The Classroom Kills Creativity

Posted on December 16, 2011


Stumbled across this article today dealing with creativity in our schools:

Teachers Don’t Like Creative Students

They provide the great example of “how would you like to have a little Eminem in your class?”.

Here’s the thing. They’re burying the headline. At the very bottom of the article they talk about the classroom environment:

Creative people, for better and worse, ignore social conventions. Thus, it can be hard for teachers to deal with creative students in a classroom setting where they must guide 20-30 students en masse.

I’m guessing that all but the most exceptional teachers would struggle to have a little Eminem in their class. You might say:

“Sure, but he’s an exception, he’s filled with anger and would be disruptive anyways. Other creative students wouldn’t be nearly as disruptive.”

I think that’s completely untrue.

Creativity requires disruption. It requires acting on your impulses. You can’t expect to foster creativity when you’re simultaneously discouraging disruption.

Creativity requires a wandering mind. You can expect to foster creativity when you’re telling the kid that’s spacing out and doodling in the corner that they need to pay attention. They’re literally being creative right then.

Creativity is connecting things together in ways that others have not seen them. It’s taking disparate ideas and combining them in original ways. It requires non-linear thinking. The classroom setting is terrible for this. The classroom requires linear thinking:

“Class, this is what we are learning now. We are all going to learn it at roughly the same pace. There’s no time or space to deviate from this course.”

That right there is the death of creativity. Creativity can not survive in that environment.

Stop blaming the teachers. Start blaming the environment.

Yes, there are bad teachers and there are great teachers. The great teachers can make a difference despite a terrible environment, the bad teachers would probably struggle even in a great environment (although definitely not as much as they currently struggle).

The only way for a teach to accomplish his or her goals in a traditional environment is to have everyone moving in the roughly the direction at roughly the same time without too many distractions. Otherwise the goal becomes impossible to achieve.

That is what we need to change. We can’t simply ask teachers to overcome the environment, we need to change the environment and teachers will become much more effective because it will be much easier.

How do you change the environment? That’s for another blog post (and no, I don’t have the answer, but I do have ideas), but personally I think it starts with stopping trying to control students so much.

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Posted in: Education, General