Teachers Don’t Like Creative Students

by on December 12, 2011 at 7:33 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

One of the most consistent findings in educational studies of creativity has been that teachers dislike personality traits associated with creativity. Research has indicated that teachers prefer traits that seem to run counter to creativity, such as conformity and unquestioning acceptance of authority (e.g., Bachtold, 1974; Cropley, 1992; Dettmer, 1981; Getzels & Jackson, 1962; Torrance, 1963). The reason for teachers’ preferences is quite clear creative people tend to have traits that some have referred to as obnoxious (Torrance, 1963). Torrance (1963) described creative people as not having the time to be courteous, as refusing to take no for an answer, and as being negativistic and critical of others. Other characteristics, although not deserving the label obnoxious, nonetheless may not be those most highly valued in the classroom.

….Research has suggested that traits associated with creativity may not only be neglected, but actively punished (Myers & Torrance, 1961; Stone, 1980). Stone (1980) found that second graders who scored highest on tests of creativity were also those identified by their peers as engaging in the most misbehavior (e.g., “getting in trouble the most”). Given that research and theory (e.g., Harrington, Block, & Block, 1987) suggest that a supportive environment is important to the fostering of creativity, it is quite possible that teachers are (perhaps unwittingly) extinguishing creative behaviors.

From Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom?, a good review paper. What the paper shows is that the characteristics that teachers use to describe their favorite student correlate negatively with the characteristics associated with creativity. In addition, although teachers say that they like creative students, teachers also say creative students are “sincere, responsible, good-natured and reliable.” In other words, the teachers don’t know what creative students are actually like.  (FYI, the research design would have been stronger if the researchers had actually tested the students for creativity.)  As a result, schooling has a negative effect on creativity.

My experience as a parent is consistent with the idea that teachers don’t like creative students but I try not to blame the teachers too much. Creative people, for better and worse, ignore social conventions. Thus, it can be hard for teachers to deal with creative students in a classroom setting where they must guide 20-30 students en masse. As Jonah Lehrer puts it:

Would you really want a little Picasso in your class? How about a baby Gertrude Stein? Or a teenage Eminem? The point is that the classroom isn’t designed for impulsive expression – that’s called talking out of turn. Instead, it’s all about obeying group dynamics and exerting focused attention. Those are important life skills, of course, but decades of psychological research suggest that such skills have little to do with creativity.

One hope I have for personalized learning, ala the Khan Academy, is that  teachers will not feel the need to suppress creative students when classroom dynamics do not require that all the students follow all the rules all the time .

Hat Tip: Erik Barker.

Frank December 12, 2011 at 7:53 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

Sir Ken Robinson had pretty much the same thesis in a TED talk. Absolutely true. Average kids conform, really smart kids don’t know how to play the conformity game, it’s the politically astute, smart kids that know how to subtly rock the boat. But having a disruptive creative genius in the class doesn’t do much for those who just need to pass through the schooling process and emerge the other side with the piece of paper that qualifies them as being suitable for employment.

John Marbach December 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Totally agreed. The majority of students are working their way through the system so they can receive a credential on the other side.

Here’s a quote from PG’s essay on his advice to high school students:
“Right now most of you feel your job in life is to be a promising college applicant. But that means you’re designing your life to satisfy a process so mindless that there’s a whole industry devoted to subverting it. No wonder you become cynical. The malaise you feel is the same that a producer of reality TV shows or a tobacco industry executive feels. And you don’t even get paid a lot.

Rebellion is almost as stupid as obedience. In either case you let yourself be defined by what they tell you to do. The best plan, I think, is to step onto an orthogonal vector. Don’t just do what they tell you, and don’t just refuse to.

You may be thinking, we have to do more than get good grades. We have to have extracurricular activities. But you know perfectly well how bogus most of these are. Collecting donations for a charity is an admirable thing to do, but it’s not hard. It’s not getting something done. What I mean by getting something done is learning how to write well, or how to program computers, or what life was really like in preindustrial societies, or how to draw the human face from life. This sort of thing rarely translates into a line item on a college application.”

Nat Howard December 15, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Cool quote. Pardon my ignorance: who is “PG”?

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji December 23, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Paul Graham – Y Combinator

lvps1000vm December 12, 2011 at 8:03 am

It’s funny how people mention Picasso as if he had been some kind of school dropout. Picasso attended painting school in Barcelona, mastered the proper techniques and graduated with a honor prize, being recognized by his teachers as the best talent they had. The masterpiece required for graduation was an absolutely conservative painting. This:
http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/pablo-picasso/science-and-charity-1897
Later, his career turned to the newer tendencies.

