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Schools Don’t Need to Be Creativity Killers

Though genetic attributes contribute to differences in intellectual capacity among individuals, all humans are born with the ability to engage in creative thought and action.  Whether or not individuals use and develop that ability, how they use it, and how well they use it all depend on what they have learned from their environment, parents, teachers, peers, and culture.  Through the observation of young children, it is plain to see that humans possess a natural curiosity and tendency towards creative problem-solving.  With or without encouragement from parents, children exhibit vivid imaginations and are frequently making connections between concepts in novel ways.  As children get older, they become more exposed to the attitudes and dispositions of their caregivers.  Adults who seek to foster creativity can positively influence a child’s exercise of creative capabilities.  Those whose attitudes tend to discourage creativity, because of individual prejudices, cultural traits, or institutional constraints, can stifle those same capabilities.  Most often, it seems to be the school setting which plays a significant role in developing or impeding creativity.  So, how can we make sure that we, as educators, are not contributing to the killing of our children’s creativity?

creativity, kids

set us free!

creativity, kids

set us free!

creativity, kids

set us free!


Creativity expert Robert Harris tells us that the successful use of creative abilities relies on the development of certain creative dispositions and attitudes.  These include:

  • Openness to change
  • Willingness to play with possibilities
  • Unwillingness to blindly accept the status quo
  • Relentless curiosity
  • Desire and motivation to work hard to improve the ways thing are

We need to examine our school learning environments to determine whether we are unknowingly erecting obstacles to the development of these attitudes.  If schools or educators demand conformity, sap confidence by creating a culture of fear of low test scores, or restrict student curiosity and experimentation with confining schedules and physical space, then they are taking from our children a key element of what it means to be human and slowly starving it death.  However, if teachers make a concerted effort to begin feeding their own creative selves, they can begin to create a school atmosphere that satiates the voracious creative appetite our students naturally bring to the table.  If teachers believe in their students’ capacity to create, they will.  If they are willing to make and admit to mistakes, their students will too.  If they tolerate and encourage different perspectives, answers, and questions, their students will take discussions places they have never been.  If they say “What if?” or “Why not?” instead of “That won’t work” or “Stop being silly”; if they reward great questions as much or more than right answers; if they ask open-ended questions rather than ‘googleable’ ones…if they do all of these things, their students will be free to exercise the creative talents they possess in ways that will amaze us all.

Wonderfully innovative ideas do not come as a bolt from out of the blue as popular culture would sometimes have us believe.  They require hard work, persistence, a willingness to take risks, and, perhaps most of all, an environment in which the creative attitude can survive and thrive.  Why would we intentionally create a learning institution without such an environment?  If we are truly concerned with preparing students for a life beyond school that demands creative thinkers, we had better begin to recognize the changes required in our schools and our teaching.

What if we weren’t the creativity killing school most of us went to as students?   Just imagine.

Sir Ken Robinson, one of our most influential thought leaders on education and creativity, on this very subject circa 2007.

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