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The most important reason kids need to learn to be creative

Creativity, I believe, is a vocational skill, a work skill, a means to secure good jobs.

But idealist that I am, I also want students who feel empowered, knowing at heart they have the ability to be sufficiently clever that they can solve any problem they encounter. That they don't have to simply take what life throws at them and live with it. That there is always a way, if one is sufficiently innovative and persistent to get around, over, under, or through any wall. 

Far too many children leave school without the confidence, mindset, skills, or even realization that they have the ability to solve their own problems. They rely on parents, teachers, or perceived leaders to present “the solution” to issues that trouble them.  In large part this is because schools have had the historic societal charge to create conformists, order-takers, and in-the-box thinkers. As David Brooks observes about that student who has a perfect academic record:

This person has followed the cookie-cutter formula for what it means to be successful and you [as an employer] actually have no clue what the person is really like except for a high talent for social conformity. Either they have no desire to chart out an original life course or lack the courage to do so. Shy away from such people.

Schools have done a good job of creating followers. In his book Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol, after examining schools in  East St. Louis, Chicago, New York City, Camden, Cincinnati, and Washington D.C. concludes that two separate public school systems operate in the United States”

... children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed. The former are given the imaginative range to mobilize ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe. (Kozol, 1991).*

As a life-long educator, my mantra has always been that as a teacher my mission is to create thinkers, not believers. A large part of thinking should be thinking creatively as a means of solving one's own problems, solving the problems of society, and understanding that we all have the power to choose the paths we take in life.


Personally, I love the everyday MacGyvers I encounter. Those who see an obstacle as something akin to a jungle gym - a chance to not just climb, but to get joy and satisfaction in doing so.

Can you think of a better reason that students need to practice creativity?

* Check the recent Annie E Casey Foundation report on acheivement gap by ethnicity if you think Kozol's 1991 findings are ancient history. What chances are students who are performing poorly academically being given to be creative, empowered personal problem-solvers. My guess is about zero. Pass the test then maybe, maybe we'll think about dispositions like creativity.

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