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Creative Solutions

simonec's picture

        Creativity in education has been limited and undervalued, understood as a purely artistic phenomenon that is not useful in other realms. However, the idea of creative thinking in school is not divorced from the value-constructs in place – if money-making is the end goal, creativity helps. “A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future” (Bronson and Merryman; Creativity Crisis). So why is American creativity declining? The results of analyzing around 300,000 creativity scores of children and adults, a study done with Kyug Hee Kim, shows that after 1990 creativity scores have been consistently declining (Bronson and Merryman; CC). Kim says that it is “the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is ‘most serious’” (Bronson and Merryman; CC). Sir Ken Robinson, an educational theorist and advocate for creativity in classrooms, is adamant that we all have “ immense natural talents but our institutions, especially education tend to stifle many of them and as a result we are forming a human and an economic disaster”(Robinson, CNN). Cognitive research has established that creativity can be cultivated in all classroom settings; this information can help schools fulfill their understood purpose of supporting the talents of individuals, as well as preparing them for the ‘real world’.

 Creativity requires divergent and convergent thinking in order to produce something that is “original and useful” (Bronson, Merryman; CC).  Divergent thinking is the capacity to think associatively and produce many unique ideas, while convergent thinking is that which can best combine the ideas. I have always been taught a classic left side vs. right side neural theory, however it turns out that “if you tried to be creative using only the right side of your brain, it’d be like living with ideas perpetually at the tip of your tongue, just beyond reach” (Bronson and Berryman; CC).  Out of a group of 1,600  divergent thinking capacity tests, administered to three- to five year olds, 98% scored at genius level or higher. Five years later, out of the same children only 32% scored at that level, and at ages 14-15 only 10%. What’s changed, we ask. Sir Robinson argues that main issue is that “...they have become educated” (Robinson, Presentation). The culprits are clear; access to video games and television, amusement without innovation, have become readily more available. (At the pizza restaurant where I worked this summer, I was constantly horrified by the children who would pass up the crayons and coloring paper I would give them in order to play on a adults’ iPhone.) Bronson and Merryman point to schools as another reason for this creativity decline; remarking, “there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children” (Bronson and Merryman; CC). Creativity is, in fact, a cross-disciplinary skill, one that requirea both sides of the brain, and one that should to be included in all aspects of schooling.

Neural scientists are encouraging educators to take creativity out of art class and bring it into homeroom (Bronson and Merryman; CC). Robinson defends teachers; conceding that the “waste of talent in education is not deliberate. Teachers are as anxious about this as everyone else, but many of them feel trapped in the awkward groping of national reform policies (Robinson, CNN)”. Therefore institutions need to understand that anything that we teach can be taught in a way that will develop creativity (Robinson, Conversations). By separating creative learning from regular learning, schools imply that no other department may encourage creativity, and that it is not a communal responsibility to ensure that innovation is encouraged across disciplines. We have been socialized to believe that some people are inherently more creative than others – and that after their luck was drawn there is no hope for those who don’t identify as artists or inventors. People freeze up at the instruction to ‘be creative’, not sure what it means and convinced that they do not, and never will, have what it takes (Bronson, Merryman; Brainstorming). Not only can creativity be taught, it also is not difficult to encourage, as when “applied to the everyday process of work or school, brain function improves” (Bronson, Merryman; CC).  Following this logic it is not shocking that creativity is higher among people with more cross-cultural experience; first or second generation immigrants and bilinguals have higher on-average creativity levels (Bronson, Merryman; B). Presumably, their exposure to different modes of thinking has helped them be able to create their own alternative and pragmatic solutions to problems. Adam Galisky, who does research at Northwestern University, has found that cross-cultural experiences can directly cause more adaptable thinking; his subject’s creativity levels were up for a full week after seeing a 45-minute slideshow about China (Bronson, Merryman; B). Creative thinking is not hard to implement into our curriculums, and an understanding of its applications will hopefully help to encourage institutions to take the time to make impactful changes.

