The dictionary defines creativity as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, esp. in the production of an artistic work.” To be creative requires two types of thinking:
Divergent thinking, or the ability to think in diverging directions and to generate multiple unique ideas from these thought processes, and
Convergent thinking, or the ability to combine the above ideas onto one concrete result.
Much of the thinking we are required to do in our formal educational years emphasizes what we call critical thinking, or the teaching of “how to understand claims, follow or create a logical argument, figure out the answer, eliminate the incorrect paths and focus on the correct one.” Creative thinking, however, focuses on the exploration of ideas and the search for many possible solutions to a problem rather than just one.
Both of these types of thinking are required to be successful in any matter of life, from mathematics to engineering to philosophy. In order to better comprehend the differences, it might be helpful to utilize the following chart (Adapted from Introduction to Creative Thinking by Robert Harris):
According to Harris:
Creativity is not the ability to create out of nothing (only God can do that), but the ability to generate new ideas by combining, changing, or reapplying existing ideas. Some creative ideas are astonishing and brilliant, while others are just simple, good, practical ideas that no one seems to have thought of yet.
Believe it or not, everyone has substantial creative ability. Just look at how creative children are. In adults, creativity has too often been suppressed through education, but it is still there and can be reawakened. Often all that’s needed to be creative is to make a commitment to creativity and to take the time for it.
A recent article in Newsweek entitled “The Creativity Crisis” cited research which shows that American creativity is on the decline (the research utilizes results from the latest national “creativity quotient,” or CQ, tests, which measure creative thinking abilities). What is to blame for this is something under a bit of debate as of late, but the article cites both technology and education as the culprits. Video games, television, and internet consumption are just a few of the named technological culprits.
As for education, some would argue that the system of testing and accountability put forth in the enacting of “No Child Left Behind” has led to classroom environments and curricula with little to no creative stimulus included. Says the Article:
Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why-sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions.
While some would argue otherwise, this poses a couple of interesting questions:
If it is true that technology is decreasing American Children’s abilities to think creatively, does this mean that we should rethink our nation’s drive for technological progress in this light?
What, if anything, can we do to reform our educational system so that creativity is fostered and not hindered?
Without the ability to think creatively, new ideas and new ways of thinking will become things of the past. For those who believe in God, one of His stated attributes is creativity, and as beings created in His image we are obliged to cultivate creativity everywhere. Even if you do not believe in God, one can easily see how a world without constant and consistent innovation is one doomed to fail. Thus it is set to us as those who are called to work with youth in any capacity to cultivate creativity here and now. This is not an easy task in light of what was stated previously. Here are a few practical suggestions:
Encourage the asking of questions. Live by the motto that “there’s no such thing as a dumb question.” Questioning the world around us has been a catalyst for innovation since the beginning of time.
At every possible opportunity, give children and youth opportunities to problem solve on their own, unhindered and unaided by adults.
For younger children especially (but even older children), encourage creative play, from theatrical performances to playground activities.
Talk with youth about the television shows the watch, the things they see on the internet, etc. Get them to think about the news they get from public media sources in new ways.
Encourage involvement in the arts, from music to theater to art.
Foster and encourage discussion about philosophical ideas, from those of Socrates to Plato. There are many internet and text resources out there to help with this.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Do you agree with the idea that creative thinking is on the decline? Why or why not?
How helpful has this article been in causing you to rethink how you view creativity and/or the so-called “creativity crisis” in America?
Do you think “No Child Left Behind” is a help or a hindrance to creative development in children and youth? Explain.
Fostering creativity and creative thought in our children is everyone’s job, whether you are a teacher, a parent, or a youth worker. This is a conversation that can and must be continued in order to ensure that our country, our economy, and our world continue to thrive in the coming centuries.