“I think the single most potent school reform goal would be to place the highest priority on individual creative engagement, and to shape schooling to develop the habits of mind that constitute creative engagement.” – Eric Booth
How many rectangles do you see below?
What is your initial response? If you said sixteen or seventeen, sorry! You are not even close! The real number is more than 50! (See the exact answer at the end of the article.)
According to Robina Shaheen in her article “Creativity and Education” (Creative Education, Volume 1, No. 3, 2010), interest in creativity historically goes back to Plato’s age and is found in the Greek, Judaic, Christian, and Muslim traditions. She said that a sudden “frenzied” emphasis for the renewal of inventiveness and creativeness in schools (especially in the sciences) came about with the launch of “Sputnik 1” satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957. The supposed failure of engineers from Europe, USA, and other Western countries was attributed to their lack of creativity, which led to the adoption of the National Defense Education Act to accept the concept as important for “prosperity…survival of society.” Since then, there have been several additional “waves of creativity” in education.
From numerous educational visionaries, we have more recently heard the essential need for 21st Century learning skills, including creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communications, and yet our political focus continues to be on high-stakes standardized testing and the ‘common core’ (and very limiting) subjects.
Definitions of Creativity
Numerous scholars, scientists, and educational leaders have provided their perspective on the meaning of creativity:
- Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others (from Human Motivation, 3rd ed., by Robert E. Franken)
- Creative refers to novel products of value, as in “The airplane was a creative invention.” Creative also refers to the person who produces the work, as in, “Picasso was creative.” Creativity, then, refers both to the capacity to produce such works, as in “How can we foster our employees’ creativity?” and to the activity of generating such products, as in “Creativity requires hard work”(from Creativity – Beyond the Myth of Genius by Robert W. Weisberg).
- Creativity is generating new ideas and concepts, or making connections between ideas where none previously existed (from SmartStorming by Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer).
- Creativity is the ability to find new solutions to a problem or new modes of expression; thus it brings into existence something new to the individual and to the culture (from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Dr. Betty Edwards).
Creativity According to Sir Ken
“Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.”
“Think of creativity as applied imagination.”
The above quotes are from Sir Ken Robinson, internationally recognized leader in the development of education and creativity, famous for his 2006 and 2010 talks at the prestigious TED Conference, estimated to have been seen by more than 200 million people.
Sir Ken Robinson champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity, and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. He has been known to say, “We are educating people out of their creativity,” and “Creativity is now as important in education as literacy, and we should teach it with the same status.”
Sir Ken embraces the written works of Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligences), Robert Steinberg’s three intelligences (analytical, creative, and practical), and Robert Cooper’s “heart brain” and “gut brain.” His own “three features of intelligence” are that they are “diverse, dynamic, and distinctive.”
Through his numerous lectures and online videos, Sir Ken has tried to dispel a few myths on creativity:
- Only a few people are really creative. “Everybody has tremendous creative capacities.”
- Creativity is for the arts only. “Creativity is a function of everything we do. Education for creativity is about the whole curriculum, not just part of it.”
- Creativity is just about letting yourself go. “No, creativity is a disciplined process that requires skill, knowledge, and control, as well as imagination and inspiration.”
In a recent TEDTALKS video on YouTube, he defines three principles crucial for the human mind to flourish, but seem to be currently contradicted by the culture of education:
- Diversity vs. conformity
- Curiosity vs. compliance
- Creativity vs. standardization
See http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley.html for one of his lectures. If you like his presentations, you will love Sir Ken’s two books: Out of Our Mind – Learning to Be Creative, and The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.
Eric Booth’s Creative Habits of Mind
Eric Booth, a teacher at the Kennedy Center, Stanford University, New York University and the Lincoln Center Institute, and founding editor of the Teaching Artist Journal, maintains that the arts are more than subject matter and disciplines. They serve as modes of cognition that are necessary for every content area and for success in life.
Centering on the essential skills of brainstorming, divergent thinking, metaphoric thinking, flexible thinking, multisensory engagement, and empathy, the following “habits of mind” according to Eric Booth, are key processes, actions, and attitudes activated when we invest ourselves in the flow of creating:
- Generating multiple ideas/solutions
- Sustaining an inner atmosphere of exploration
- Using one’s own voice
- Trusting one’s own judgments
- Formulating good questions and problems
- Finding humor
- Making choices based on a variety of criteria
- Inquiring skillfully
- Reflecting metacognitively
- Thinking analogically
- Willingly suspending disbelief
- Observing intentionally
- Going back and forth between parts & wholes
- Trying on multiple points of view
- Working with others
- Tapping & following intrinsic motivation
He concludes with advocating for the arts and more inquiry-based learning in the schools (quoting Booth):
The “artistic process” encompasses:
- Asking great questions and identifying good problems
- Experimenting, while carefully attending to results
- Cultivating a productive relationship with failure
- Anticipating challenges and generating imaginative solutions
- Tolerating uncertainty (even taking pleasure in ambiguity)
- Engaging in appropriate risk-taking
- Being resilient
- Focusing on quality and excellence
- Self-assessing eagerly & naturally
- Infusing ongoing reflection into the work at hand
- Enjoying the process and getting personal satisfaction out of it
- Connecting to others through an expression of who you really are
To round out this provocative philosophy of teaching creativity and creative processes for their own sake, we have the highly entertaining Daniel Pink, author of three best-sellers: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and To Sell Is Human: the Surprising Truth About Moving Others
Daniel Pink talks about his first book on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhKLSTBSgwI
Pink’s core argument in A Whole New Mind… is that “the era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities – inventiveness, empathy, meaning – predominate.”
Tagged as “Pink’s six senses,” he proposes the following new “aptitudes” or abilities that individuals and organizations must master in an outsourced, automated age – and should become fundamental to updating our curriculum, enduring understandings (“big ideas”), essential questions, unit planning, and lesson learning targets:
Roger von Oech
Finally, a very appropriate example of defining creative thinking as “changing contexts” is described by Roger von Oech in his book Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative:
In 1792, the musicians of Franz Joseph Haydn’s orchestra were mad because the Duke had promised them a vacation, but continually had postponed it. They asked Haydn to talk to the Duke about getting some time off. Haydn thought about it, decided to let the music do the talking, and wrote the “Farewell Symphony.” The performance began with a full orchestra, but as the piece goes along, it is scored to need fewer instruments. As each musician finished his part, he blew out his candle, and left the stage. They did this, one by one, until the stage was empty. The Duke got the message and gave them a vacation.
Von Oech concludes with stating that this example illustrates “the creative mind power to transform one thing into another. By changing perspective and playing with our knowledge, we can make the ordinary extraordinary.”
More to come… Care to join the debate?
[Answer to the 4 by 4 rectangles’ puzzle at the top of the page: Remember, a rectangle can be two columns by one row or three rows by one column, etc. The total number is 100!]
Segments of this and other articles on my blog are reprinted from PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. To see more writings or the complete three-part series on creativity, please go to the following:
© 2015 Paul K. Fox