Does America Value Creativity?

What does it mean to be creative? Most people picture Frida Kahlo, or the art students at RISD, or even members of a local band. Though these occupations require creative thought, creativity is not a skill limited to artistic crafts. Creativity is an execution of imagination, the ability to come up with solutions to problems or bring something into being. This is a skill Sir Ken Robinson would describe as an intelligence. Creativity matters to you just as it does to anyone else; continue reading to see how our education has conditioned us to believe creativity is a talent, not an innate capacity within everyone. 

Creativity: The Essential Intelligence

Creativity allows space for innovation, growth, and progress. Life will never stop throwing curve-balls; creativity allows us to cope with that change. During this pandemic, business owners were forced to come up with creative ways to either keep their business afloat, or think of alternative sources of income. Creativity can be the difference between life or death; it’s a mode of survival.  Creativity is not encouraged enough in the public school classrooms. Art programs and extracurriculars are usually the first to be cut when schools are underfunded, while academic subjects such as math, science, and english are stressed in standardized tests such as the SATs.  In his book, The Element; How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Sir Ken Robinson addresses the rigid nature of American public schools and how it limits students. Robinson describes the brain as “intensely interactive” that uses “multiple parts of it in every task.” It is when the brain “[finds] new connections… that true breakthroughs occur” (pg. 49). Providing students with such a narrow scope of learning (especially in academic subjects) cheats them of the benefits that come with interdisciplinary education. If we continue to promote these academic subjects as the only modes of learning, we overlook the variations in thinking. The artist did not fail in math because they are stupid; the artist failed in math because the teacher failed to recognize the artist is a visual learner. How can we accommodate people that focus in alternative ways other than listening and absorbing information?

The History They Failed to Mention

Have you ever wondered why our school systems are modeled the way they are? Bernie Bleske describes the scene; students are seated in orderly rows, expected to stay silent and listen to the instructor; no food during class, no talking unless you raise your hand, and complete all of your work.  Our education system was modeled during the rise of the Industrial Revolution. Most jobs required basic language, math, and science skills, and so that is what children were taught. It was around this time, IQ testing and the SATs were instituted as a measure of intelligence and determinant for funding for schools. If IQ testing was made for schools to accommodate for children with learning disabilities, and the SATs were meant to be for military examinations, how did they become measurements of intelligence? Those examinations were not made for the purpose of which they are used for, and yet SATs are still used to determine a student’s acceptance to higher education. Though Bernie does not agree with the notion that the American education system model has the intent of creating the perfect robots for mechanical labor, there are a few things he can agree on. Our classrooms need natural learning, which means room for experimentation and play.

Education Models Outside That Encourage Play

Finland has one of the top performing schools in the world. Though that was established by comparing their standardized testing scores with other countries, that title was not won without change. In 2016, Finland instituted a new curriculum into their education system that aims to

“teach students ‘how to learn’ instead of ‘what to learn.'”

Instead of taking standardized tests every year, Finnish students take one the entire duration of their primary and secondary school. Instead of assigning hours worth of homework, they allow students to take breaks during lessons and play during their free time. Play allows students to explore things on their own and return to learning out of their own free will. Education is free for any Finnish citizen, or even citizens of the European Union, including college. Here is a country whose model is completely different than America yet thrives the most in the world. 

Education Abroad

While studying abroad, I took an Introduction to Art Therapy class. Everyday, my professor had all 25 of us sit in a circle, criss-cross apple-sauce on the floor like we were still in elementary school. It was not rare to find us playing games either. Occasionally, she had us close our eyes and scribble for 30 seconds, or cut a ribbon to dance with as she played the sound of a piano; one day she even told us to pair up and perform a dance interpretation of our partner’s scribbles.  Games always coincided with concepts we were being taught in class, like when we created mandalas as we learned about Carl Jung, or learned how to express ourselves through dance as we learned about dance therapy. It was not about being a great dancer or great at filling in the lines, it was about exploration; exploring interests and how to learn on your own accord. That is an essential element in learning that is missing from American education.  Where is the immersive experience, the opportunity to explore a lesson our own way? Incorporating play into lessons will not only engage students more, but will give them space to think creatively. Imagine having an assignment where you have to make a song based on a chemistry lesson, or having the opportunity to paint your response to historical periods. Not only will this challenge a student to pay closer attention, but for those who never partook in artistic endeavors will give them the exposure to see themselves that way.

"Play takes away the pressure of making a mistake; it allows a student to explore their curiosity freely and learn how to enjoy learning subjects other than just academics."

It is a completely different world than it was a century ago; technology has advanced, our culture has evolved, and our economy is drastically different. If the children are our future, we need to provide them with the resources to explore other trades or studies that will be sufficient for the future. Though this may all be understood, art programs remain to be the first to be cut while considering funding for school.

Local Funding 

In Providence, Rhode Island, we are fortunate enough to have art resources provided through programs such as New Urban Arts, AS220, and additional grants and opportunities given to artists through RISCA. Just this year, Gina Raimundo allotted $1.62 million for grant funding. Classes are being made for artists to learn professional skills and how to utilize their artistic abilities as a means for income. I have come across many teens who have attended summer classes offered at RISD, myself included. But does this address the issue within our schools?  Even students attending school to study Fine Arts or other art majors have critiqued their professors for focusing too much on technique and design, rather than allowing students to freely express themselves in their own unique ways. “My professors were so conceded with the fact that their prehistoric forms of thinking were superior to any contemporary ideas,” my friend Keane, who attended RIC to get his BFA, said, “They preach this idea that talent comes from how well you can design, compose, craft, mark, make, resemble, than the idea behind it.” It seems counterintuitive to diminish a student's ideas, when ideas are born from imagination, the very road that allows us to bring something into creation in the first place. That is what makes art so freeing. It is an individual's expression to their own experiences. So why do art teachers discourage that freedom?

Federal Funding

Our public education system should be funded way more money than it currently is. When looking at the federal budget and the appropriations list, you will notice that more than half of it is being directed towards the military, equipment, foreign operations, and other state policed programs.

"Why does only half of the entire budget actually address the interests of the American people?"

Take into consideration that the vast majority of students spend at least 12 years of their life attending public school for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 9 months out of the year, yet it typically makes up a portion of about 14% of the federal budget (as it is lumped with labor and human health services). There should be more investment in the resources students are provided in school rather than outside of school. Programs such as AS220 and New Urban Arts are responses to lack of resources; they do not address the root issue. 

Final Thoughts

We need to fight for art programs to stay in schools, we need teachers who want to teach, and we need to change how we are taught. Learning is collaborative; lectures are ineffective in comparison to engaging activities. Students need to be entertained or else they are going to associate learning with dread. By integrating artistic practices for visual learners, or physical activities to keep active learners engaged, or playing around with music and not shaming students for making mistakes, we encourage a healthy learning environment that is inclusive of all kinds of thinking. Play allows students to grow into themselves, not be shrunken by the standards set by the system. At the end of the day, how do we expect to have a flourishing society if the people can not even flourish themselves? 

When you think about it, how has the current education system limited your creativity?

When you think about it, how has the current education system limited your creativity?

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