How is creativity killed?

chronic waste c2If teaching students to be creative is one of the highest goals of education, we have a problem. The United States as a nation is becoming less creative. Unfortunately, the scores on are getting lower on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. Initially after this test gained wide-spread acceptance in schools, scores rose. This is a normal result known as the Flynn effect, which also occurs on IQ tests. In fact, IQ test have to be normed repeatedly or else the general population scores slowly increase.

The scores for creativity increased in a fairly linear manner until the 1990’s. Then, the slump started. The biggest decrease in is the skill of elaboration–the ability to expand and add details to a creative concept.[1]

What caused this decline?  Increasing electronic communication has been blamed. According to Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University , the constant checking of phone texts and social media provides a connection without requiring the innovation necessary for face to face interaction. The student who sees a “like” gets a dopamine boost that reduces anxiety. However, the constant review of social media stats decreases creativity. Rosen noted that mobile phone usage soared at the same time that the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking scores fell  in 1998, and this is no coincidence. [2]

Even early in his work, Torrance (1963) found reasons that creativity might be discouraged. Adults who come up with original ideas are characteristically absorbed in their work, and do not take the time or effort to be polite. They often refuse to take no for an answer, and level criticism at others. Creative children have the same traits, which can be viewed as “obnoxious” by teachers. Torrance warned educators that they needed to deal with these negative aspects of students’ personalities without discouraging  creativity.[3] In later studies Torrance (1980) uncovered the fact that some teachers said they were rewarding creativity when they were actually punishing it.[4] Part of the decline may be the due to the students’ attempts to get along with others.

Westby and Dawson (1995) proposed that creativity is being discouraged by educators who do not actually recognize it. When they tested college students to find out which characteristics they thought correlated with creativity and non-creativity, their answers matched the psychologists’ findings about 95% of the time. However, when a group of teachers in grade school were asked about the same traits, the correlation was about 50%. They thought students who were not creative if they were:

  •   emotional
  •   impulsive
  •   non-conformists
  •   making up rules as they went along
  •   trying to do the impossible
  •   not fond of working with others when making new things

But all of these traits correlate with higher levels of creative thinking. Still, many teachers claimed they liked creative students, but they warped the definition to match students that were easier to control in class. [5]

A few years ago, I witnessed e a teacher sharing a collection of poems her students had written. She wanted advice on making them into a book. This teacher’s favorite poem was a set of stanzas with perfect spelling and rigid rhymes. The words fell pretty much as expected. A college professor pointed out a different and compelling piece in which the young poet described her own struggles and inability to meet expectations. However, this teacher failed to see the quality of this other poem. She was not fond of the student that wrote it.

In the end, we have to be able to learn to recognize authentic creativity, even if we do not like what we see in the person who produced the work.

Art by S.L. Listman

[1] Bronson, Po, and Merryman, Ashley (2010) The Creativity Crisis, Newsweek.
[2] Joel Stein, Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation
[3] Myers, R.E. and Torrance, E.P. (1961) Can teachers encourage creative thinking? Educational Leadership 19, 156-159
[4] Torrance, E.Paul ‎(1963) The Creative Personality And The Ideal Pupil. Teachers College Record, 65, 220-226
[5] Westby, Erik.L. and Dawson,V.L. (1995) Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom? Creativity Research Journal.  Vol 8, No 1, 1-10
This entry was posted in Creativity and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to How is creativity killed?

  1. knlistman says:

    Reblogged this on Write about what? and commented:

    Creativity is discouraged when we let our feelings get in the way.

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