education based response, I’ll end my comments on religion here. Sometimes you need to teach a student a formula and tell them “thats just how it is, for now”. Were you able to understand the proof behind the pythagorean theorem in the 3rd grade (when you undoubtedly were first introduced to this concept)? If you were, more power to you. However, for the rest of us mere mortals (albeit, creative mortals), we had to wait till high school or college to understand why this a^2 + b^2 = c^2. This then leads me to my main point. Math is not JUST “plug and chug”. At the most basic level, it is. However, college level math goes well beyond the realms of the concrete, requiring creativity.

    Assuming that daydreaming is “actually an important element of the creative process”, then people need to daydream. But why is it that we assume that this has to happen during school/class hours? In my experience, school is where I learn in a structured, team-building, manner. Where I learn to work with – and pay attention to – others. Where I learn to overcome my natural drive to let my mind “wander” and instead focus on the task at hand. It is then outside of class where I let my mind “go”.

  22. #22 jb
    April 13, 2010

    As someone who spent a lifetime teaching science in mostly colleges, who trained as a middle school teacher of science, and who raised one child, I have watched the attention span of students and the general public diminish, and problems like ADD arise. Not to mention a loss of the ability to delay gratification as evidenced by the spending habits of the current population. I recently learned at a meditation and money seminar that 70% of us carry an ongoing credit card debt on average of $7400 each month. Yesterday, a friendly financial advisor at a bank shared that her church is now offering a 13 week course on handling money. Money is also the leading cause of divorce.

    Encouraging people to daydream when it is to their advantage to pay attention is not helping this situation. Yes giving your brain some down time to just be, rather than do, is absolutely essential to being creative but so is training to pay attention, as you pointed out in your earlier post on attention and intelligence. Taking verbatum notes in lectures helps to train in selective attention in even the most boring lectures. And the time to just be can happen in meditation, going for a walk, doing mundane chores, knitting, sailing, driving and other activities that require some degree of presence but don’t require lots of thought.

    Now there are some very bright children for whom regular schooling is too slow a process. Director, writer and scientist James Cameron is one of them. Read his biography “The Futurist” or see a version on Wikipedia. When he writes, he goes into a reclusive setting that allows for lots of being rather than doing, and when he directs he is 100% there.

  23. #23 Teodora Stoica
    April 13, 2010

    I believe anything can be taught creatively, even if the subject itself is not creative in nature. Take physics for example… a very concrete, math based subject. If broken down into its pieces and explained in a creative manner – any child would be interested in it.
    In fact, in this month’s issue of Neurology Now, Goldie Hawn has funded a very important program that I believe might be the beginning of a whole new type of education – one taught based on our stress responses and basic neurotransmitter action. I truly believe this is the best way to approach education and even incorporate creativity where none has been allowed before.

    http://journals.lww.com/neurologynow/Fulltext/2010/06020/Golden_Opportunity.17.aspx

  24. #24 John Golden
    April 14, 2010

    Required listening on this: Ken Robinson at TED on how schools kill creativity.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

  25. #25 Cherchezlargent
    April 14, 2010

    Picasso and Eminem? Really?

    Anyone smart enough to yoke the two of these together ought to be smart enough to understand that what separates them matters more.

  26. #26 afox
    April 14, 2010

    In response to the person who claims that “I’d really like to know what society would be like if we actually taught based on what works, not based on the best we can do while still using the same old shitty teaching methods from centuries before”:

    Please talk to any teacher in any school for verification that this notion of “the same old shitty teaching methods from centuries before” is a false construction of your own mind — to update you, teachers are not even using the same methods from three YEARS ago. Educational research is constantly changing, in the face of both technology and student needs, which are also constantly changing. Teachers today would NEVER get away with recycling old lesson plans, methods, etc. — I have only been teaching for three years and I have already reformatted everything every single year. I plan to continue that, as it reflects the requirement for education to grow and change as society does the same.

    As another update, contemporary education DOES focus largely on creativity and INDIVIDUAL student needs; there is NOTHING cookie-cutter about our approaches. We are quite literally not allowed to teach in that manner (nor would we want to — how boring is that for the educator, not to mention the students?). Upon reading most of these comments, I feel that people are unloading long-nursed grudges against teachers who most likely were simply trying to preserve order in their classrooms (no small task with a group of children of ANY age, be they eight or eighteen). In short, my experiences as a teacher have shown me just how student-centered and creativity-based contemporary education is. I would love to be a student at my own school: they are given options, asked for feedback, and nurtured as creative INDIVIDUALS. I know my school is not the only one embracing this model, either — it is quite the norm, not the exception. The challenge, then, is maintaining rigor and academic relevance while allowing room for all of this differentiated learning and choice. It is something I take extremely seriously and struggle with on a daily basis, because my responsibility is not only to entertain and nurture creative minds. I have the far more complex and serious task of also preparing students for postsecondary education, jobs, and LIFE. All of those areas DO have structure and expectations, in addition to room for creativity and individuality. It is a delicate balance indeed.

