Friday, September 10, 2010

"Can creativity be taught?" asks #gtchat

Somewhere between the glorious moment a baby first plunges her hands into her dinner bowl and redecorates her surroundings and the somewhat flexible dawning of adult maturity, most of us lose the joy of unselfconscious creativity. Lose is probably too strong a term, perhaps misplace would be more accurate. We laugh at the “boldness” of our toddlers when they squeeze all the toothpaste out of the tube all over the bathroom floor. We share the fun of making mud pies, finger-painting and creating horns and beards with bath-bubbles. Then, as the years pass, they slowly get less “messy”, slowly start to use things for their proper purpose, slowly learn to colour within the lines. So, this week’s #gtchat topic “Can creativity be taught? How to inspire flow/growth” could well be renamed “Can creativity be relearned? How to re-discover our creative flow”

We all know people we consider creatively gifted; writers, artists, designers, musicians or architects, and we often compare ourselves unfavourably with them. We can’t all be like Louis Le Broquy or Imelda May or Seamus Heaney, who each have a creative talent which sets them far apart from the rest of us. But perhaps we could become more connected with our own creativity. If a task requires creativity,  perhaps we can learn how we tapped into our creative flow and shake off the conventions we have learned from infancy. Orna Ross has an interesting piece on her website about creative intelligence and how we might learn to re-ignite the spark.

For our children, the journey back is shorter, if educators and parents let them travel it. Teachers have a large part to play here. One of my sons, at age 8, wanted to enter a drawing he had done in school for an art competition. It was a pencil drawing of a bare tree in a winter landscape. His teacher told him that it wasn’t dark enough and he was to outline the branches of the tree in darker pencil lines. He did as he was told. He subsequently refused to enter the picture as he didn’t like it anymore. It wasn’t that he thought the picture would have definitely not won a prize after he had been made to alter it, but it was no longer “his” creation. To this day he feels regret that he was unable to express this to his teacher. Too many times art in my children's schools has consisted of every child being handed the same materials where each one has to put them together in the same way. What is that teaching our children about creativity? What happens to the gifted creative child if they are not allowed to express themselves with the depth they experience?

Even within the academic sphere we do not encourage creative spirit, answers are formulaic and prescribed across the curriculum. We rarely study any subject matter which has open-ended answers or which sparks debate...there is no room for opinion or divergent thought on our exam papers. Teachers are under pressure to cover long curricula and, even if they wanted to, would be hard pressed to find the time to go outside exam requirements. It is no surprise that by the time our children, particularly our gifted children, leave school their natural creative spark has been dampened.

Now, as the emphasis of education in the 21st Century changes, governments, educators and stakeholders are looking for ways to re-introduce the critical and creative thinking which will be indispensable for the young people of tomorrow. Programmes such as Future Problem Solving, which we have started (see here) in Ireland, address the crucial skills needed by this generation; research methods, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, innovation, planning and community action. It allows students to develop their own unique way to approach problems using first creativity and imagination, then logic and application. We really need to explore as many ways as we can of giving this skill back to our young people, and we need to do so with a sense of urgency.

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