I have wondered this for a very long time. Is that why adults do not view themselves as creative – it peaked long ago?
This question hits me at home presently. I have a seven year old daughter who is extremely creative. She draws pictures and makes up stories about them, and they are truly original and ingenious. She is heavily into My Little Pony right now, so a lot of times her stories involve ponies that she has drawn. Sometimes they are ponies from the series and sometimes she makes up her own ponies. But the creativity involved in her stories is truly breath-taking.
Since I started becoming interested in creativity, I have wondered why adults feel that they aren’t creative. A few years ago, I was actually one of them. I wondered if I could change my mindset and actually become creative again. I wasn’t sure. I wanted to figure out why.
My research has pointed more and more to education and the way children are taught as being key to why people don’t view themselves as creative. Children are taught as they are sitting at a desk. Younger children are allowed to sit on a carpet sometimes, but for the most part they are sitting. And they are tasked with listening to the teacher talk to them, most of the time. I actually heard one of my daughter’s former teachers call her class “chatter monsters” when they were trying to get their ideas heard over her. And the context of the experience that they were having left much to be desired as well. All of the children were sitting on a carpet that clearly was not big enough for all of them to sit together comfortably. They were packed on this carpet. Needless to say, it took about five minutes for the pushing to stop as the teacher threatened the children with some type of punishment if they did not behave. Then we had the chatter monsters. The teacher handed the children individual whiteboards, markers, and socks to use as erasers, and then told them what to write. Any children who were not writing what she said or were writing when she hadn’t told them what to write or were writing something different than what she said were punished. (The punishment, by the way, was taking away coins that were used to earn a trip to the treasure box on Fridays). There was no creativity involved in the activity and no opportunity for children to express themselves. The whole time that I volunteered that day, it was the same thing. All of the activities were cut and dry with no chance for individual expression. Worksheets and sitting, no talking out of turn, nothing but what the worksheet or the teacher wanted done.
Joseph Berk, in his article about engineers that I featured yesterday, stated that he thought that the rules that are in place during school is what causes creativity to peak so early. While I partially agree with him, rules are needed in society in order to keep things running safely. (We could get into a discussion about government and overreach into society here, but this isn’t the time or the place; we are focused on education. However, if you want to assert your own creativity, we can have a discussion about that in the comments.) There is such a thing as rules becoming too restraining, however, and this can definitely affect creativity. Requiring children to sit together in a tight space without pushing or touching anyone else is simply asking for trouble. Making children learn academic information within a prescribed box (worksheets, flashcards) is a sure way to suck the creativity right out of a child. When children are not allowed to express themselves, and are in fact punished for doing so, they soon learn to not be creative. And since the majority of people feel that creativity peaks at age seven, learning to not be creative happens very quickly – within two years of starting school. With at least eleven more years of school left, creativity would seem to not have a chance.
In thinking about that last sentence, my thoughts ran back to my years in high school. Every high school has their cliques, and mine was no different. But my mind came back to the people that I began to associate with in my later high school years. They were most likely in an extracurricular music class or in drama. They were the ones that drew insanely awesome pictures during class and knew how to not get caught doing it. They had conversations in class, trying to figure out who was the greatest guitar player that ever lived. These were the kids who were creative for creativity’s sake. I envied those kids because their attitude about school was entirely different than mine. I envied the musicians because they were so creative that they could jam and improvise, and I couldn’t. I was strictly and literally a textbook musician, and I was that way when it came to school as well. I still am when it comes to school. But in learning more about different facets of our education system, I have allowed myself to be more creative in the classroom. And this, in turn, has allowed me to let my children be more creative as well.
It has also allowed me to look at my daughter and realize that I need to do everything I can to provide her a place where she can feel free to create her stories and her pictures, to find an outlet for these stories that she seems to spontaneously come up with. She needs to have a place where she can hone that creative skill so that it will not die in the eleven years of school she has left. My older daughter shows me that she still has creativity all of the time, letting me know that I have not failed her in that way – not yet. She is actually planning on becoming an engineer, and I see little pieces of what Joseph Berk was talking about when she talks about her work in her architecture classes. But she is passionate and creative and hopefully won’t lose that as she learns all of the rules and regulations involved in engineering.
And me? My outlet is this blog, and my classroom. I find myself being insanely creative in my classroom, and I have a class of wonderful children whose creativity inspire it in me. It is almost like we feed each other. I enjoy giving them a creative outlet, because in three or four years, when they start elementary school, they may not have that outlet any more. But the more I foster their creative little minds now, the better chance they may have later.