Monday, April 25, 2011

Are today’s students less creative?

Written by Graduate Student Morgan Milovich

For this assignment I chose to write about my beliefs surrounding the question “Are today’s students less creative?”, as my interest in creativity studies surrounds education. When I began the research on this topic, I was sure I knew exactly what I felt, that my beliefs were steadfast. But as I continued, I realized that in fact, I did not have all of the information I needed to make a real argument for it. Eventually, my perspective shifted and as I am writing this now, I have done a complete 180° in my thinking and have rooted out the main reason I felt so strong in my convictions previously.

Are today’s students less creative?
In my personal opinion, no, they are not less creative, they just have less opportunity to be creative thinkers because of the educational system we have in place and the culture we live in today. That begin said, I feel that it is the educations responsibility to make a drastic change in its mode of delivering creative problem solving skills to our youth.

It is a sad fact that over utilized standardized testing models teach students that there is only one right answer and only one path to it. I think even sadder yet, is that the teachers of these students are the ones, in most cases, who are instilling this belief in them. Increasing pressures on teachers to have students that perform well on exams have taken a lot of the creative thinking out of the classroom, teachers simply do not think they have the time to teach creatively. Administrators further this theory and its relevance when they place importance on ranking, school funding and district housing prices, which all have a direct correlation to performance on state and nationwide tests.

Inside the classroom, on the ground floor
Due to the pressures put on American teachers in our current educational system, teachers do not feel that they have time to incorporate creativity into their lessons. Honestly, I do not think they understand how to incorporate creativity, additionally that they have some serious misconceptions about what it means to teach creative problem solving skills. Creativity is not a skill that most teacher prepatory programs teach their students, instead if is often just the rote skills of being a teacher (THIS is how you write a lesson plan, THIS is how you teach multiplication). In an interview I did recently with Dr. Bonnie Cramond of UGA, I asked her what she felt was the most important nugget of information she would give to new teachers going out into the field, this was her response:

“I would like new teachers to understand the difference between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity. I see many new teachers doing creative things in their classrooms, but they are not asking the students to be creative. There is room for both, but I would like to see teachers doing more of the latter" (M. Milovich, personal communication, April 5, 2011).

Another unfortunate misconception by teachers is that creativity is meant for art alone in the curriculum, that it has no place in the traditional classroom setting. Runco calls this the art bias:

“which occurs when an educator (or parent, or anyone) equates creative potential with artistic talent. Certainly the arts are unambiguously creative, but creativity is also apparent in many other domains, both formal and informal. If this is overlooked and creativity presumed to occur only in the arts, children who are not artistically talented are deemed uncreative.” (Runco, 2008, p. 98).

This art bias has a range of unfortunate consequences, from students’ self- conception of what creativity is to the perceptions that are formed in their minds by a teacher’s negative response to creativity. In my own experience teaching I ran into more than a few teachers who held the belief that the only place for creativity was the art room, and treated my student and my chosen profession, as an art teacher, as second rate. At one point going so far as to verbally cut down a extremely talented art student I had in his Trigonometry class, in front of the whole class, calling him a “dope smoking art fag” the math teacher then adding, “you should be less creative with trying to make bongs out of everything and spend sometime on your math work.” How are our impressionable youths supposed to take such a verbal assault on a classmate? How do they process that? How does it affect their own thinking about what creativity is? Obviously I was appalled by this, but I am still deeply saddened by the fact that all of those students in that room experienced a teacher cutting down, what he sensed was, creativity.

An example of creativity working in education

I purport that the integration of creativity into set curriculum, even one concentrating on state and national standards is much easier than most teachers can imagine. Standards are just the end goal of what the student should know, there are no standard practices that must be followed in order to get to that end. That is the place where a teacher should step up, make the lesson itself engaging so the student will experience and synthesis the information rather than just remember it for the time being and forget it after the exam. Sadly, a good portion of teachers really believe that there is only one way, much like the exams they are prepping the kids for. They believe that what they were taught in college on how to teach a subject is the best and only way, even though differentiating their instruction to meet all learners is what they should be doing.

Creative problem solving skills taught in the curriculum can work; take for example the National Inventors Hall of Fame School in Akron, Ohio’s teachers who emphasized project-based learning for almost ¾ of the school day. The emphasis is on creative problem solving being woven into the state required curriculum, led by Principal Traci Buckner.