  27. #27 J
    April 14, 2010

    I’d like to read some reasons why these posters think Picasso and Eminem are NOT comparable.

    William (#7) already tipped his hand with his “I know you write for a general audience” quip. I find that quip WAY more condescending than Jonah’s comparison.

    So let’s hear it: explain, in an objective way, why Pablo is better than Em. (I don’t think you can use money — pretty sure Em has Pablo beat there)

  28. #28 mosaicofminds
    April 14, 2010

    the REAL creative kids are the ones who figure out a way to develop and maintain an individuality, and persevere THROUGH that. Whatever has driven THAT kind of initiative and fortitude – is probably strong enough to survive the banality of ADULT life as well. Which is the real test, isn’t it?

    Just because we can’t manufacture a creative kid doesn’t mean we can’t destroy a child’s creativity or spirit. If “creativity” means “develops a product that everyone acknowledges as culturally valuable,” then you’re right. If you mean a particular type of cognition, which probably involves daydreaming and divergent thinking, the sort Jonah was talking about here, I’d like to see some data on that. I would bet you that for every creative, nonconformist daydreaming child who was lucky enough to have supportive parents who instilled a good sense of self and the courage to stand up for himself, there are at least 10 children with the exact same cognitive characteristics who were not encouraged in their individuality and either became conformists or dropped out of the system completely. I’ve seen a lot of people persevere in their creativity, but develop scars that have hurt them rather than helped them in adult life.

    The Pablo Picasso vs. Eminem thing, IMO, is a red herring that distracts us from the actual educational issues: do we want a creative kid, and are we willing to do what it takes to educate one?

  29. #29 Crystal B
    April 16, 2010

    Coming from a very creative home, but also an intellectual home, my children have a very well blended balance of both, and are learning as they all get older how to maintain the balance at school as well. The challenge mostly is when they are younger and don’t know how to manage it.

    Any child can be taught how to manage the quirks that come with creative learning sometimes, and not have it stifled, but the school system really doesn’t care about it all that much. They have proven this time again with all the cuts to the arts programs, music, theater, etc.

    On the other hand though, as a parent, you have to quit relying entirely on the schools for your child’s entire education. There is a whole world out there full of more learning opportunities and creative experiences to fulfill that need in any person than an entire 18 year education could give.

    As a parent, I am PROUD of my creative children.

  30. #30 Jennifer Gray
    April 17, 2010

    Creativity has to do with opportunity, imagination and information. One does not create in a void, from nothing. It is possible for a very traditional teacher to foster an environment in which students have the opportunity to be creative, to be expansive. Creativity has to do with seeing the possibilities, finding other ways. This way of “viewing” can be nurtured and encouraged in all arenas the arts, math, sciences, parenthood, cooking, etc..
    But one need information, skills, and content to manipulate in order to search for possibilities. The assignment then isn’t “How?” but “How many ways?” or “How else might this be demonstrated, expressed, solved, etc..” In the classroom, pose the question, then get out of the way, turn the students lose to find their own solutions. The assessment then becomes, “Did it solve the problem posed?”

  31. #31 becca
    April 17, 2010

    @Farley Gwazda- well said.

    @NDP-
    “(we don’t need no education. we don’t need no thoughts controlled.)”
    Ah, memories. 8th grade/high school graduation ceremony in my homeschooling group. Started with “pomp and circumstance” and a stately walk in front of the assembly… ended with Alice Cooper and Silly String.
    Anyway, I don’t give a flying fig about the “REAL” creative kids, as you describe them. I’m just an advocate for educational processes that don’t *feel* soul-killing and make miserable people of comparably ordinary creativity (The kind that gives you clock radios, not the Picassos). There’s no particular reason to think schooling that avoids quashing creativity is going to benefit us at all- except by reducing net human misery in institutional cookie-cutter schooling. Why isn’t that reason enough?

    “Relying on schools to foster creativity is like insisting on using a screwdriver to hammer nails.”
    Well said. All I ask of schools is that they not make things worse, a fairly low bar that many cannot clear. There are, of course, exceptions. A fact which clearly does not get noted enough for the teachers in the audience to feel comfortable. I think one problem is that there really is a tricky balance between encouraging individuals and maintaining some level of classroom control. No teacher will succeed in both all the time, and students (years later!) tend to remember the times they were discouraged far more than the times everything went smoothly and everyone could concentrate on the lesson.

