|Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell|
What if We Maximized our Talent?
Part IV in a Series on Empowerment and Potential
Humans find great joy in getting better at something. It is probably not an exaggeration to state that the evolution of our species depends on this characteristic being passed along from generation to generation. For example, our entire educational system, when working properly, should ultimately empower students and move them towards their potential. Drawing on a wide variety of resources and discussions with staff at Currey Ingram Academy, I am writing a series of Extra Credit articles for the 2015-2016 school year on the topics of empowerment and potential as they relate to education. The articles focus on how individuals and groups can take purposeful steps towards empowerment on the road to achieving their potential.
In the August “Extra Credit” article I asked, “What if we focus on what is right”? In September, I asked, “What if we maximized our talent?” For October, I investigated the idea of mastery. In this piece, I will discuss the role creativity can and should play in education.
Why is creativity important?
As an undergraduate, I sat in a darkened theater with 200 others, awaiting our physics professor.
As the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” played, the stage curtain opened. The professor appeared, standing on a platform. He held a bowling ball at his nose level. It was tethered to a rope that was attached to a support beam high above the stage floor.
After some suspense, he released the ball. We watched it swing across the stage and back to where it started. We all gasped as the bowling ball came within an inch of his nose on the return swing. The professor explained that he was not worried that the bowling ball would hit him.
He then said we would learn why, but that we’d have to come to the next class to find out. He left the stage. Class over.
This was a five-minute class 30 years ago, and I’m still recounting it. Why? It was creative and engaging.
The evidence for creativity
Based on the simple fact that my brain vividly remembers that tiny slice of my life, I conclude that my brain liked the creative approach of the professor. Recent research using brain imaging techniques, such as fMRIs, reveals that our brains are powerfully stimulated when exposed to creative stimuli.
The evidence for the positive impact of creative thinking abounds. Thousands of studies and books point to astounding benefits. For particularly interesting and powerful perspectives, see the work on “flow” by Mihly Cskszentmihlyi and see what is now the most viewed TED Talk of all time by Sir Ken Robinson, who eloquently laments the stifling of creativity that often happens in school (https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity).
Educators especially might be interested in the dynamic presentations of former teacher Rick Wormeli on the topic (http://www.amazon.com/Rick-Wormeli/e/B001JS321Q).
Beyond the research and the opinions of experts, there are powerful pragmatic indicators of the importance of creativity.
One might say the evolution and continued progress of our species depend on true creative insights. After all, where would we be if that caveman or cavewoman did not figure out that rubbing certain things together could start a fire? Or, if the Impressionists had not decided to represent the real world a little differently? Or, if Steve Jobs didn’t think about personal computing in an utterly different way?
I think it is fair to say our most important solutions will come through creative breakthroughs.
A creativity curriculum?
Our Western educational system was born in the Industrial Age for the primary purpose of producing workers for factories. We have not been able to break that mold completely.
The hidden force that stifles creativity is truly the structure of school itself. Indeed, it is very hard for educators to break free when expectations are high for using time well, preparing for testing, conducting testing and more. When structure, order and codified objectives (often enemies of the creative process) define the schooling process, being creative can be difficult.
One tiny suggestion is that schools pursue a formal K-12 commitment to creativity. This begs the critical question: Can one learn to be creative?
There’s a tendency to believe that you are or you are not creative. I disagree. Exposure to ways of thinking, just like exposure to what to think, will improve everyone’s ability to be creative. Students must simply learn to apply a set of skills, strategies and techniques to a unique circumstance or problem.
As often as possible, teachers should set students free to do just this.
Here at Currey Ingram, we know that students who learn differently often respond best to creative approaches to teaching. To help students make meaningful connections with academic material, we use activities such as our third grade Wax Museum biography project, 3D design and printing in middle school mythology studies and biology projects, writing and filming Spanish soap operas in high school, and more.
We are fortunate that the Nashville area includes so many fine public and private schools, all doing similar work along these lines. What a difference it will make in our children’s futures.
For parents, you can learn more about how this is happening in your schools by asking your children what they remember most about their day.
What is their favorite class? Why they are looking forward to a particular project? I suspect you will uncover creativity at work in their answers.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is the head of school for Currey Ingram Academy. “Extra Credit” is provided each month by Currey Ingram Academy to help parents at all schools and at all stages of the parenting journey.
Currey Ingram Academy is a private K-12 day school for bright students with learning differences and unique learning styles. For more information, click here.