Disassociating ideals of creativity solely from the arts is important in terms of understanding the universality of the creativity crisis, and of how neural science can affect how we plan for the future. In 2001 McKinsey published a study, “War for Talent”, asking “6,000 executives from 400 companies what they considered to be their biggest challenge as they faced the future. The most important challenge they said was finding people who could make good decisions in times of uncertainty, who can adapt to new opportunities and respond creatively to change” (Robinson, Conversations). Robinson concentrates on the archaic nature of current educational pedagogies; he is critical of a system that he perceives as preparing students for an economy that no longer exists. He explains that “students who start school today will be retiring in 2065… Most of our reform movements are based on a misconception: that the way we face the future is to do better what we did in the past” (Robinson, Presentation). It is predicted that 75% of our countries top 500 companies in 2020 are not even in existence yet, and concern fields that have not even been invented (Robinson, Conversations). There is no way to know what the future holds in terms of the ‘real-world’ that we are being trained to enter successfully, so the most we can achieve from formal education is the ability and confidence to ask questions, make mistakes, and generate solutions.

            In a recent study of 20,00 teenagers, “eighty percent of them said they were just marking time, trying to get through school and get out of it” (Robinson, Conversations). The reality is that besides being an effective way to cultivate important skills, requiring students to use their imaginations in the classroom is simply more engaging.  One particular school in Akron, Ohio, has been very successful in incorporating creativity into its 5th grade curriculum. The students competed against each other to come up with an innovative solution to a noise problem in their library; making pacts, combining groups, and doing extensive research and budgeting (Bronson, Merryman; CC). The open-enrollment school is one of the top three Akron schools, and administrator Maryann Wolowiec brags that “you never see our kids saying ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’” instead they don’t want to leave school at the end of the day. The implementation of creative curriculums could help with issues many argue would be expensive to approach – such as attention and behavioral problems and drop-out rates. Students are more likely to be engaged when they feel that they are actively working to develop their own ideas in class; self-reliant exploration can engage diverse groups of learners in ways that classic classroom setting cannot.

            I have always been branded as a “creative” person, and I believe that creativity in itself holds merit in terms of skills that will increase happiness, contentment, and satisfaction. I believe in art as a mechanism for social change, and that dance classes should be mandated in middle schools. There are many viable arguments surrounding creativity in schools that talk about child development, or the cultural implications of the current creativity decline. While I am concerned with these elements, I believe that Robinson synthesizes the universal urgency of this movement best: “creativity is not a luxury. America needs a workforce that is flexible, adaptable and highly creative; and it needs an education system that can develop these qualities in everyone” (Robinson, Conversations). Science and business are calling for more creativity; now the middle-man, the institution that is supposed to prepare our brains for the world, needs to ‘get creative’ and implement change.





Bronson, Po, and Ashley Merryman. "Forget Brainstorming          ." Newsweek July 12, 2010: n. pag. Web. 8 Nov 2010.          < brainstorming.html>.


Bronson, Po, and Ashley Merryman. "The Creativity        Crisis." Newsweek July    10, 2010. Web. 8 Nov 2010.          <       crisis.html>.


Robinson, Ken. "How Creativity, Education and the Arts Shape a        Modern     Economy ." The National Forum on Education Policy.        Education             Commission of the States, n.d. Web. 8 Nov 2010.


Robinson, Ken. "Presentation by Sir Ken Robinson."The National        Forum on    Education Policy. Education Commission of the States,        n.d. Web. 8 Nov     2010.







Paul Grobstein's picture

the need for creative classrooms

"“creativity is not a luxury. America needs a workforce that is flexible, adaptable and highly creative; and it needs an education system that can develop these qualities in everyone” (Robinson, Conversations)."

I agree that's a pretty compelling argument for change.  Can it be operationalized?  What would it take?  What's in the way?