Roy December 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm

+1

mpowell December 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm

In Barcelona I saw some early works by Picasso when he was essentially still a student and I was astonished by their quality. People don’t realize how well he fully mastered classical techniques before beginning with the experimentation that he is famous for.

Yadira December 14, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I consider myself a highly creative person and a very engaged student but in my classroom experience those two rarely mix. I have great teachers for rigorous classes that encourage conversation and can handle several voices in a class but even then creativity rarely makes its way into my academic work. The teaching system, at least at higher levels like AP or IB classes, isn’t structured to include creative expression or approaches. It is all analysis and problem-solving. “Creative” activities are included in more regular classes but then the projects are very much dumbed down standardized projects based graded more on “prettified” conformity than actual ingenuity. It’s not the traits of creative people that are the problem, it’s the structure of how teaching and academic subjects are approached. I think academia in itself is structurally opposed to creative approaches (but not necessarily against creative ideas as long as they are presented within the framework of an analytical paper or a math problem).

Ryan December 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I love when a storytime theory does not work on the example provided.

Kitty_T December 12, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I hadn’t read the reference to Picasso as an example of a drop-out, but and example of a pain in the neck. (Now, his egomania may have also developed later like his cubism, but art honors aren’t evidence one way or the other.)

Also, that he excelled in art school doesn’t really speak to how he’d have tolerated reciting his multiplication tables and memorizing lists of national capitals.

Hmmm December 20, 2011 at 1:18 am

Well, according to Wikipedia (yes), Picasso was quite the rebel in his youth:

“This process often took students a month, but Picasso completed it in a week, and the impressed jury admitted Picasso, who was 13. The student lacked discipline but made friendships that would affect him in later life”

“At age 16, Picasso set off for the first time on his own, but he disliked formal instruction and quit attending classes soon after enrollment”

Ken Carpenter December 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm

With few exceptions, people are rarely creative until their teens. However, poor teaching can teach bad habits that may stifle creativity later.

Nola Redd January 3, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Disagree. Small children are amazingly creative. I give my four year old (my 4th child) a box of crayons and an empty notebook (rather than a coloring book) and she comes up with some amazing creations. Are they Picasso quality? Nope. But small children also receive less criticism and are therefore more willing to explore and to take risks. Very few teenagers will attempt the color combinations and interesting juxtapositions that a four year old will, because they “know” that you cannot have the sun and the stars up at the same time.

Put my same four year old into a classroom, and her peers and her teachers will gradually convince her to “stay within the lines” (or, that “anyway flowers are green and red”). By the time she is a teenager, she will be less likely to take risks in all aspects of her life and more likely to conform to the narrow margin she is told is “correct.”

My (homeschooled) ten year old, on the other hand, has already run one business and is looking for a second one to engage in. The first one “flopped” because of the weather – it was an outdoor business, and she quickly realized that Pennsylvania winters are not ideal for working outside. But I didn’t tell her that going in; I let her make that determination for herself, and she learned from the experience.

8 December 12, 2011 at 8:05 am

Homeschool.

Rubashov December 12, 2011 at 9:43 am

+1

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 10:12 am

Unfortunately, homeschooling is a workaround, not really a solution.

MC December 12, 2011 at 10:58 pm

It’s a solution for the people who homeschool, isn’t it?

ADT January 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm

As someone who was homeschooled for two years, let me be clear: It’s a tool, not a solution. Some parents are really good at it, others should never try. Mine tried and failed pretty miserably and I would of been a lot better off in public school.

Nola Redd January 3, 2012 at 4:16 pm

If you mean, “only a solution for those who homeschool but not for the masses,” then I suppose you are right.

Since our current educational system was modeled after Henry Ford’s assembly line, with the intention being to produce perfect copies, revamping the entire system is the only way to “fix” the problem – and that’s never going to happen.

Of course, as more people turn to homeschooling, it underlies the need for a system-wide revamp, and so it is a step in pushing people towards a more open system.

MC December 12, 2011 at 10:57 pm

+2

FYI December 12, 2011 at 11:50 am

Homeschool is great but all that is needed here is private school. Public school by definition wants to standardize behavior.

Noah Yetter December 12, 2011 at 11:59 am

No, school by definition wants to standardize behavior. These pathologies lie at the core of the traditional schooling model. Public or private is immaterial.

gwern December 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Pretty much. Ask anyone who went to Catholic school whether their private nature fostered creativity…

(One of the highlights of my time in Catholic high school was when by sheer luck I got special permission to wear to school a pair of wooden Dutch clogs I had painted bright orange and tiger stripes. Or to give another example, we were allowed to wear normal clothes perhaps 4 times a year, and we had to pay for that privilege; *everyone* paid.)

marc December 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm

One of the biggest lies propagated regarding any private school.