“Mindful of Ohio’s curriculum requirements, the school’s teachers came up with a project for the fifth graders: figure out how to reduce the noise in the library. Its windows faced a public space and, even when closed, let through too much noise. The students had four weeks to design proposals."

This project based learning had amazing results, totally embedded with creative problem solving skills. The students not only came up with a workable solution, but they:

“unwittingly mastered Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum—from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing.”

As an amazing bonus, the school was ranked as one of the top three schools in the area based on state achievement tests! This is not a upper-class, suburban school we are talking about with exorbitant budgets and the cream of the crop student population. We are talking about an inner-city urban setting, with a significant proportion of students living below the poverty line, in its first year being open. That kind of success is awe inspiring and proves that creativity in the classroom works, and works well.

My beliefs on how to foster creativity our youth today

I truly believe that there needs to be a cultural shift in the understanding of creativity. For creativity to be valued, beyond the lip service it gets from speeches by business heads, school administrators and even President Obama, we need to look at our culture first and our cultures educational imperatives second. In the book chapter “Early childhood interests: Seeds of adult creativity” Cohen and Gelbrich stated:

One’s culture is like a sieve or selection mechanism- only those talents and interests that are considered worthwhile will be supported and enhanced” (Cohen, Gelbrich, 1999, p 162).

When I read that passage I realized that YES! they just hit the nail on the head with that! Now, it is up to us to make creativity in our culture “worthwhile”, but more importantly it is up to each individual in this class to play a role in changing the cultural paradigms we live under today.

This could be as simple as giving your children toys that encourage their imaginative skills, engaging in a conversation over the water cooler at work about creativity and your point of view or encouraging others to engage in play or even new experiences. Who knows where all of these simple actions might go, what they might lead to and how it might change our culture, it could truly be the butterfly effect in action. You talking to a colleague at work could lead to them going home, cooking dinner as a family unit, turning off the TV and playing scrabble with their kids, which lead to their teenager pursue interests in cooking, and their middle schooler writing a poem for English about the emotions they felt spending time with their parents, which leads their teacher to make changes in her life, and so on and so on. When you have a paradigm shift in the culture, education is sure to follow.

When I first began the research for this paper, I really did think that students were less creative. I came to realize that it is not that students are less creative, it is the culture that they are being brought up in that is less appreciative of creativity.

So I challenge all of you, this upcoming Creativity and Innovation Week to truly try to spread the importance of creativity in our culture. You do not need to tout all of the educational importances, facts and figure… instead speak from your heart about why it is so imperative to embrace creativity, in whatever way you see fit. Again, in my interview with Dr. Bonnie Cramond, I asked her how to convince teachers of the importance of creativity in the classroom, but I think her response could work equally as well in any framework:

“I wish they could see that we can’t prepare students for the world of the future through knowledge consumption; they have to learn to be knowledge producers. But none of this will convince someone who hasn’t experienced the spark of creative learning herself or himself. So, maybe the best way to convince them is to teach them something that requires them to be creative and something that is rote and see what they remember” (M. Milovich, personal communication, April 5, 2011).

So go out there and teach the people around you (in any sense of the word teach!) something creatively, it could change our culture.


Bronson, P. & Merryman, A. (2010). The creativity crisis. Newsweek. Retrieved from

Cohen, L.M. & Gelbrich, J.A. (1999). Early childhood interests: Seeds of adult creativity. In Fishkin, A.S., Cramond, B. & Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (Eds.) Investigating creativity in youth: Research and methods. (pp 147-177). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Cramond, B. (2003). Creativity is the most important thing we can teach our children in the new millennium [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Hagen, C. (2011). Are your kids creatively FKD? The Denver Egotist. February 14. Retrieved from

Kim, K. H., Cramond, B. & Vantassel-Baska, J. (2010). The relationship between creativity and intelligence. In Sternberg, R.J. & Kaufman, J. (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity (pp. 395-412). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Naiman, L. (2010). Is America suffering from a creativity crisis? Creativity at work newsletter, August 11. Retrieved from

Runco, M.A. (2008). Creativity and Education. New Horizons in Education, 56(1), 96-104.

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