Cultivating, Rather than Killing, Creativity

Forbes ran an interesting blog on March 19 by two professors at UVA, Raul O. Chao and Cristina Lopez-Gottardi, entitled “How America's Education Model Kills Creativity and Entrepreneurship” with the predictable lamentations about the shortcomings of schools and the predictable invocations of Ken Robinson and Steve Jobs.  

What’s striking is their reference to some real data substantiating a decline in all aspects of creativity at the K-12 level over the last few decades.  The authors cite research conducted by Kyung Hee Kim, Professor of Education at the College of William and Mary, describing sinking scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and concluding “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” 

There is of course a deep irony in citing test score data to draw this conclusion, since I’d posit that the increased emphasis on testing has been a major contributor to a decline in creativity but heck, maybe the master’s tools can help dismantle the master's house if we start paying more credence to “high-stakes creativity assessments.”

The authors come at this from a particular vantage point: their institution co-sponsored the Milstein Commission on Entrepreneurship, co-chaired by Steve Case and Carly Fiorina, which has proposed the creation of a national K-12 entrepreneurship competition and related curriculum “to expose students across a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds to the accessibility of entrepreneurship and the merits of taking risks and building something from the ground up even when success is not guaranteed.”

This reminded me of an article by David Bornstein in the wonderful Fixes section of the New York Times a few weeks ago entitled The Excitement of Learning From Profit and Loss that chronicled the terrific program Businesses United in Investing, Lending, and Development (BUILD), currently in Palo Alto, Boston, and DC (and, excitingly, launching in NYC last year), that partners with public schools to create four-year entrepreneurship programs that radically improve high school graduation and college going rates.  The Possible Project (TPP) in Boston is another entrepreneurship focused program that intrigues me.  I can ’t quite ascertain the degree to which either of these programs stay connected to their students formally post-HS graduation and continue to support them on their trajectories into careers but both demonstrate longterm engagement of kids throughout high school, inclusive of progressive levels of challenge and responsibility, which I love.  The Possible Project notes that its programming has four main components--curriculum, student venture creation, in-house businesses, and pathways advising; I'm obviously particularly interested in and passionate about their pathways advising, which sounds like a wonderfully right-on model for helping youth reflect on the implications of what they're doing and learning for their future selves and connect with next level learning opportunities beyond TPP. 

I’m a huge proponent of programs like BUILD and TPP though teaching entrepreneurship is of course but one effective way to foster creativity.  Bolstering arts programs, after school programs, and offsite learning expeditions provide wonderful ways for schools to NOT “kill creativity” but rather foster it through demonstrating to students how infused it is within their surrounding environments, and giving them a glimpse of how creativity can serve them in their lives.  We can and we must help youth cPaths to futures full of creative expression and accomplishment.