I attended a catholic school and was given plenty of chances to explore creative thinking.

As an aside and directed more at the author then you, to group Picasso and Eminem is where the entire stance is lost.

Josh December 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I would say homeschool only encourages one to view the worldview as your parents want you to see it. I suppose some argue the same for public school, but just being exposed to other kids who may be different from you is probably enough to expand someone’s worldview.

I also agree with the assertion that private schools aren’t necessarily the answer. For that you have to assume that private schools allow for “rocking the boat” more than public schools. I’m not sure you can really say that, especially when it comes to parochial schools. I think you could very much say the same about some homeschooling as well.

A large part of the answer would seem to be lower class sizes – as in at least half of what they are now – 10 to 15 students per teacher tops – but good luck getting funding for that.

When I was in school, we had what was called “outreach” which is basically where all the “gifted” kids had their own day together doing problem solving, whatever. I think that really helped the kids that were in that program. Perhaps something like that for all kids is needed. Also, extracurricular activity that fosters creativity should be promoted as well.

Rubashov December 12, 2011 at 9:54 pm

“I would say homeschool only encourages one to view the worldview as your parents want you to see it. ”

Heh. I thought that too. And then I started homeschooling my own kids and learned that all my stereotypes were crap.

Charles December 13, 2011 at 7:34 am

Homeschooling = isolation/exposure only to your parents = lack of exposure to a social learning environment. TO SUGGEST THAT IS TO REVEAL SHEER IGNORANCE. I lead one homeschool group of 200+ families and belong to four others, all local to my home. Homeschooled children are exposed to more diversity – perspective, age, socio-economic, gender, etc. than traditionally schooled children in any setting I’ve seen can imagine.

Mykle Law December 13, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Charles… I’d love to see you write this experience up and post it on a blog. Or just email it to me.

Maha December 19, 2011 at 4:59 am

I would love to know how in more detail. Thanks

jimi December 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm

>>When I was in school, we had what was called “outreach” which is basically where all the “gifted” kids had their own day together doing problem solving, whatever. I think that really helped the kids that were in that program.

I was in a gifted program. We were bussed to a different school with the other schools’ gifted kids on Wednesdays.

I also never did my homework (but got the highest grades on tests). As punishment for not doing my homework, I usually was not allowed to participate in the gifted program on Wednesdays. Brilliant.

[ later dropped out of high school in 10th grade, got a GED and scored about 1500/1600 on my SAT's to get into a commuter college.]

Collin December 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm

One of the benefits of homeschooling is it does allow you to self- direct, follow your nose, and if you read best while running up and down (some kids I know) or learn best by getting into your own world in books, swamps, microscopes, whatever, you are not disrupting the “learning” process of everyone else.
I have worked in private schools and agree–I can admire and enjoy some questioning, some getting of topic, etc. but if too many kids just want to do their own thing in a classroom nothing gets done.

Winter December 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm

The problem with homeschooling alone is that kids need to be exposed to a social learning environment to reinforce behaviors that are required in society today. In my opinion the best schooling for children, and it is how my children are being schooled, is to find a good private school that facilitates kids learning in a way that is best for them and that promotes homeschooling as part of the educational process. The kids get both a good social schooling environment along with the benefits of home schooling.

The problem with most/all public schools today is that they are teaching based on a module that is from an era that was trying to promote and produce blue collar works that are use to a 8 to 5 job. To “fix” the current school system we have to start from the ground up and also have to relies that children learn in different ways — there is no single way of teaching that will work for all children.

Just been there December 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm

As a college student who recently left the public school system, I have to viciously disagree with your ‘blue-collar’ comment. The problem lies is teachers attempting all students to fit into white-collar jobs, which there are not enough of. We are told that is would socially unacceptable to become maids or plumbers (although I know that plumbers get paid very well). However, not everyone is fit to become a CEO, and furthermore, students are not trained for anything in public schools; we are lied to about college, the ‘real world’, and we have a set of social skills forced upon us that later on cause depression and a lack of self-esteem. Also, it causes graduates to refuse ‘patty-flipping jobs’ because to accept them would be considered failure, when really, any money-making job that contributes to society is noble, including patty-flippers. Looking back, I personally learned nothing from my classes except for some inane points of knowledge I forgot right after the class. So my suggestion would be allowing those who do want to be blue-collar workers to go to a school were they can learn how to do it properly (instead of making problems worse when they fix things, like mechanics have done of my car) with experience-based classes, and those who are more creative and more analytical to progress in their knowledge-based classes.