    @Gina Pera I don’t have a horse in the ADHD race, but you can’t use a study in which 30/33 kids diagnosed with ADHD were medicated to substantiate the claim that kids with ADHD aren’t more creative, if people have legitimate concerns about the effects of medication on creativity.

    “Were you able to understand the proof behind the pythagorean theorem in the 3rd grade (when you undoubtedly were first introduced to this concept)? If you were, more power to you. However, for the rest of us mere mortals (albeit, creative mortals), we had to wait till high school or college to understand why this a^2 + b^2 = c^2.”
    Personally, in third grade they taught us the Pythagorean theorem with a diagram- one square on each length of the triangle, that you could then measure based on counting the grid. It illustrated the principle visually and easily. In high school and college, I did not learn anything that made this make more sense.

  32. #32 chia
    April 17, 2010

    I take the opposite view of Anodyne — that Math is all about creativity. It’s about combining 1000 ways of solving a problem to solve one nice beautiful one. Being able to get from the start to the end of a question certainly requires a lot of creativity. Of course, if you got impatient with practicing solving simple questions (which doesn’t require creativity, it’s really just practicing the basics) you’ll never reach the level of answering the hard ones (that need creativity). The most fun Math questions I had to work on were at Olympiad competitions. Delayed gratification, as someone here pointed out?

  33. #33 Pen
    April 18, 2010

    Art in itself isn’t necessarily a ‘creative’ subject either. Many parts of it require discipline, practice and training. Without that your options are frankly limited. What children probably actually need in order to develop their creativity is plenty of free time with enough materials of various kinds to actually do something!

    And no comment on the quality of the results.

  34. #34 Brian
    April 18, 2010

    From the article: “The solution, I suppose, is rather banal: we really do need arts education in our schools, if only to give kids a break from this one-size-fits-all model of thinking.”

    Alas, if you want to achieve any real facility in art, without which real self-expression is impossible, it requires a LOT of disciplined formal study of such things as perspective, human anatomy etc. You cannot create anything if you are not equipped with the tools to create, and one of those tools is fluency in your chosen language of self-expression, whether it be mathematics, language, music or visual art. Unfortunately the only way to acquire real fluency is to do a very large amount of practice that isn’t inherently very interesting. But like it or not, even Einstein had to learn his multiplication tables, and even Beethoven had to do dry studies in counterpoint.

    I would think though that what we need, and surely can have, in school is a bit of both: we need not reduce ALL of mathematics to merely shifting around numbers and solving equations, for years and years on end, before we get to any interesting stuff. Even the rote learning bits can to some extent be turned into fun. Still, you want to become an engineer or classical composer instead of the guy who flips burgers at MacDonald’s? Prepare for a lot of disciplined and not always fun work. There is no other way, not even for the superlatively talented and creative.

  35. #35 Nathan
    April 18, 2010

    Has anyone considered the possibility of taking a child out of mainstream education for a year, in order to more fully foster a creative mindset?

  36. #36 Susi
    April 19, 2010

    Hi Jonah, Nice post…
    The research from 1995 is focused on perceptions of teaching to students with creative characteristics–are those students easy to teach to? The research did not focus on students with creative characteristics and their ability to LEARN. Being creative and having creative characteristics is different than learning–and in a classroom, as an educator, it is all about student learning. If you are creative, can this enhance learning? Of course. If you are always joking around and being creative and not focusing on school lessons, does this influence learning? You bet.

    Einstein talked about “Imagination being more important than knowledge” and in a classroom, should the educator’s context of curriculum center around teaching imagination and what would the curriculum look like?

    Back to the research–some students are more difficult to teach to than others. Some patients are more difficult to diagnose than others, and as educators or doctors there are certain “ideal” characteristic that make one’s job easier–no brainer. That is what the research focused on. The research did not focus on creativity improving student learning.

    There is no way that i can not connect creativity with brilliance and being ‘smart’, (which is what your blogpost does not say but infers), AND neurologically, students need to daydream and need process time to re-think, construct, and re-construct their learning. I love my students who are out-of-the-box thinkers and are creative thinkers, they make my job exciting…their spark can ignite a raging fire. Teachers help foster spark, and can provide a classroom environment that enhances creative thinkers.

