Creativity Curtailed

BalletBoy tries his hand at inventing a ride for toy people using simple machines at our co-op.

There’s a fascinating article in the current issue of Newsweek. It’s about the fact that apparently our creativity is in decline in the United States.  Anyone who knows anything probably can guess what the prime suspect is.  That’s right!  It’s our cruddy, test-driven schools.  The most frustrating thing about this is that everyone already knows it’s a problem.  We know it’s an issue, yet we’re paralyzed in the grip of the drive for those test scores.  Have they gone up?  Have they gone down?  What do they even mean?

I try very hard to walk a moderate path in most things in life, but the completely backwards approach that our schools take to education usually leaves me foaming at the mouth.  With most political issues, I can find a side to agree with, but no one out there is talking about education from a process-oriented perspective.  Everything is product-oriented.  They just disagree about what the product should be.

Fortunately, I got more out of reading this article than a set of conniptions.  I also got this wonderful quote, telling us that researchers have found that,

“…highly creative adults tended to grow up in families embodying opposites. Parents encouraged uniqueness, yet provided stability. They were highly responsive to kids’ needs, yet challenged kids to develop skills. This resulted in a sort of adaptability: in times of anxiousness, clear rules could reduce chaos—yet when kids were bored, they could seek change, too. In the space between anxiety and boredom was where creativity flourished.”

Rarely have I read anything that so summarizes how I want to parent and to live.  Researchers found that creativity is most likely to suffer in that moment when children transition to needing to research and study in order to act creatively.  In other words, when it takes real skills to feel like you’re coming up with something new.  It’s difficult to reconcile all the facts and rote practice with the sort of pure imagination that rules the creativity of early childhood.  In that sense, you can see why walking that line between challenging kids and making them feel safe so they can put forth new ideas is so essential.

One other thing that struck me was that many highly creative people create what are called paracosms in their childhood.  A paracosm is a fantasy world, often with invented languages and other systems.  This so describes my favorite childhood activity.  I thought I would suggest a children’s book on the subject, if anyone is interested.  The picture book Weslandia by Paul Fleischman is a colorfully illustrated book about a boy who creates such a compelling paracosm that his former enemies want to join him in his adventure.  It’s a book about the kind of unscheduled, creativity-inspiring summers that are so wonderful.

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