Example: This is what they do in Germany. I had a German exchange student live with me for a year. She was a year behind me in age, and yet she knew multiple languages and had a creative style I marveled at. The only complaint she had was the specialization that was required in their version of college, where degree changes are near to impossible. However, our colleges allow more freedom, thus the change would just leave us better off.

Dean December 12, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I am always fascinated when people eloquently assert that they learned nothing in school except for the inane. Your very ability to use well written prose to argue against your teachings shows that you not only have an ability to reject what you learn, but that you learned a great deal and find it useful.

Tony Lawrence January 3, 2012 at 8:35 am

Why do you assume they learned “well written prose” in school?

I learned to write by reading, which was something I did outside of school. I would agree with that commenter: school taught me very little. My own curiosity gave me much more and still does.

Not all of us need to be led. For those of us who will seek our own education, formal teaching is often more hindrance than help.

Robert Olson December 12, 2011 at 8:22 pm

“The problem with homeschooling alone is that kids need to be exposed to a social learning environment”

You mean Lord of the Flies?

Dean December 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm

To a degree, yes. You must learn that there are people out there who delight in hurting you. Middle school sucks, but it is a crucial time.

MC December 12, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Because before “middle school” was invented, no one new that there were “people out there who delight in hurting you.” It’s the only way to learn that. None of the Founding Fathers, or the ancient Greeks knew that, because they didn’t go to Middle School.

Got it.

MC December 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm

“knew” not “new”. I wasn’t homeschooled, so don’t make any sweeping generalizations based on my typo.

Marie December 12, 2011 at 11:29 pm

I went to a private high school that many homeschoolers started at as their first regular school environment (I think they were prepping for college). They were nearly to a man, shall we say, below grade level at reading social cues. Fine in class with teachers, but lots of awkwardness interacting with other students. There were many inappropriate comments and reactions, especially while playing sports. We were a generally nice group of kids and were good with new comers due to a decent military brat population.

So not Lord of the Flies, just the habits, social conventions, and body language of your peers. Eleven year olds aren’t evil and vicious, but they’re a culture you can never understand unless you are immersed in it.

Rubashov December 15, 2011 at 9:04 am

Clearly, understanding 11-year old social interaction is the key to success in life.

Here’s a thought–take those same homeschooled kids and have them spend a week in an environment with people of all ages, from elderly to infants. Now take a public school 11-year old. See who does better. Then think about which situation they’ll be in the rest of their lives.

MD December 12, 2011 at 9:29 pm

“a social learning environment”

For children, the blind leading the blind. Just as often ends up spreading dysfunctional behavior.

NAME REDACTED December 12, 2011 at 8:06 am

“it is quite possible that teachers are (perhaps unwittingly) extinguishing creative behaviors.”

Thats the purpose of school. Seriously, the modern school system was explicitly designed to foster conformity. Look it up.

S. December 12, 2011 at 8:11 am

“Look it up.” — Ironic

lemmy caution December 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm

“schooling in capitalist America” is good on this.

here is an excerpt:
http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/philosophy/education/bg/bg-ch-5.html

Creativity is negatively correlated with getting good grades, because creativity is not generally what employers want from their employees.

Rahul December 12, 2011 at 8:12 am

Does a creative student, by definition, have to be rebellious or disruptive? Is “creativity” always an admirable trait worthy of being nurtured (especially when it’s a low grade version)?

anon December 12, 2011 at 8:43 am

Part of the problem is that good teachers are unusual: teachers who can help guide the smart, creative, disruptive, and nerdy types as well as the conforming types and all the rest are rare. And in some (many?) cases it is not teachers but administrators who are responsible for dysfunctional classrooms.

My 3 grown children had a wide variety of teachers in public and private schools, ranging through those who truly inspired to those who were just doing a job to those who should not have been anywhere near young children because of their malevolence (the latter we saw in public schools only, in grade school and high school).

Combine the difficulty of finding good teachers with some of the more maladaptive parental attitudes that are being taught to their children, and that explains why homeschooling is becoming more popular. And that includes secular and religious homeschooling.

Regardless, most children are better served if they are read to at least 15 minutes each day from the day they are born, including repeating simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Literacy and numeracy are great gifts to young children.

Dhanson December 12, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Finding good teachers is only difficult because public education is set up to reward mediocrity.

