Do Schools Inadvertently Stamp Out Creativity in Students?

By Joan Flora and Pattie Sloan: two teachers challenging classroom status quo

When young children play, they are risk-takers, excited to push the boundaries, risking it all for the pure enjoyment of the moment.  Their creative spirit demonstrates total commitment to their adventure, and our own memories of these moments signal a time when we were able to create meaning out of the ordinary and make it extraordinary.

We were artists in the medium of play.  We were problem-solvers  discovering and taming uncharted lands; we were fearlessly defending  our playmates against the invisible hoards threatening destruction; we were ethically protecting others in our camp or tribe, even siblings.  Armed with imagination, rocks and sticks, we created and ruled our worlds with joy and energy.  And so did our students.

But somewhere between the world of play and school, our students  have become content to be compliant performers rather than the creative force that fearlessly ruled their neighborhoods.  What has happened to the courageous men and women who slew dragons and out-ran volcanoes? They have been transformed from adventurous risk-takers to cautious, restrained test-takers in  the classroom, and are now  more concerned about the length and points of an assignment rather than creating new learning that will change the course of their lives.

And ironically, the very skills that allowed children to rule the playground are the very skills necessary for their future success on their jobs.  They are the skills that companies compete for as they seek promising new candidates who will change the course of their companies with innovative ideas.

Our earliest experiences in creativity involved problem-solving allowed us to work together toward a common goal.   Our passion in our play quests is the same creative passion innovators employ in their work.  The former boys and girls from the playground must be able to create and  innovate, and they must do it fearlessly.  And most of all, organizations need people of character who stand for doing the right thing for people and for our environment, no matter the context.  We believe the qualities of creative play translate into men and women who will be  resourceful and innovative in their work and in our world.

In  Why Creativity Matters,  Jimmy Daily examines the importance of creativity in the workplace, demonstrating that if we fail to nurture creativity, we  create students  concerned only with performing the tasks asked of them rather than innovating and implementing a  better product or lifestyle that will eventually impact us all.

Sir Ken Robinson, speaking at TED, had this to say about creativity in the classroom:

We are in danger of creating performers in the classroom rather than a creative force in problem-solving and innovation.  And what is wrong with performers?  In his book CreatingRobert Fritz discusses what happens when people become performers rather than creators, and although his book is not on education, the truth of the book parallels our experience in the classroom.  According to Fritz, “A performer discovers her natural talents and abilities, and then pursues activities designed to express these talents.  The performer avoids periods of incompetence and failure.  The emphasis is on her performance:  Always do well.  Never do poorly.  For some it is even more extreme:  Be perfect.”  That’s a dangerous mindset for anyone to fall prey to, but it’s hard to avoid if we’re not mindful.  We’ll tackle this issue in next week’s blog, using Carol Dweck’s work to help steer teachers out of this trap.

The I-must-be-perfect-at-all-costs attitude is the antithesis in what we strive for in our classrooms.  Sir Ken Robinson challenges attitudes and demonstrates the need for creativity in the classroom in Why Creativity Now? when he discusses multiple ways to nurture and incorporate students’ abilities.   However, as we continue our move to Common Core, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of creativity in the classroom if we focus solely on the standards and not on the students.

Fritz maintains that a person not involved in the creative process develops a passive lifestyle and this same attitude is reflected in out classrooms:


While Creating:                               While Not Creating:

involved in what they are doing       often not involved

focused outwardly                               focused inwardly

focused in the moments                     not focused

a sense of energy                                 often tired and depleted

life seems important                           life seems arbitrary

Our profession requires all of us be creators and to pass that on to our clients, equippingeu200501_strong_richard
them not just for the classroom, but for the workplace.  Remembering it is just not about today, but the rest of their lives, we can make choices that will allow them success in the classroom and in their future endeavors.


About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
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One Response to Do Schools Inadvertently Stamp Out Creativity in Students?

  1. Pingback: Curating Creativity | Teaching it Forward

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