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May 21, 2009

Yoda vs. Piaget: Creativity and Recipes

Sometimes I think of the teaching I do as training creative Jedi. Just think of me as Yoda for the pre-k set. "Trust yourself Luke. Use your creativity!" From 3- 5 years old, children experience a burst of creativity. Children are able to move from their imaginations to the real world seamlessly. It is the last outpost for the imagination. When kids get in kindergarten they start to hear adults first, and then their friends say, "I can't draw." "I'm not creative." "I can't sing." Then they doubt, "Can I sing? Am I creative? I want to fit in with my friends, and none of them are creative, I should probably not be creative either." Piaget may have accidentally set this up by describing the pre-operational stage of development in which young children perceive the world through their imagination, as hierarchically lower than the concrete operational stage. It is as if a child who sees the world for what it is, (4 apples is 4 apples no matter what shape they are in) should not see the world for what it could be, (4 apples cut in to 8 pieces and boiled can be applesauce).

Why isn't creativity important in our schools? The easy answer... it is hard to test. Concrete understanding of the world is easy to test. If you don't know that 4 apples are 4 apples, then you don't get it.

There are some rubrics that attempt to judge creativity, but in general, much of our appreciation for creativity, like her sister beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. In a recent discussion about creativity with someone on the decision-making side of the education game, I asked why creativity isn't considered a school readiness indicator. The response was, "It is the only indicator of school readiness that was deemed unreliable in several states." It was also said that many teachers are not creative enough to recognize creativity even if it bit them in the patootie. (Well that isn't what was said, but it is close enough.) Why don't we expect teachers to be creative? Why don't we expect children to be creative?

On the dinner table of school, creativity is often considered the frosting on the cake. However, in life outside of school, it is often the difference between a home cooked meal and fast food. In "real" life, ie. life outside of the socially constructed definition of school, creativity is what makes things happen, from finding cures for diseases to selling everything we know. We can't test the future ability to find a cure for cancer. To borrow a metaphor from my wife, in schools, we only test if kids know the recipe, not if they can cook.

Here is my question... Why?

Why aren't some teachers able to recognize creativity when they see it? Why isn't creativity taught as a skill?
Any art teacher can tell you that much of making art has more to do with experimentation with and mastery of materials, than with innate talent. We expect this in language arts, so why not in life? If we can teach kids the creative writing process, why can't we teach them the creative living process? If we are going to survive the "unknown" future, we are going to need new ways of looking at problems to meet those challenges. If everybody knows the recipe but nobody knows how to cook, how are we going to live, much less live well?

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