The truth is, organizations hire unsuitable people all the time. In private companies, there is a significant amount of employment churn as the best employees are rewarded and incentivized and given more power and authority, while the poor employees are eventually shuffled out of the organization or into other positions where they can be more effective. This creates constant job openings, which allows the company’s HR process to sift out weak performers and retain the good ones. This leads to a stronger, more capable work force over time.

Education doesn’t work this way. Teachers aren’t rewarded based on merit and performance, but rather on seniority. This means the longer you’re on the job, the harder it is to justify leaving. So the teaching positions fill up with mediocre teachers, and there is little churn in employment. The result is a fairly static, mediocre workforce. In addition, the top performers who go into teaching to make a difference find themselves fighting a sclerotic system, teacher’s unions, and being frozen out of senior positions by people who have tenure or at least very secure jobs regardless of how well they perform.

And if that one-in-twenty phenomenal teacher does get scooped up into the system, the only students who gain the advantage of learning from that teacher are the few who actually make it into her class, since there’s no mechanism for expanding her scope and influence. I’d rather have my kid in a class of 50 students being taught by a great teacher than in a class of 20 being taught by an idiot who doesn’t give a damn, but the system isn’t set up to allow that.

If you want to attract world-class people into teaching and allow them to have maximum impact, the system needs major reform.

Jason December 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm

The problem with assessment is that, as far as I’m aware. No one has figured out a good way to assess teachers. Current merit-based pay systems have been shown to have no effect on test scores, for instance.

Also, there is an enormous amount of churn. Most teachers leave after their first few years. That’s a pretty easy stat to look up before you go claiming the opposite.

What will eventually need to happen if people are really serious about improving teacher qualities, is that they’ll have to start paying more. Right now, teacher pay is not commiserate with the education level most states require.

But, you know, unions are the devil and teachers are to blame for everything.

Dhanson December 12, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Every other industry manages to do employee assessment. The fact that teachers can’t be assessed I believe has more to do with the rigid structure in which that assessment has to take place, opposition from teacher’s unions, and a rigid bureaucracy.

Rather than trying to centrally plan some form of national teacher assessment program, or having committees of bureaucrats try to figure out how to do it, in my perfect world I would make schools competitive, tie the salaries of principals and administrators to the performance of their schools, and let them figure out how to attract the best teachers and get rid of the worst ones.

And yes, there is plenty of churn in the school system, but it’s not the kind I’m talking about. The churn is entirely at the bottom end – young teachers hired, young teachers leaving. It’s not merit-based – if a school needs to cut back, the teachers last hired are the first fired – even if one of those teachers is demonstrably better than a senior teacher marking time until retirement. This type of churn does not act as the kind of quality filter I’m talking about.

You predictably claim that the right answer is to pay teachers more, but where’s the evidence that that works? Do school systems that pay teachers more have better outcomes? And how exactly would paying teachers more help if the current teachers with seniority and tenure aren’t going anywhere? Are you expecting them to somehow become better teachers because they’re getting bigger salaries?

The evidence I would look for to determine if teachers are underpaid is simple: Are school systems having problems today finding qualified teachers, and therefore settling for less-qualified applicants? If not, and if there are more applicants than jobs right now, just how is raising teacher salaries going to help?

I do think that *some teachers need to be paid more – while others need to be paid less. That decision should be made on merit, on an individual basis.

Jason December 13, 2011 at 9:26 pm

I’m coming back to this late, but your response deserves another reply. The problem with teacher assessment is that no one can agree on what the goal is. Test scores are currently the dominant factor, but test scores don’t correlate very well with success in college or life. Additionally, most assessment systems ignore population differences. School populations are the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about, but the fact is it’s unreasonable to hold inner city schools/teachers with students in extremely difficult situations (it’s hard to learn when mom is a drug addict or you didn’t eat last night or both) to the same standards as schools/teachers in affluent suburbs. Yet, typical assessments see little difference between these two.

As for churn, I really think that’s a red-herring. All the stats I’ve ever seen show teaching as having roughly the same kind of turn over as most other professions. Show me stats to the contrary and I’ll believe it.

I advocate paying more because that’s how you’re going to get a better, smarter population of teachers. Right now, two kinds of people become teachers: those who are willing to sacrifice because they believe in public service and those who like all the time off. Many very bright people who might otherwise at least consider teaching don’t because they can’t afford to/want more pay. It’s no secret that better paying jobs tend to draw from a larger pool of applicants.

But what this all comes down to is the nation figuring out what the goals are supposed to be for education and what are the measurable expectations for teachers.

