Our Skewed System

From Diane Ackerman’s One Hundred Names for Love:

What we airily label ‘creativity’ typically blends so many features: risk-taking, perseverance, problem-solving, openness to experience, the need to share one’s inner universe, empathy, detailed mastery of a craft, resourcefulness, disciplined spontaneity, a mind of large general knowledge and strength that can momentarily be drawn to a particular, ample joy when surprised, intense focus, the useful application of obsession, the innocent wonder of a child available to a learned adult, passion, a tenuous (or at least flexible) grasp on reality, mysticism (though not necessarily theology), a reaction against the status quo (and preference for unique creations), and usually the support of at least one person – among many ingredients.

In the throes of creativity, a lively brain tussles with a mass of memories and rich stores of knowledge, attacking them both sub rosa and with the mind wide open.  Some it incubates offstage until a fully fledged insight wings into view.  The rest it consciously rigs, rotates, kneads, and otherwise plays with until a novel solution emerges.  Only by fumbling with countless bits of knowledge, and then ignoring most of it, does a creative mind craft something original.  For that, far more than the language areas of the brain are involved. Hand-me-down ideas won’t do. So conventions must be flouted, risks taken, possibilities freely spigoted, ideas elaborated, problems redefined, daydreaming encouraged, curiosity followed down zig-zagging alleyways.  Any sort of unconsidered trifle may be fair game.  It’s child’s play.  Literally.  Not a gift given to an elect few, but a widespread, natural, human way of knowing the world. With the best intentions, our schools and society bash most of it out of us. Fortunately, it’s so strong in some of us that it endures. As neuroscientist Floyd Bloom observes:

“Schools place an overwhelming emphasis on teaching children to solve problems correctly, not creatively. This skewed system dominates our first twenty years of life: tests, grades, college admissions, degrees, and job placements demand and reward targeted logical thinking, factual competence, and language and math skills–all purveys of the left brain.” (245).

And remember, we do this not just to the kids, but to the adults in classrooms as well. How many schools have “creative cultures” for teachers? Or better yet “creative learning cultures,” not just teaching cultures?

We know this. Why do we do this?

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