Education tends to favor repetition. Look at SAT tests, exit exams, state testing, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top…all of them depend on memorization and rote repetition as measures of whether or not a child is educated.
Here’s the problem with that: if we’re always testing kids on Great Gatsby, when will one of them grow up to write the next Great Gatsby?
This relates to us as writers. If kids are never encouraged to use their creative muscles, they atrophy. And as a person who teaches in a comprehensive public high school, I can tell you that creativity is kind of like the weird, funky cousin that everyone says is very interesting, but no one wants to claim as a relative. If more writers are to come after us, kids need to be taught how to be creative.
You might argue that creativity is innate, that all humans are born with the ability to use imagination. I’d agree with you. But just like I was born with the ability to be a professional tennis player, those skills and talents and abilities have never been nurtured, so today I stand before you unable to smack a ball where I want it to go.
In a recent Newsweek article, employers of large Fortune 500 companies were asked what the single most essential quality for successful employees would be. Surprisingly (or not) they answered that creative thinking is the most crucial quality. This is because you can generally teach someone skills like counting, spelling, answering phones, and even how to do complex tasks, but coming up with solutions to workplace problems requires creative thought.
The Newsweek article also noted that in the U.S., there is a crisis of creativity. While countries like China are actively pursuing creative thinking as an end goal in their educational system, we have run the other way. We have moved toward quantifying, measuring, and conformity in learning, simply because it’s measurable.
Aside from the obvious economic issue (we’re less competitive because we are producing drone workers who know how to follow directions but who can’t think for themselves), think about the quality of life. Imagination and creative thought seeps down into every aspect of life, from creating a great and memorable kid’s birthday party to surprising a spouse on an anniversary, to playing under a blanket fort with your kids. Without creativity, life is like food without spice.
I’m thankful every day for creative people. Someone came up with the idea for my hybrid car that lets me drive comfortably and spend less money on gas. Someone came up with medication that keeps me from cutting off my own ear like Vincent Van Gogh. And someone wrote hundreds and thousands of novels that have allowed me to travel the world and the universe, within and without.
Even if you’re not a teacher, try to encourage creative thinking wherever possible. I know that the Scrib community is chock full of creatives. Spread it around, people.
What do you think about the future of creativity?