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I Believe in Creativity

Grown ups never understood anything by themselves. And it is rather tedious to have to explain things to them time and again.
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Every morning, millions of young children make their way to school. We place them in classrooms, and decree they should learn. Teachers, many of who work tirelessly, sacrificing for their students, are faced with the monumental task of caring for each child’s individual learning. It’s a very difficult task, and I feel our teachers do not get the respect, care or support they deserve.

But, there is a problem with our education system.

The modern education system employed throughout the world was developed during the late 19th century largely in response to the needs of the Industrial Revolution. While there have been minor modifications since then, the core of the system has remained largely unchanged over nearly one-and-a-half centuries. (Bertocchi & Spagat)

By many measures, the Industrial Revolution was a great boon to humanity. The development of factory-based, technology-enhanced manufacture and production ushered in unprecedented levels of goods available to the public for prices never before seen. But, as with many other advancements, there was a dark side, as well. In the factory, a man became just another cog in the machine, just another brick in the wall. When broken, whether made of metal or human flesh, the cog could easily be replaced by a new one.

There is one kind of prison where the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another kind where things are behind bars, and the man is outside.
~ Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting educators then or now support(ed) some of the travesties that came along with the blessings of the Industrial Revolution. However, what I am proposing is the idea (proposed by many others) that the education system was set up in order to provide workers needed by the new economy of their time. Just as factories stamped out identical copies of whatever widget was being produced, education became tied to “stamping out” identical workers perfectly fit for becoming the cogs in the factory (or corporate) machine. That is what society demanded, in a sense.

The “problem” is humans aren’t machine cogs. Humans aren’t bricks. Each human spirit is full of creativity and promise. Each is unique in his or her talents and abilities, destined to make a unique mark on the world, whether small or great. Simply put, even though education treats us otherwise, we are not the same.

Still, we need to be educated. Education is of utmost importance. As Sir Ken Robinson put in the most widely watched TED talks of all time, “It’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp.”

Faced with the multiple, world-wide problems, we need to find a way to bring all of the human capability and creativity to bear. It’s important to understand creativity can be found in all of the different disciplines. In fact, the advances we enjoy in our daily lives are manifestations of such creativity.

One point I think we all need to consider is the purpose of education. While I believe all of the following reasons are valid and important, which is the main reason for us to education our children?

  • To help them lead meaningful lives
  • To help them succeed in the job market
  • To help them improve society at large

The following quote comes from the Congressional Research Service‘s report entitled Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education: A Primer:

More recent concerns about scientific and technological literacy in the United States focus on the relationship between STEM education and national prosperity and power. Since World War II, the United States has benefitted[sic] from economic and military advances made possible, in part, by a highly skilled STEM workforce. However, today the economic and social benefits of scientific thinking and STEM education are widely believed to have broad application for workers in both STEM and non-STEM occupations. As such, many contemporary policymakers consider widespread STEM literacy, as well as specific STEM expertise, to be critical human capital competencies for a 21st century economy.

I do think the goals of STEM education are good, and I agree thought processes gained from studying STEM topics is useful in other fields, as well. However, on the flip side, I believe the thought processes and creativity nurtured by other non-STEM pursuits are imperative to increase the effectiveness in the STEM areas (especially the first three: science, technology and engineering). Consequently, I’m a huge fan of MythBuster and Maker Adam Savage‘s proposal to transform STEM into STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) in order to help harness the creative instincts and habits formed through art participation.

Everything that I’ve ever learned making things has universally applied to everything else that I do.
~ Adam Savage

Here’s Adam’s 2012 Bay-Area Maker Faire keynote where he discusses this (around 16:30). As an aside, I happened to be at this event, but didn’t actually get to see this particular talk. I did, however, take lots of pictures.

We need to encourage our children, our students, to build and grow their talents. Talents hidden away or suppressed can often become lost. It’s interesting to talk to some people in the technical field where I spend my days who will tell stories of a younger time in their lives where they participated in some creative pursuit. But, alas, those days are gone, and so has their creative hobby. What a waste. (I should also mention there are some who haven’t fallen into this trap, but enough do that it is worrisome.)

Recently, I attended the World Domination Summit, a long weekend infused and overflowing with creative passion. One of my favorite speakers was Chase Jarvis, who echoed many of the same ideas and ideals put forward by Sir Ken.

Creativity is the new literacy.
~ Chase Jarvis

Chase felt he had been lucky in “escaping” from genericizing effect of modern education–a bit of a sad commentary. For him, this escape had come through the viewfinder of a camera. Receiving many cameras and accessories as an inheritance, he found as he viewed the world through the camera, his world view changed. He found creativity is not the “mystical output of artists only”, but that “we are all creative”. His work with the camera was “rewiring” his brain, bringing creativity into all facets of his life.

While we can argue whether or not Sir Ken is right in saying schools kill creativity or how to fix the education system, one thing we can agree on is that creativity is good. Chase suggested one way we can nurture that creative spirit and potential is through creative hobbies. This can be done by both the young and the old. Nurturing creativity causes it to flow into all the other facets of our lives, as we train ourselves to search for and embrace creative solutions to problems.

Three things Chase suggested:

  1. Embrace creative hobbies
  2. Share creative skills with others
  3. Encourage creativity in others

Creativity needs to be at the core to solve the world’s biggest problems.
~ Chase Jarvis

So, search out your creative hobby or hobbies. Find them and hold them close. Teach and encourage creativity. Let us unlock the human potential we have within ourselves and others.

To help us remember, I think I’ll close with a special message from an icon from my childhood, Bob Ross. May he rest in peace.

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 



About Trev Harmon

Software architect, educator, blogger, photographer, would-be designer, and a believer in the power of simplicity and human-based design. Dream-Learn-Discover

Comments

  1. dhh1128 says:

    Reminds me of Harry Chapin’s “Flowers are Red”. Great song.

    http://www.harrychapin.com/music/flowers.shtml

    • Trev Harmon says:

      Daniel, thanks for the share. That’s a great song. Looking into it a little more, I found Harry Chapin explaining its origin (http://youtu.be/1y5t-dAa6UA). Here’s an edited/condensed version of what he said:

      “The song was triggered by a report card my secretary’s kid got. Wonderful eleven-year-old kid. And, believe it or not, this is what it said. They have statements on report cards around here too, right? They write a little thing–the teacher writes a comment. Catch this one. ‘Your son marches to the beat of a different drummer, but don’t worry. We’ll have him joining the parade by the end of the term.’ I got pissed off. That’s an educational term.”

      I don’t think it could be any more apropos.

Trackbacks

  1. […] month a posted a rather rambling piece on creativity in which I mentioned Chase Jarvis‘ keynote at this year’s World Domination Summit. He […]

  2. […] The economies and markets of the world are amazing things. In fact, they at times almost appear to take on a life of their own, and I believe this is due to the creative use of creative ideas. […]

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