    Daydreaming is not a skill; it is a process. Literacy skills like reading and writing, and math skills like problem solving are some of the basic foundations to enable a learner to make decisions and to THINK for themselves. Creativity is the HIGHEST level of learning, but there needs to be a sustainable understanding and foundation of strategies, and content to support the creative process.

    Einstein was at the top because of all the connections he could draw from in his personal mastery of skills, strategies and content. Einstein, I am sure needed some time to “downtime” to day dream and think about things. You have to learn “something”, “somewhere”, (maybe not in school) to think and process it.

    Good teachers and educators understand process time, and daydreaming. But, ARE DAYDREAMERS IDEAL STUDENT TO TEACH TO? Takes us right back to the research.

    Thanks for the ‘spark’….Susi

  37. #37 Richard
    April 19, 2010

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Jonah.

    Writing from Chicago, I’m finishing up a teaching experience in the public middle-school, and for me, one thing I’ve learned this year is how the difficult balance seems to be between, on one side: order in the classroom, submission to authority and rules, and thus one kind of efficiency (the extreme end of which is like that of an army, whom you can definitely train to learn important basic content knowledge – say, content to pass important tests, but on the other end, like any academic setting or society where certain basic rules are established, but the growing academic is still free to pursue new rules or new research)

    It’s interesting how creativity is always related to some system – like Eminem’s involvement with an existing system of rap history (even while he was isolated from mainstream middle-class culture), or the Nobel Prize Winner – involved in the systems of academia and research but still groundbreakers.

  38. #38 Suzie Heumann
    April 20, 2010

    Nathan-
    “Has anyone considered the possibility of taking a child out of mainstream education for a year, in order to more fully foster a creative mindset”
    We did this for many years with our three girls as we were early video producers of cultural travel programs. The schools didn’t like it at all but every time we came back from a month long or three month long journey we got such amazing responses from the teachers that slowly over the years they got used to us and saw the benefits. Our girls now travel the world on their own, have careers that help people and they are involved in the arts. They are awesome people, with big hearts and a global mindset, in their own right. It is a very good idea you have.
    I’d like to add that if we didn’t have the access to digital playthings and so many organized sports children would have to spend a lot more time on their own and hopefully they would be exploring nature and daydreaming more. It’s the ‘off’ time that cultivates creativity. We have our children’s lives all planned out for them and it isn’t doing them any good.

  39. #39 Fergus
    April 20, 2010

    “While the teachers said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they actually didn’t.”

    Guys below have taken exactly this idea and founded a school that does

    They’ve even got the whole advertising world backing and funding them

    http://www.schoolcommunicationarts.com

  40. #40 Suppressed genius
    April 21, 2010

    Pretty sure I’m a creative genius that was suppressed by the school system and am now retraining my brain to go back to basics and become the outstanding artist and thinker I was on the path to becomming before standarized testing came and squished my free spirit.

    Seriously though, are there any non-traditional schools out there that folks can recommend that aren’t pressured by standardized tests? I’m motivated to finding solutions that benefit kids of all types so that everyone is a winner here…

  41. #41 Barbara
    April 29, 2010

    Years ago I was giving a B (which he had earned) to the person I considered the best student in my beginning biology class. He thought about the principles I introduced, discussed them in class, and applied them to his life and the class topics. In the process, he made some mistakes. My A students didn’t seem to think beyond what the class required. They didn’t make the ideas their own, but they didn’t make mistakes, either.

    I talked to a more experienced professor about it. He said he’s seen this pattern, too. Although the A students are often accepted in graduate school, in his experience the best graduate students had B or B+ averages. They got wonderful recommendations from teachers in topics they were interested in but poor grades in classes that bored them. They excelled in the more open-ended learning opportunity that graduate school can be.

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  44. #44 KRD
    July 10, 2010

    “They hurt you at home and they hit you at school. They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool. Till you’re so ******* crazy you can’t follow their rules.” – John Lennon.

    School is not about the RRR. It’s primarily about shaping children into solid authoritarian social conformists. Children will punish any child who doesn’t quite “fit in”. Their teachers will encourage the torture – as instructional. The purpose is to create adults that the dominant culture is more comfortable with; dumb, listless, amorally compliant, empty, evil.

    One day the use of those ADD drugs may be seen as brutal and immoral as the full frontal lobotomy is seen now. And even viewed as a greater evil; those special “rehab” centres they have for teaching teens how to be “normal”. Sure, they may churn out kids who superficially fit better, but are these kids monsters?

    “fitting in” is dangerously over valued. The road of social conformism ends at the gates of Auschwitz. It lead to the Gulags.

  45. #45 Gina Pera
    July 28, 2010

    NDP #6 — Well said!! Thank you!!

