Let’s Take the Door Off its Hinges

CREATIVITY seems to be on the minds of a lot of people, including the writers at O, The Oprah Magazine.  Over the weekend I noticed the cover of the February 2011 issue and flipped to Peggy Orenstein’s article, “The Creation Myth”.  Like we were discussing in our last post, she’s like the person who says “I can’t draw” and shuts that door, and she describes in her article how this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,

“We think we’re not creative, so we don’t cultivate our creative potential and—voilà!—we’re not creative.”

Much of the article explores the idea of reclaiming our creativity as adults (I especially like the discussion of Big-C and little-c creativity), but Ms. Orenstein also notes the role that schools often play in stifling creativity,

“…children are naturally driven to understand their world. They live by that incessant, creativity-inspiring “why?” Why does the grass grow? Why is the sky blue? Why can’t I fly? And to answer these questions, they experiment, imagine, and explore. Their minds are free to wander and to wonder. 

Then, usually around the time they enter school, that loopiness disappears. […] Expressing their own tentative understanding of an idea becomes less important than figuring out what the teacher makes of it. [Ron] Beghetto, who studies the ways in which early experience influences creativity later in life, found that by first or second grade, students realize that “the game of school requires replacing the question ‘Why?’ with ‘What do you want me to do and how do you want me to do it?'””

Isn’t that the crushing part?  Of course, this doesn’t happen in all classrooms, but it does happen far too often.  Even one year spent in a creativity-crushing classroom can have a lasting effect on a child (Orenstein tells us Beghetto calls this “creative mortification”).  So far in his educational journey through our local public schools my eldest has experienced both kinds of classrooms, those captained by exceptional teachers who value creativity and make a conscious effort to nurture creative learning through project-based lessons, and those led by teachers who emphasize conformity and the importance of getting the right answer. 

Of course, it shouldn’t be this way, and we shouldn’t have to regard our children’s education from year-to-year as a crapshoot, dependent on whether or not they get placed in a “good” classroom.  We can feel hopeful that as more people come to understand and value creativity, our children’s schools and classrooms will reflect that understanding, but we can’t assume this will happen.  We have to do what we can, as parents and community members and educators, to ensure that this happens, in part by talking to our children’s teachers (or our fellow teachers), our school and district administratorsour state Education Commissioner, our politicians (who control the purse-strings), our Secretary of Education, and our President.  Why not?  After all, in our democracy,

“The most important political office is that of the private citizen.”- Justice Louis Brandeis

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