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Elementary school children work together to build 3d models using recycled materials during class. This is a school in Hexham, Northumberland in north eastern England.

Creativity in the Classroom

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

In 2017 I had the opportunity to travel to Rome. I had never seen the Colosseum in person, The Vatican, or St. Peter’s Basilica. Upon seeing these things in person my mind was blown. I couldn’t imagine that these items were created before the age of computers, but, more than that, these items were created during a time without electricity, meaning that marble statues had to be carved and smoothed by hand, interior paintings were created by candlelight.

If you have ever been on a tour of The Vatican then you may know that they herd people through the hallways of that massive building like sheep. According to Reuters, “With mass tourism growing, every year some five million people, as many as 20,000 a day in summer, enter the chapel and crane their necks upwards. Most are left awestruck.”

I was one of those visitors who left awestruck. There is so much art and beauty in one location, that when I left, I was on “beauty overload”. I had to ask myself, “How did this much art and creativity even happen?” “How is it that so many artists came out of one location?”

If you look at history, it is apparent that a greater value was put on art during the High Renaissance Era and therefore art was more prolific. Which  brings me to the point of this article, do schools kill creativity?

Nurturing Creativity in the Classroom

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

“All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” — Pablo Picasso.

Sir Ken Robinson mentions the above quote in his Ted Talk, but he adds his own twist: ““All children are all artists. We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it – or rather, we get educated out of it.”

This particular Ted Talk is one of the most viewed with over 19 million views. In just 20 minutes Robinson explains how our education system has been created in a way that it churns out college professors. But he also highlights that sometimes students with different capacities have to be educated in different ways, He states, “Our education has mined our mind the way we have strip-mined the earth. We have to rethink the principals on how we are educating our children… We need to start seeing our creative capacity for the gifts that they are… and see our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate this whole being…”

Do Educators Value Creativity?

According to an article called “What Creativity Really is – and Why Schools Need it” on, they propose that educators say they value creativity, but they don’t always make it a priority.

“Although educators claim to value creativity, they don’t always prioritize it.
Teachers often have biases against creative students, fearing that creativity in the classroom will be disruptive. They devalue creative personality attributes such as risk taking, impulsivity and independence. They inhibit creativity by focusing on the reproduction of knowledge and obedience in class.”
I am a graphic artist and a writer for a living. I remember when I was in school the idea of getting a degree in something creative was frowned upon by my parents. “Get a business degree” they said. “With a business degree you have so many options.” In a sense, they were right and my education did help me later in life. But I had to self-teach myself the basics of good design. I spent hours online watching videos and studying how to use the tools I needed to create and do what I am truly passionate about. I have friends who went to design school and when I look at their portfolio I am amazed. I feel like someone who is a gifted chef, but has never been to culinary school.
I understand and can craft great design based on my experiences, but there are so many subtle techniques that can be taught in the classroom. Part of the problem with learning on your own is that if you don’t know that something exists, you don’t even know how to ask the question to begin to research it. Using the chef analogy once again, I remember watching a cooking show and they talked about a “Mise En Place” and I had never heard of it before. When you go to cooking school they teach you to put all the things you need together before you start cooking. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary it means, “a culinary process in which ingredients are prepared and organized (as in a restaurant kitchen) before cooking.
So what do we lose if we don’t teach the value of creativity? It is creativity that leads us to innovate. What if we stopped creating smart phones with the Palm Pilot? What if the Wright Brothers had never tried to take flight? What about Thomas Edison when he created the light bulb, he failed over 1000 times before he got his invention to work – that requires some serious creativity.

Putting Creativity Back in the Classroom

So how do we get creativity back in the classroom? Here are three key ways in which teachers can begin: (From The Conversation)

  1. Focus less on the reproduction of information and more on critical thinking and problem solving.
  2. Curate activities that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries, such as by painting murals that depict biological food chains, or acting out plays about historical events, or writing poems about the cosmos. After all, the world doesn’t come carved up into different subject areas. Our culture tells us these disciplinary boundaries are real and our thinking becomes trapped in them.
  3. Pose questions and challenges, and follow up with opportunities for solitude and reflection. This provides time and space to foster the forging of new connections that is so vital to creativity.

Creatives are often considered eccentrics or time wasters. A logical approach is often the faster way to get from point A to point B. However, creativity is critical for advancing and innovation. Let’s not minimize it, but celebrate it. And for those of you teachers who are already bringing the creativity, and we know many of you are, then high five, keep it coming!

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