  46. #46 Dakota
    August 7, 2010

    This discussion in and of itself is a form of great progress :) id like to give a thumbs up to everyone whos commented, even to disagree, because it means youre willing to step up and dscuss something. thats how we get things resolved. As a “creative distraction” myself, ive run the gambit of ADD, ADHD, i even had my overzealous parents suggest institutionalization to help “rigorize my thought process” into being more comvventionally constructive. i was also thought to be mildly retarded by my fourth grade teacher. really, as im going to assume im one of the younger fish in this pond (just graduated) the creative kids, for all the problems we had, really made it out okay. we learned how to sneak around our dead boring classes, doodling and daydreaming in the direction of the blackboard. mostly, the educational system has taught us to just buckle down and get through it- with the option of creative electives or open ended sciences being the light at the end of the daily tunnel. however, i do have a serious concern for the system in general. its getting worse. a teacher above claims theyre not being cookie-cutter, yet i myself had the exact same study prompts for about 6 years. i redid my paper every year, adding new bits and peices here and there, and no one was the wiser. also, the school systems in my hometown have elected to dissasemble the few (very few) classes that helped creative thought, these being in elementary school, the kaleidescope program, and in middle school, forum, an extension of kaleidescope that based its elegibility off the results of a creativity monitoring test, taken a few years previous. the advanced placement program is also a boon tho the more creative amongst us, but the problem with that is THERE IS NO PREREQUISITE so any old average kid whos parents think theyre just the greatest ever can enroll in classes designed to separate the exceptional from the average. and thanks to the *rampant cursing* no child left behind, wonderful, amazing teachers that ive had the honor of learning from have to stifle their creative force, and slow down, so that the slowest in the pack, or the mediocre, the average, their learning speed, not that of the advanced, is what we, the creative kids, have to plateau on. so in the end, ap is almost as worthless as regular schooling.
    id do just about anything to get kaleidescope and forum reinstated, as well as some prerequisites for ap.
    and, just to throw that in, ive decided to teach to help out kids like myself cope :)

  47. #47 Anthony Manzo,Ph.D.
    November 19, 2010

    http://anthony-manzo.blogspot.com/2010/05/teaching-for-creative-out

    It is ironic that the act of passing on prior inventions and discoveries, or acquired knowledge, seems to diminish the inclination to think creatively. Clearly, the mind is empowered by acquiring the experiences and knowledge accumulated by our predecessors; however, it also can be powerfully restrained by the way in which knowledge is
    transmitted. In point of fact, there appears to be a host of subtle but pervasive factors woven through the fabric of traditional schooling that tend actually to discourage the type of critical analysis–the thoughtful articulation and decomposition of a problem–that leads to constructive
    thinking. I take constructive thinking to be the composition and assembly of possible solutions, including some that may need to be invented. Constructive
    thinking, then, includes both “critical” and “creative”
    intellectual processes.
    For a collection of particulars on how to teach for Creative Outcomes see:http://anthony-manzo.blogspot.com/2010/05/race-to-top-accountability-leaves.html

    Excerpt from: Manzo/Manzo/Thomas (2009) Content Area Literacy 5th edition Wiley Publishers

  48. #48 E-Cigarette
    November 23, 2010

    Well said KRD!!! Well said.
    It’s a very true and raw statement that most Americans do not want to hear or admit to.

  49. #49 Norma Desmarais
    December 13, 2010

    stellar book you’ve gain

  50. #50 dropped bladder
    June 13, 2011

    We had this one simple and very effective method to juice up some creativity among kids. During class you can begin a story with an interesting sentence and ask each kid to add a sentence. It’s amazing how they can be creative and engaged.

  51. #51 Evan Amesquita
    June 15, 2011

    One thing I like about reading sites such as this, is the fact that there aren’t any punctuational or even grammatical mistakes! Causes it to be tough about the reader sometimes. Excellent work on might also the topic of this website. Thanks!

  52. #52 Jimmy Flatbush
    August 27, 2011

    The one-size-fits-all teaching method is not conducive to people who think outside the box. Moreover, the curriculum, especially history, is so riddled with inaccuracies that homeschooling becomes a viable option.

    Learning is about discovery, not conforming to someone’s skewed vision of the world.

  53. #53 Brian Robinson
    October 7, 2011

    Do not listen to anything Gina Pera has to say about ADD or medicating everyone. She has a a polluted agenda and is just trying to sell books…

  54. #54 Magdalen Wassenberg
    November 21, 2011

    I am still learning about ZUmba but this far I enjoy what I see!