Creativity In Education

August 18, 2009

Last week, we spoke about children living abroad being more creative. This week, I’m following up with more thoughts about creativity in education.

At the 2006 TED conference, Sir Ken Robinson gave a talk that highlighted the need for our educational system to be redesigned in order to foster creativity. The talk is about 20 minutes in length and can be viewed for free below (or at the TED website). Skip past the video for my summary of the talk.

Sir Robinson explains that our educational system was created in the 19th century to meet the needs of industrialism. For this reason, a hierarchy was created with subjects most useful for work at the top. Children are often discouraged from subjects that aren’t seen as being relevant for work (specifically the sort of work important in industry). The result of this is that academic ability has come to unilaterally define our view of intelligence. Now, Robinson says that “many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the things they were good at in school weren’t valued, or were actually stigmatized”.

Children, he explains, are naturally creative, but we are educating them out of their creativity. The cause of this is that we inspire a fear of being wrong in our children. In school, he says that we teach children that “mistakes are the worst thing you can make” (and, in general, we run our companies the same way). If you aren’t prepared to be wrong, you can’t possibly be creative, as you aren’t brave enough to envision something original. Children are born without this fear of being wrong (“Kids will take a chance”), but we instill it in them in school.

In addition to squandering creativity by teaching fear of mistakes, we neglect the opportunity to nurture creativity by devaluing subjects that require it—art, music, dance, theater, for instance. As mentioned above, this goes back to our hierarchy of school subjects based on their importance in industrial work.

Sir Robinson says that we have to rethink intelligence, acknowledging the following three facts about it, and then designing our education system to foster them:

1. Intelligence is diverse. “We think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically, we think in abstract terms, we think in movement.” Thus, we have to acknowledge and cater to all of these intelligences, as well as others.

2. Intelligence is dynamic and interactive. “The brain isn’t divided into compartments.” Robinson suggests that creativity often comes about through inter-disciplinary explorations (which our current educational system downplays). This also means that different types of intelligence (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, academic, etc.) need to be encouraged to work together.

3. Intelligence is distinct. Everybody is intelligent in a unique way, and we all express our intelligence differently. Our current education system tends to suppress these differences, mining children “in the way we’ve strip-mined the earth for [one] particular commodity”. But in many children, the one sort of intelligence that our educational system focuses on is not the strongest.

Sir Robinson firmly believes in the importance of creativity in education. Remember that the children we are educating today will be retiring around in the 2070s. With the rate that the world is changing, we don’t know how to educate children for the world 5 years from now, let alone 60 years from now. The best thing that we can do is to prepare children for a lifetime of learning, exploring, and discovering, so that they have the tools to adapt to the demands of the world as it changes. By teaching kids to be creative, we are ensuring their success in the future world we know so little about.


Living Abroad: Does it Make You More CreAtiVe?

August 7, 2009

The Duncker Candle Problem

Look at the picture below. You should see a candle, a pack of matches and a box of tacks next to a cardboard wall. Can you figure out, using only the objects on the table, how to attach the candle to the wall, so that the candle burns properly and does not drip wax on the table or the floor?

If you’re in the mood to share (and we’d love to hear from you!), scroll down and leave a comment with your answer!

Can you figure out the answer?

Can you figure out the answer?

Now, here’s the correct solution; you need to empty the box of tacks, use the tacks to pin the box to the wall, and place the candle in the box. The box acts as a candle holder! Don’t feel bad if you didn’t get it, I didn’t either.

The Research

In a recent study, William W. Maddux and Adam D. Galinsky used the Duncker Candle Problem, illustrated above, to test creativity. (Were you creative in your answer?) Due to previous research in the field, the psychologists hypothesized that creativity correlates to living abroad. Research has already found first and second generation immigrants and bilingual individuals have comparatively high levels of creativity, and in their article, Maddux and Galinsky presented a long list of creators, including writers (Hemingway and Yeats), artists (Gauguin and Picasso) and composers (Handel and Stravinsky), who created their most famous works during or immediately after living abroad.

The Dream by Picasso

The Dream by Picasso

Maddux and Galinsky conducted five experiments, and found a strong positive link between living abroad and creativity. According to the research, the more time an individual spends living abroad the more likely they are able to solve creativity tests, like the Duncker Candle problem. While the study is not causal—meaning the research does clarify whether creative people tend to live abroad or living abroad fosters creativity—the study does offer some strong empirical evidence for a link between living in foreign countries and creativity.

Surprisingly, traveling abroad (i.e. visiting) did not have the same effect! This suggests that having to adapt or acculturate to a new culture is what really drives this creative ability correlation; living in a different culture and learning cultural norms allows, maybe even forces individuals to see life from different perspectives, positively affecting creativity.

These findings have special implications for children growing up abroad. Maybe this research provides a different perspective in looking at the pros and cons of sending expat children to local schools and exposing them to the culture of the host country? Maybe those of us in the international community can celebrate and share our creativity, a very positive aspect of a sometimes difficult life? Maybe parents can begin to foster creativity in their children, creating an “in” for them into a social network? (This references the article titled “Education Outside the Classroom.” Check it out!) One thing is for sure, this is another piece of evidence that expat kids, TCKs, Global Nomads, and the like, really are the next generation of global leaders.

A special thanks to Joseph Leahy for bringing this article to my attention.

Find this interesting? Read the whole article!

Maddux, W. W. & Galinsky, A. D. (2009). Cultural borders and mental barriers: the relationship between living abroad and creativity. American Psychological Association, (96)5, 1047-1061.