Last, and I’ll say this until my last breath, teachers are not the biggest part of the problem. Are there bad teachers? Yes, absolutely. But the primary problem with schools is a problem with society. America, right now, does not care about its poor. This includes children. Look at school rankings for any state or district. The correlation between school performance and the percentage of the population on free and reduced lunch is almost perfect. Sure, schools will sometimes escape it for a year or two, but then the crop of young, dedicated teachers they lucked into burns out from trying to meet the basic needs of students as well as teach them. The teachers leave, and the school ends up right back where it started.

So, in conclusion: You want better teachers: Pay enough to draw from a larger pool. You want to fix student performance: Address the poverty rate. You want to fiddle around with useless “solutions”: Keep at the merit pay and standardized tests.

Chris Adams December 12, 2011 at 9:00 am

I think the rebellious tag is too broad: a really common trait of better students is that they’re capable of recognizing the flaws and inconsistencies in the system. Couple with the fact that school administrators tend to be solidly average skill-wise but placed in a top-down power hierarchy and it seems almost inevitable for anyone on the edges to be seen as difficult.

Kitty_T December 12, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Recognition of the “flaws and inconsistencies in the system” is often expressed as “but it’s so stupid!” around our house.

Of course, so is pure laziness.

Amanda Marcotte December 12, 2011 at 9:07 am

You’re right; we should all support a system where we scan around looking for people who exhibit a spark of creativity and just pound it out of them until they have no will to live. That would, after all, make classroom management somewhat easier.

Meg December 12, 2011 at 9:31 am

I would argue that social intelligence and empathy are more valuable in the long run in most cases, even when creating new products. In the modern economy, most major breakthroughs are the product of team efforts, not lone geniuses. It would take an argument I haven’t heard before to convince me that we should be encouraging children to believe themselves too good for social rules and conventions, especially those who didn’t start out believing that.

Cliff December 12, 2011 at 9:44 am

All the social intelligence and empathy in the world won’t get you a new product without creativity. No one is proposing that children be taught they are “too good” for rules.

Rahul December 12, 2011 at 9:51 am

Of all the nations in the world I doubt America is where creativity is at peril. The fact that we graduate students from school that can’t add, solve equations, read etc. is hardly a problem of failing to recognize creativity. I think we are barking up the wrong tree.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 10:13 am

Again, Meg, your conception that adult social rules correlate to what happens in public schools is in my opinion an assumption. Even group work is completely absent from most public school education (as of about 10 years ago) and what of it there is (even if you believe it is good) is token.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 10:15 am

I’d bet that I had to unlearn classroom discipline in order to speak up and contribute to group work in the real world. And those obnoxious adults do exist, so did public school methods help or hurt that? I can’t tell.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 10:28 am

By the way, the obnoxious people are often the ones the teachers favor. That was the case in most of my experience. It’s just that they are clever enough to make the teacher think they are cool and direct their real nastiness towards other kids. It’s interesting how schools tend to suppress creativity while managing to allow rampant bullying.
Google: bi-strategic resource controller
Now there will be some just-so stories about how this is a good thing (you need to learn to play the game, dealing with difficult people builds character, etc.), even though those same people might argue for a policy of fair distribution of resources. I spend a fair amount of time trying to get my toddler to be meaner because (he’s way too nice and) that’s the way the system works. We didn’t make it that way.

Dhanson December 12, 2011 at 12:25 pm

They may be the product of team effort, but if you’ve ever worked in a modern engineering team you’d know that there is usually one person, or maybe a small number of people, who drive the vision and innovation in the product. Design by committee rarely produces anything but workmanlike, average products.

In any organization, or on any team, a rule of thumb is that 20% of the people produce 80% of the value. Squashing the 20% in the classroom so they conform better does immense damage to our ability to innovate and compete.

Ashwin December 12, 2011 at 8:49 am

” the modern school system was explicitly designed to foster conformity.” As were many other modern institutions.

Although he frequently overstated his case, at least in this respect, Michel Foucault was spot on. Quoting from the wiki of ‘Discipline and Punish’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discipline_and_Punish – “Foucault’s argument is that discipline creates “docile bodies”, ideal for the new economics, politics and warfare of the modern industrial age – bodies that function in factories, ordered military regiments, and school classrooms.”

Khan Academy by itself does nothing to stimulate creativity. It is still personalisation within a very narrow algorithmic and confined space. It may of course free up teacher time to pursue more creative endeavours but for that, the system needs to change from the root up.

