"Everyone wants a creative child - in theory"

2758571483_7a1074966a_b At The Frontal Cortex, 2008 IdeaFestival participant Jonah Lehrer makes a point about behaviors discouraged in the classroom, particularly active feet and wandering minds, which, while linked to periods of creativity, are also in constant tension with classroom cohesion.

Eric Barker recently referred me to this interesting study, which looked at how elementary school teachers perceived creativity in their students. While the teachers said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they actually didn't. In fact, when they were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures - the list included everything from "individualistic" to "risk-seeking" to "accepting of authority" - the traits mostly closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their "least favorite" students. As the researchers note, "Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity."

This shouldn't be too surprising: Would you really want a little Picasso in your class? How about a baby Gertrude Stein? Or a teenage Eminem? The point is that the classroom isn't designed for impulsive expression - that's called talking out of turn. Instead, it's all about obeying group dynamics and exerting focused attention. Those are important life skills, of course, but decades of psychological research suggest that such skills have little to do with creativity.

The paragraph reminded me of a point made in Sir Ken Robinson's moving and wonderfully funny video about the the conflict between the creative urge and the corporate need for a widely held and basic literacy that took place some four and a quarter centuries ago.

Can you image the challenge of the teacher that had little Will Shakespeare in English class?

It's an extreme example, of course, but reading pieces like Lehrer's reminds me of advice I've heard more than once about children particularly close to me. The admonition often stresses the "life skills" he mentions, and concludes with, "and after all, he'll have to listen and do what his boss says."

In a world where everything but creativity is becoming a commodity, that advice seems woefully wide of the mark.


Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/narciss/ / CC BY 2.0