Creativity Declining?

by johnmccreery

Is the trend reported here consistent with your experience in your classrooms or workplaces?

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7 Comments to “Creativity Declining?”

  1. Sorry, I’ve been trying to think of a brilliant response but I’m feeling distracted and uninspired for some reason.

  2. Not to worry. My own grey cells are in no great shape either. The weather has been hot and humid in Cambridge and minding grandkids is, even with excellent daycare to cover part of the day, exhausting. It was OK when all we were doing was picking them up and spending a couple of hours playing with them before son-in-law Pat got home to feed them and put them to bed. For the last two weeks, however, Pat as been off fulfilling a Marine Corps Drill Reserve obligation. They’re cute and they’re fun, but this morning to night routine is wearing.

  3. I hear you. So would you say the situation you describe is more or less materially pernicious to creativity than TV, video games, and the internet?

  4. No. But it’s interesting that it is being raised again at this particular moment. One thinks of John Dewey’s University of Chicago Laboratory School (1899) or Maria Montessori’s discovery of “the natural disposition of the child” (1907). Both were reacting against the rise of public schools that, as critics like Stewart Ewen later pointed out, were designed to produce useful drones for assembly lines and offices in which information processing was largely manual, clerical labor—thus their emphasis on obedience, keeping quiet, and rote learning of necessary skills. Today, however, management gurus like Godin and Daniel Pink are constantly pointing out the shrinking demand for the kinds of workers these kinds of schools mass-produce. They are now too easily replaced by automation or outsourcing to places where labor is cheaper. Dewey wanted to educate the citizens a progressive republic would require. Montessori wanted to unleash and sustain children’s natural creativity. Today’s critics fear the loss of the technological/creative edge by which the U.S., Europe, and Japan dominated the global economy in the second half of the twentieth century. They invite us to consider a world in which there are more and better educated students in the top five percent of China’s school population than all of the students in all of the institutions of secondary and tertiary education in the USA, plus nearly as many more in India. That today’s schools have to struggle with the impact of TV, video games, and the Internet, while legislatures slash budgets, as well as try to meet this challenge is a perfect storm that, for good or ill, is bound to disrupt the status quo.

  5. Nice reflexive irony in comment #1, Carl.

  6. Thanks, JD!

    JM, to answer your original question about my classes I might be inclined to reframe ‘creativity’, which is one of those nebulous abstractions perfectly suited to apocalyptic pop-culture scare campaigns, as ‘resourcefulness’, which is equally nebulous but harder to pseudo-operationalize. What I find is that lots of students give up easily when faced with unfamiliar tasks, and are very comfortable going limp and waiting for others to do their thinking for them. The thing is, this is a very successful strategy many times, perhaps increasingly so, which means that plan A often works and they don’t have to seek out a plan B. I also find that if I don’t chew up the worm for them, after the first outraged reaction most of them are perfectly able to puzzle something out. This has been true throughout my 15 years of teaching and although I don’t store up this kind of memory, it’s not my impression that now is particularly worse than before. It’s also my impression that it’s easy to romanticize the past when the present disappoints.

    As someone who’s played a lot of video games I find the demonization of them in these pundit discussions a little underinformed. Most decent games are set up as puzzles and require quite a bit of creative problem-solving to negotiate successfully; arguably moreso than milking cows and feeding chickens, but even there smart farmers do quite a lot of creative problem-solving with resource acquisition and allocation, barnyard sociability and so on. TV can be and often is ‘consumed’ actively, not passively, just like books or any other experience. The internet makes some things easy that were hard before, but also presents new challenges. Schooling is itself a situation that presents each new batch of students with distinctive challenges as society’s perceived needs change. In short, JM I believe we agree that there’s a cultural-ecological relationship between the lifeworld and the skills-knowledge our young are prepared with, and acting as if one particular instance of that process is the normative one misses the point.

  7. What I find is that lots of students give up easily when faced with unfamiliar tasks, and are very comfortable going limp and waiting for others to do their thinking for them. The thing is, this is a very successful strategy many times, perhaps increasingly so, which means that plan A often works and they don’t have to seek out a plan B.

    Nice observation.

    Related perhaps to what some have called the MacDonaldization of education in line with the mantra “We do it all for you”? Or the ease with which “solutions” can be found on the Internet?

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