Blog Post

Productivity, Obedience, and Education: What happened to Creativity?

          Imagine yourself sitting in a design studio in college, with a computer, keyboard and a mouse placed in front of you. The professor assigns a design task to students. Inside your brain, your thoughts are coiled around, and you are struggling to come up with an idea. During the process, your brain starts asking you “Why are you trying to use your creativity now when all these years, you never even bothered to visit your creativity? I am just starting to wonder if the thing is even alive anymore.” After a while, you realize that all you have done so far, is nothing but staring at a blank screen, trying to come up with an idea, and you start to panic. What you have imagined just now, is my first time as a graphic design major in college. With no background in art, considering that I never took art lessons both in and out of the school, thinking of a design, that looks aesthetically pleasing, is a constant struggle. During my days sitting in the design studio and thinking about various thoughts, various questions came to my attention. These questions were: “Why didn’t I focus on art classes in school?”, “Why couldn’t the previous schools offer me classes in arts?”, and “Why is my creative process so slow?” However, there was one question in my mind that caught my attention, and that was: “What is the problem of education in US today that creates students like me?” So, I have decided to answer the question, which caught my attention back then, right now.

           US education focuses on four major subjects: math, history, science, and English. In addition to the four major subjects, a student is left with a variety of electives to choose from. These elective classes are fillers, which would enable students to have enough credits for graduation. Among these electives are art classes and music classes. According to the Adobe News, a company that produces software for creative needs, there are criticisms that “…testing and government mandates are stifling creativity in the classroom.” (Trowbridge) and that “…today’s education system places too much emphasis on testing and not enough investment in the training, tools and time needed to teach creativity.” (Trowbridge). Adobe News also states that, “A strong majority of the participants across the United States… call for a transformation in the ways schools work.” (Trowbridge).

          At this point, one may read the previous paragraph and state, “Well, they have a music class and an art class. So, there is a place to let your creativity flow and prosper in schools.” However, the latter statement can be proven to be otherwise. According to Professor Jackie Wiggins, a professor of music education at Oakland University, “The traditional vision of school music making consists of the teacher standing in front of the room conducting or directing students who are carrying out the teacher's instructions.” (30). Since such is the case, Wiggins states that, “…our image of a good music teacher was one who could get students to make music the way he or she wanted them to with the smallest number of verbal instructions.” (30). Thus, the students are not left to pursue creative works of music on the basis of their creativity. Instead, students are told to pursue a creative work of music through a strict guideline set by the teacher. According to Wiggins, this is all due to the fact that “we have a long history of assuming that students bring little or no musical knowledge into the classroom,” (30) and that, “We have operated on the assumption that it is the teacher who is the expert and that the students have little or nothing to bring to the situation.” (30). Thus, even in a school curriculum developed to enrich and showcase a student’s creativity, it provides little to no opportunity for a creative growth and productivity.

          Often, students are left to follow the direction of the instructors, which teaches them how to become obedient and productive in a creative field rather than, learning how to become creative.

          According to an article in Newsweek, teachers state that, “Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week.” (Bronson and Merryman).  However, the article complicates the statement by stating that, “But to scientists (educational psychologists), this is a non sequitur, borne out of what University of Georgia’s Mark Runco calls “art bias.” The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded.” (Bronson and Merryman). Thus, Bronson and Merryman claim that art classes, cannot be used as an educator’s proof that students do get creativity courses in schools and that it is a sufficient source for creative development in schools. Through the teaching methods in US today, students are often taught to follow orders rather than to think for themselves, causing them to become comfortable using logic rather than, their creativity.

           Unflattening, by Nick Sousanis, illustrates how education can cause students to become something like a robot, operating on a computer program, through comic. Thus, causing students to be much more similar to each other than being able to become an individual. Sousanis states that the inhabitants, most likely students in schools, are, “...Lacking “A Critical Dimension” of potentialities to transcend their existing state, everything has its place.” (6).  Thus, in schools, students are not able to free themselves from logic and common sense and become something unique rather than similar. As stated in the first paragraph, schools in US today focus on how to get students to get satisfactory or excellent grades on standardized tests. Since such is the case, “Every procedure is designed to ensure that proper results are achieved,” (9), in a system where “…Even choices (Of which are seemingly many), are predefined,” (7), be it on a test or in the curriculum. Thus, schools place more emphasis and interests on the numbers and letters on the report cards and tests than raising the students as an individual. Bronson and Merryman call this under emphasis on creative education, “The Creativity Crisis”: “In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.” Indeed, students are left to explore their inner creativity in their own time instead of at their schools, where they would spend most of their lives in. In my opinion, creativity is important because it is what makes an individual unique. Creativity, I believe, aids in the process of innovation. Hence, as the available amount of creative individuals in society diminishes over time, the harder it is for the society to introduce new innovations. Without creativity, I imagine that, if we can see people as colors, we would be living in a sea of grey, speaking, processing ideas, and moving in a pattern that was programmed in to our minds through school.