What people like Ken Robinson are getting at is that this system that produces docile automatons is obsolete. Moreover, if you want docile automatons in the current environment, you simply replace your workers with real robots as Foxconn plan to do en masse. Which means we need shift the emphasis of education away from training people to do ‘routine’ jobs as I argue here http://www.macroresilience.com/2011/03/15/advances-in-technology-and-artificial-intelligence-implications-for-education-and-employment/

Rahul December 12, 2011 at 9:02 am

Learning-at-your-own-pace and creativity are two separate issues and it looks like Tyler’s conflating the two.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 9:08 am

Not if they share personality traits. Creativity in part requires time to make connections other people don’t make. Even in the off-site advanced training slowness was my biggest problem. In fact, it is in those “stretch” environments where it shows the most. Creativity is an investment and most of education requires immediate payoff. Even graduate school hates creativity. Seriously. The advisor says he likes it, but the system militates against it. In fact, if you as a graduate student are being very creative you are doing it wrong, and it is doing you wrong.

Dhanson December 12, 2011 at 3:16 pm

My wife is in grad school in health care, and I’m shocked by how much time her various courses spend on APA formatting rules for documents, and how much of the mark for papers is determined by how well you adhere to proper APA guidelines. You can write a brilliant paper, and get an average mark because you didn’t properly indent your headers and use proper italics in your citations. And a drone who has never had a creative thought in his life can get a passing grade by just making sure everything he submits is neat and orderly.

Truly creative people get punished by such grading systems, or get frustrated by wasting their time on what they see as trivialities and drop out.

DW December 13, 2011 at 10:11 am

So what you’re saying is that the truly creative are above such menial administrative tasks, unlike us drones?

In law school, there are strict formatting rules for citations in research papers because it assists the reader in locating exactly which sources were used. I would imagine it’s the same reasoning for APA rules. if “creative people” are frustrated because they have to take a little extra time to make their paper more usable as a scholarly work, I’m not sympathetic.

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 9:09 am

Foucault can perhaps be forgiven for a model of military deployment that prevailed up until WWII. WWII, however, saw the rise of the commando, and now we deploy troops with far more of their brain engaged than has been the case for some time. We don’t do mass maneuvers anymore, except in basic, where the inductees priorities are being rearranged, and in parades, where the mass is an excellent propaganda tool.

Roy December 12, 2011 at 12:42 pm

But now of course we don’t use mass armies either. Ie. the people being socialized are not being socialized to be infantry, they are bring socialized to be obedient employees and citizens. Foucault was arguing this too, the fact he argued this made them excellent cannon fodder was an additional point

Gabe December 12, 2011 at 1:58 pm

seems that america is being set up to lose wars it cannot win then.

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Don’t get me started on the systematic hollowing out and neutering of our military which has been going on for the last couple of decades. That’s a really ugly problem. There is a substantial part of the ruling class that doesn’t want the US to be militarily dominant, and they have been relentless in the pursuit of that goal.

Drew December 12, 2011 at 9:02 am

I have always thought about this predicament through the lens of the Myers-Briggs personality typology. The most prevalent personality type in education is the “ST” cognitive style. People with these traits tend to appreciate structure, are very well-organized, responsible and dependable. They enjoy jobs in which they can set goals, make decisions, and give orders. As a result, they are drawn to education where they can fill these personal needs.

Some of what happens in the classroom fits well with an ST mindset that proceeds in a linear fashion. For example, the most common method of teaching math to elementary-age children is a linear process. First comes addition, then subtraction, etc. For a large number of students, I would even say a large majority, this works fine.

But there is a minority of the student population that doesn’t learn like the ST cognitive style. Encompassed in this subset are the highly creative kids and “outside the box” thinkers. ST teachers don’t understand these children and have a hard time adapting to their needs. I struggled with it growing up and I see my 7-year old son facing the same challenges.

Miguel Madeira December 12, 2011 at 11:08 am

I suspect that you want to sat “SJ”

David Wright December 12, 2011 at 9:04 am

Does the creativity metric used here correlate well with anything that might be generally seen as useful (income, number of patents granted, etc.) or it just a measurement of things the paper’s authors like?

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 9:37 am

“Gifted” is basically the term used for those kids. So, depending on definitions, yes.

oh_no_not_one_of_you December 13, 2011 at 12:28 pm

This line of thinking (show me the proof, metrics only) has always struck me as astonishingly shabby and myopic, and conformist to a degree that would be deeply embarrassing if people like you had a better understanding of the non-metric aspects of the world. You apparently refuse to have any appreciation for creativity because it cannot be shown in metrics. I have met so many people who think this way in my profession, and I have come to the conclusion that their ideal way of being, of understanding the world, is a state of willful autism. Whereby an ability to recognize social cues or to understand things that are fuzzy around the edges (e.g. the concept of creativity) are signs of an inferior mind. And there’s no way to argue with people who think this way because they believe in their worldview with obtuse certainty, not unlike the way some Bible-thumpers believe there is an angry daddy in the sky who doesn’t like it when they have sex.

anon December 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm

there is an angry daddy in the sky who doesn’t like it when they have sex.

