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A concerned member of the human race

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Can You Teach a Child Creativity?

Here is the scene a few hours before midnight.
At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, I was wowed by my ten-year-old daughter's imagination.  She rigged a shiny, small silver ball made out of tin foil to a string above our TV set and lowered it from our ceiling, ensuring with great precision that it would land at the first stroke of the New Year.  It's funny.  Our TV was tuned to the New Year's show.  Yet, we never saw the Times Square ball drop.  We're not even sure there was one.  We were too rapt up in watching my daughter's little silver ball drop.

My daughter used the computer to map out and save her plans for our New Year's Eve Ball Drop

Children are naturally creative, some more so than others.  As they mature, that same creativity may either thrive and grow or wither away.  Why is this so?  Education has so much to do with it.  The U.S., hitherto, has been known for the creativity inspired by its educational system and its democracy.  Now, that same creativity seems threatened.  

I once had two very bright students in the same honors class, competing against each other for the highest grades.  They both were near perfect.  One could memorize every relevant fact and spit it back, as necessary.  Whereas one student could not move easily past rote memorization, the other student could use her imagination to make connections in new ways.  Both girls were super.  But one might be better able to deal with the unexpected and solve problems with creativity.  One may follow orders better.  The other will more than likely weigh and evaluate orders and, perhaps, offer some suggestions to improve them.

There are ways to promote creativity and ways to sap it.  I hope my daughter's imagination never shrivels up.  I know, given an education system increasingly geared towards measuring schools by high-stakes tests, creativity might easily fall by the wayside.  The system is geared to ensure test preparation takes precedence.

When I see Common Core emphasize reading informational texts and manuals over books that might better awaken the imagination, I know creativity is sapped.  When I hear art and music programs across the country are cut, I know someone is failing to understand that America could never have been built upon testing or the prep for it.  America was built upon ingenuity.  With diverse sets of ideas from around the world blending together upon a ground made fertile by opportunity and freedom, creativity and toleration of differences are our most valuable assets.  Let's not wage war on them.  


  1. Your account of the two different students reminds me of a story I often tell. There was a first grader whose teacher gave each child in the class a rectangular sheet of paper and told them to "cut it the long way." Everyone in the class cut their sheet of paper in half from bottom to top except one child who cut it diagonally, which is the longest cut you can make on a sheet of paper. Unfortunately, it wasn't what the teacher had in mind and her teacher told her she was wrong.

    Teachers who prize creative responses and original thinking by children can make a world of difference in their lives. Thanks for bringing it up.

    Gwynn Torres
    The Creativity Institute

  2. Thanks for sharing that story. I think it speaks eloquently to one of the greatest weaknesses in the current obsession with high-stakes standardized testing.