What is Creativity?

Are you creative? What does that even mean?! If you’re not creative then when did you decide that and how do you define it?
Original ideas…hmmmm…how many art projects have you done that involved color but didn’t involve original ideas. You were told what to create. That doesn’t sound like creativity at all?! But, what about when you are goofing with friends and you make up a story about the time you were haunted by ghosts during trick-or-treating. That sounds exactly like creativity. You created something that was original. What about that dance move you came up with? That shortcut you created on Minecraft? That new use you found for one of your toys. Are those expressions of creativity valued in your school? Get out your red pen; it’s time to give your school a grade!

What Kind of Creative Work is in Your Hallways?

Walk yourself through the halls of your school. What do you see? Mostly visual art right? How much of the art is original ideas and how much is an assigned project? Is there any video art? Is there any musical art? Is dance and theatre art displayed in some way? Are there jokes, stories, and non-fiction pieces that students wrote outside of school? Should there be? Give your school a grade. Do the adults proudly display all kinds of creativity, as defined here, or do they merely put up colorful evidence of assignments completed in the classroom?

Imagine This Kind of School

You walk in the doors and see a styrofoam monster that someone has built for a movie project they’re working on. You ask what class this is for and they say, “no class. I just thought it would be fun.” You keep walking to see a girl working on her laptop. She’s editing a photo. “Oh, cool,” you say, “what assignment is that for?!” “This wasn’t an assignment.” She says. “I wanted to figure out how to make images black and white and then found some other cool stuff I could do to it.” You keep walking and see pictures, paintings, drawings, and even a few screens hanging on the wall that are showing videos and graphics that students have created. Then you hear a piano in the background. You quickly walk toward the sound to find a boy playing notes on a keyboard. “What song is that?” You ask. “I don’t know. I haven’t given it a title yet. I’m still writing it.” He says. Does this school value creativity?

Why Do Educators Often Stifle Creativity?

As a former teacher I feel I can speak to some of the objections that teachers would have to the kind of environment I’ve described above. I give them below in no particular order. *DISCLAIMER* These are not good reasons to stifle creativity. They are just the reasons that I’ve heard.
  1. Creativity is distracting. It really is. It takes time and a lot of opportunities. Teachers often feel they already have very little time to get to the material they think is important and displaying these kinds of projects would encourage students to be late, miss class, or skip homework.
  2. Creativity is immeasurable. How often do you get a poor grade in art class? Rarely right? It’s difficult to measure creativity and school is built around ranking students by their grades. If everything was a creative work, how would they grade it?!
  3. Creativity is scary. Students who are allowed to speak their mind can have some thoughts that come across as dark and depressing. Adults forget what it’s like to be young and that they may have experienced doubt, loneliness, despair, and depression or anxiety. They forget how important it is to explore these emotions and find a healthy way to express them.

Creativity is Important

Educators should be doing everything in their power to encourage and give room for your creativity. Without creativity and imagination there can be no innovation. Everyone would look at an object and wait to be told how it is to be used instead of testing and analyzing the object on their own. Your creativity is a big part of what makes you unique…or wait…YOUnique! Your school should look more like a living museum than a display of slightly different art projects. There should be evidence of student creativity on every wall, in every place that is possible. Researchers have even found that creativity is almost always in its peak when you’re only 3 to 5 years old. That’s because everything is new to you so pretty much everything you do is an act of creativity. This is when parents generally start giving you assignments. Practice your letters Practice your guitar Say these words Read these books Don’t color outside the lines I’m not saying rules are bad. We need rules to know how we are allowed to treat each other. But creativity is a wonderful mix of our desire and our emotion. These expressions should be valued and shared as often as possible. So…how did your school do?! They need to make some changes, huh? I wonder what new ways you’ll come up with to bring these changes about. I can’t wait to hear about it. Tell me your thoughts! IG: @philip.mott Twitter: @philipmott1

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