          So, now it is the time to bring up another question: If the US education system is unable to produce creative individuals as it stands to be today, how can we fix this? During his TED speech, Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert and according to TED, “A visionary cultural leader,” states, at the end of his lecture, “We have to be careful now that we use this gift (creativity) wisely…the only way we'll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are…the task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. By the way -- we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.” (18:33). In the Adobe News, the columnist states that the way to solve the lack of creativity in the U.S. is to “Provide tools and training to teach creativity, make creativity integral to the curriculum, and reduce mandates that hinder creativity” (Trowbridge). Thus, for education to enable the growth of creativity in students, teachers need to be creative themselves, since they are the ones who will be teaching the kids of the future. Also, schools need to set curriculums, focused on student creativity, and provide tools, such as: graphic software, art supplies, and musical instruments, necessary to provide students outlets to flow out their inner creativity. As Sir Ken Robinson had stated, people, be it parents, politicians, and school officials, need to realize that creativity is as important as anything else taught in schools. In addition, based from my personal experience learning, from graphic design classes and art classes in college, the teachers who are instructing the students in the creative classes have to become less involved in the creative processes of their students and learn how to judge the works of their students for what they have created, instead of teacher’s expectations of the student work. This is due to the fact that, the professors who I had learned art from, or rather, took classes in art from, never involved themselves in a task; they only provided the parameters for the task that they assigned to their students and taught the skills required to accomplish the assignment. Since such was the case, the students, including myself, were able to use their inner creativity, and the concept of design and art they have learned, to accomplish the assignment, free from additional influences in creative process from the teacher.  One may wonder “So why even bother having art teachers? Why do we need them if they mainly get in the way?” We need art teachers because they are the people entrusted with the task of teaching the students all techniques necessary to express their creativity. Thus, what we need to do is provide instructors guides on how to properly teach students the necessary techniques, without interfering with student’s creative process, instead of eliminating them entirely from the education system.

            Since my first day as a graphic design major, my creativity has been rejuvenated, as if my creativity can walk again after an intense rehabilitation session. During my time writing, a quote from my high school teacher came to mind. When a girl in my physics class was crying due to the fact that her grade dropped, my physics teacher said to her: “You are not an animal grown in the farm for consumption, stop letting the grade you got define you. There is more to life than just grades.”  Since such is the case, I believe that schools should teach kids how to embrace their failures, and how to, produce a positive feedback from failures, instead of penalizing the students for it. Also, I believe that students should be able to create and keep knowledge that is theirs instead of only taking in what others have created, solely due to the fact that the school taught that it is right. Schools should focus on how to produce a creative and innovative individual instead of an obedient and productive robot. Upon reaching the end of this essay, I hope you ask yourself “How is my creativity doing?”

 

                                                                                    Works Cited

Bronson, Po and Merryman, Ashley. “The Creative Crisis.” Newsweek. Newsweek LLC., July 10, 2010. Web. Accessed November 17, 2015.

 

Robinson, Ken. “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”. TED Conferences.LLC. Monterey, California. February 2008. Guest Lecture.

 

Sousanis, Nick. Unflattening. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, April 2015.Paperback.

 

Trowbridge, Tracy. “Study Reveals Education System is Stifling Creativity.” Adobe News. Adobe Systems Inc., June 24, 2013. Web. Accessed November 17, 2015.

 

Wiggins, Jackie. “Teacher Control and Creativity.” Music Educators Journal Vol. 85, No. 5 (Mar., 1999): pp. 30-35+44.Web.

 

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4 comments

Hello Richard really good post. I enjoyed reading about how the US education system revolving around the 4 subjects math, history, science, and english. Which doesn't really leave student with a lot of choices after. Also the TED talk speech with Sir Ken Robinson was really while thought out. Overall really great post, it was a good read. 

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Hi Richard,

This is a really interesting and relevant read for students of all grades and ages. You managed to make the topic to relatable with your little anecdotes. I actually wonder if this has a connection to the ongoing debate about defunding recreation in schools. I know some schools have eliminated art and music classes and programs due to a lack of funding. This is especially relevant to public schools. Either way, this post was a very enjoyable and well written piece. Good work.

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Reading this, I think about public schools, but I also think about my experiences at university -- as an engineering student, it was not until my senior year that I saw an assignment that truly required creativity, and we had been given no prior courses that helped with the creativity side of things. Completely predictably, my classmates and I had difficulty. 

Given how much of engineering design is creating many potential solutions, then evaluating those solutions, the loss? failure to create? general lack of creativity is going to hurt people in exactly the STEM areas that they're trying to strengthen with the time taken away from creative or recreational education. 

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Sometimes I do feel we should change our education system. Schools are just failing because they try to make students fit in a compliance-based model of education. And if I were to choose among all the Ideas on How to Improve the US Education System the most essential ones, I'd choose 'what students are taught' and 'how they are evaluated.' I believe these are overlooked and students get to spend their youth studying but learning nothing much that would help them in life.

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