Happy Friday everyone! Time for me to through a little controversy into our day. I have lots of conversations with people about gifted and creative kids. Invariably the conversation usually winds up as discussion over the negative aspects of NCLB and the damaging impact of our current educational model in the US and creativity.

Most of the time, I listen to the conversations. But every now and then I feel the urge to speak up.

You see, I am one of the rare minority that does not think traditional education is bad. In fact, my kids have had exceptional public school experiences, as have I. That said, I do see the flaws with NCLB and high stakes testing, and I do feel we have lost the balance we need in our educational approach.

Okay, so why am I throwing myself into this conversation? Clearly my thoughts aren’t too far off from the general opinions among my GT friends and colleagues. Or are they?

In a recent conversation, my friends were making the point that creative people need to allowed the freedom to think out of the box, without significant pressure of time and structure.

Stop the presses. Hold on. Wait a minute…

While  I agree that open-ended questions, freedom in form of expression and time can foster a growth in creative thought, we can not teach our children to expect that regularly in our world – especially in our current Western culture.

In my opinion, we need to teach that creative thought can and needs to happen within the framework of a typical school assignment, for example – within the structure given, within the time limits, within the “rules”. We need to further coach that the “rules” do not have to limit creative expression at all.

Let me give an example.

Picasso was exceptionally well-trained in the “rule” of painting, studying at a leading school of art. It was not until he could create according to the rules that he smashed them all.

Likewise with the founder of modern dance, Isadora Duncan. She was a classically trained dancer BEFORE shattering all of that and creating a new school of dance.

Now, I DO agree that typical educational settings have managed to crush creative expression and freedom of thought right out of many of our kids. But I think is not necessarily related to form and structure of the classroom, as much as it is related to content.

Our educational system, at least in the US, is so heavily dependent on standardized assessments that teachers tend to fill student’s heads with the WHAT – telling them exactly what to think/know for a specific test. Very rarely are kids taught HOW to think or problem solve through novel situations.

Now, initially, some of this is important. We need a rote foundation from which to launch our creative expression. But as we continue to push the WHAT and not the HOW, we lose some of our ability to create – to problem solve.

The problem is not only in schools. Many parenting styles also focus on the WHAT instead of the HOW, as we problem solve FOR our children instead of walking them through the crisis and insisting that they problem solve for themselves. We rescue our children from themselves and the decisions they’ve made instead of insisting that they problem solve through it.

It may seem that doing that does not correlate to the development of their creativity – but I would disagree. Every time we focus on process – whether it’s when we problem solve, or when we learn something in school, or when we are playing around at home – we are setting a foundation for creative thought.

Okay – so we all know the problem…how do we solve it? Do we have to sacrifice one for the other?

I don’t think so. I think we nurture creativity in a variety of ways – through creative play that has no limits or rules or time frames, and through the structure of day in day out life.

In my household, we believe in giving the children tons of opportunities to creatively express themselves. This has been true since they were preschoolers and decided to wear their princess clothes to preschool – just because. Or during their elementary years when they would entertain themselves for hours playing with the “art”bin full of scraps of whatever, creating masterpieces.

Creative expression is extended into their academic world, as they have been coached to look for creative solutions to every problem, and still work within the rules given. They know “you need to learn to do it ‘right’ before you can successfully do it ‘wrong'”.  We never asked for timelines to be extended, despite our children taking HOURS to complete something because their creative solution was extreme. This was particularly true with projects, as our kids LOVE doing the most extreme version of any project.

In short, we have used every teachable moment to nurture their creativity – both in terms of creative expression, and in terms of critical thinking. All while emphasising that performance is valued in our culture, therefore you must find the balance between creative thought and performance. If our children want to create a to scale model of a coral reef for their science project, that is fine – as long as the work is completed in the time alloted, etc.

Wow – I really rambled on this morning. The bottom line is this:

Creativity is nurtured through the approach to everyday things – by coaching a way of thinking and looking at the world. And even though our educational system currently values WHAT a child think instead of HOW they think, I can still teach te HOW at home, and coach my kids how to incorporate that into a performance-based world.

Whew! Those are my rambling thoughts this am…what are yours? Can creativity be taught without the expense of performance?


3 thoughts on “Creativity in the age of NCLB

  1. Christine! I agree with you wholeheartedly. I see super-creative, gifted children all the time who will NEVER be able to function in the real world (and that’s–ultimately–more stifling than any over-structured environment).

    I run into the same thing as a writer, especially when I try to explain structure and craft to people. They often ask, “but doesn’t having to think about all of that stifle your creativity?”

    NOOOOOO!!!! It actually frees me up to let my thoughts fly because they’re actually going to go somewhere, instead of just being catapulted out into the ether with no rhyme or reason. Even painters of abstract art have a structure within which to freely create (a canvas or a hunk of bronze or a giant wadded up paper bag . . . ).

    Great post!!

    And–just so you know, I read your blog every day via email even though I rarely make it over here to reply. 🙂


  2. I agree! Part of being creative is figuring out how to complete a project within the allotted time frame. Like Sarah said, it will help them learn how to survive in the real world where they will also have deadlines. With no time frame in which to complete something, it might never be completed.

  3. Rules are a departure point for the creative mind. If you don’t know the “rules” you can’t break them and become mired in the potential of the “what” and stymied by the “how”. It’s one of the hardest things in the world to let your child fail but it is one of the biggest lessons and motivations to eventually succeed.
    – from someone who still continues to color outside the lines:)

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