Monday, July 19, 2010

Creativity Crisis In Children: Newsweek Article and My Reactions

I read the article entitled Creativity Crisis in Newsweek magazine.  The article discusses how creativity is measured and tested in a standardized format and the fact that the results of these tests show that American children's creative abilities have been testing lower and declining since the 1990s.  TV and video games are blamed for this decline in creativity.  They never mention any other factors, like the decline of arts programs in schools that started occurring with regularity back in the 90s and into the present era.  Nor do they mention that the 2000s is when we as a nation embraced the No Child Left Behind test, test, test mantra.

While I find the article interesting I also find it really frustrating.  The above deduction that creativity scores dropped off due to video games and TV only doesn't seem reasonable since children's lives have changed in so many other ways over the past 20 year.  Family structures changed greatly as more women went back to work.  Sure we became a more electronic people, but there are other factors that could be considered, such as the none stop testing and cutting of programs that support creative thinking and development.  Children learn through play and investigation.  The arts allow this kind of playful experimentation and problem solving and have always incorporated these sorts of skills.  The cutting of these classes in school settings to me is part of why the scores have declined.  Physical Education programs have also been cut.  Yet the article discusses how physical activity helps to stimulate creativity too.  Could it be that the very programs that keep getting cut might be some of the programming that had been helping children improve their creative skills?

The following quote causes me consternation:

Overwhelmed by curriculum standards, American teachers warn there’s no room in the day for a creativity class. Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week. But to scientists, this is a non sequitur, borne out of what University of Georgia’s Mark Runco calls “art bias.” The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

Of course the arts have a special claim on creativity.  It is what the arts teach and cause to happen.  The arts are the ultimate problem solving activity.  Yes engineers and others engage in creative thought processes, but it is the arts that foster this development.  The exact kind of brain activity the article praises is the what people engaged in the process of art making experience as well.  The point of the article of course wasn't to bash the arts, it was rather to illustrate how creativity can be tested and how all curricular areas can begin to learn to incorporate activities that will stimulate its development.   There was a quality discussion of the successes that project-based learning classrooms have experienced.  This seems to be a current trend in education.  I know my district is piloting a program at the middle school level.  Again, I can't help but think that art is already project based learning.  We investigate not only the media of the project, but all of the connecting strands of history, research and cross curricular connections while completing a work of art. 

There was definitely a push in this article for a non-specialist approach to education, that is a wholistic, cross curricular approach, where math might be taught as creatively as art.  Having taught as a regular ed classroom teacher before finding employment as an art educator,  I applaud this point of view and I certainly tried to utilize these techniques while teaching first and fifth grades and as an English teacher. I can't help but feel, however, again that this is yet another assault on the arts and arts education programming in schools.  We are being cut and cancelled at an alarming rate due to budget cuts and testing-crazy curricular demands.  In this test happy, assessment-based atmosphere I was enthused by the articles description of how creativity could be measured and tested.  I don't want my art classes to be tested, but maybe if we were on "the test" we'd be more valued. 

In conclusion it is vital that education be creative and teach students how to take risks, and critically solve problems.  But as we know students learn in different ways and the solution to the creativity crisis is not to remove arts education programs from our schools by divvying up what they used to teach to non-arts-certified educators, but rather to embrace the techniques and skills taught there.  We must continue to fund the arts and allow those specially trained individuals to continue to lead us to the paths of creative problem solving.

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