You mean, there isn’t?????

Bill December 12, 2011 at 9:08 am

You also have to distinguish the creative student from the disruptive student who is disruptive because he doesn’t understand the subject matter and wants to divert your attention, or his peers, from it.

Creativity with good grades is different from creativity with all F’s.

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 9:22 am

But bad grades are often a sign of boredom. My first quarter grades (ie: the review of the previous year’s material) were consistently my lowest. My gifted ed facilitator informed me that low grade averages were common among (bored) gifted students. (Gifted generally being defined as at or above the ninety-fifth percentile on IQ tests.) That’s not the same as a measure for creativity, but it does indicate a correlate.

Bill December 12, 2011 at 9:27 am

Bad grades as a sign of boredom. Sometimes, but more likely a sign of dyslexia, or other learning disorder, and if from boredom, usually there was a period before boredom when the kid excelled.

I wouldn’t say often.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 9:29 am

It’s great that there are grades for creativity. And thankfully, they are great at identifying dyslexia and learning disabilities before branding kids with permanent grades.

Rahul December 12, 2011 at 9:31 am

…..or plain stupidity, laziness or lack of motivation?

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm

I don’t know enough to say either way. I assume that a gifted ed facilitator, however, would be in a position to know, and have very little reason to lie to a young charge.

Angie December 13, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I was one of those kids who after a certain age made terrible grades due to boredom (though I didn’t really perceive it that way at the time) and enormous difficulty “fitting in”. What made this worse was a teacher who seemed to delight in humiliating me because I was an awkward child, shy but opinionated and prone to speaking out if I felt strongly about something. I did however try very hard to behave in class and be respectful of my teachers and other children. She deliberately interfered with my being tested to advance into the “talented and gifted” program. And if not for other teachers stepping in to stand up for me, I would have failed that grade. It was a traumatizing year. I did only slightly better as I went into middle and high school, but I learned that if I threw myself into extracurricular activities those near-perfect grades would at the very least offset my mediocre-to-terrible grades in the core classes. Luckily most of my teachers were very patient, if sometimes disappointed in me. My problem was discipline. By the time I started college after taking a long break after high school I had shaped up enormously and taken much of my own intellectual development upon myself by reading … a lot. I did very well in college and was actually surprised at how lazy people were when I got there. I don’t have a magic formula, but if nothing else children need to be instilled with curiosity.

Bill December 12, 2011 at 9:30 am

The other thing is that we do have instruments to identify intelligent kids, even ones who are bored, with IQ and other tests. In that case, schools do enrichment programs. The kid clocking in at less than 100 and disruptive in the classroom is the one. Now, that kid may be creative, ie, signing and joke making, but is disruptive.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 9:49 am

Never had an IQ or personality test in school. Not that I’d trust them with that.

Bill December 12, 2011 at 10:39 am

Oh, I bet you had an IQ test sometime in your educational development.

Roy December 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm

But if my school was anything like most, poor classroom performance was a guaranteed way to not be let in the gifted and talented programs.

Bill December 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm

This is a testable hypothesis folks.

Anyone want to take this bet:

Let’s take the average IQ test scores of students showing up at the Vice Principal’s office for discipline problems.

Anyone want to bet on which side of the IQ distribution the population lies? Anyone want to bet on which side of the class performance based on standardized test scores? Anyone want to bet based on creativity tests?

What I like about some blogs is how you leave your own life experience at the door: do you remember who disruptive students were when you were in school. Were they the highly creative and intelligent students?

GiT December 12, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Why assume that it can’t be the case that both are true? The distribution of ‘delinquents’ could very well be relatively bimodal, with one distribution around a low mean for the purely disruptive kids and one distribution around a high mean for the creative kids.

Bill December 13, 2011 at 9:29 am

GIT, Then lets make a bet as to the proportion in each of the bimodal distributions.

RT Travaloni December 22, 2011 at 1:09 am

Yes. yes they were.

Gabe December 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

High scores on IQ test don’t matter in Scituate Mass(boston suburb). No more “tracking” as they call it…all resources diverted to “no child left behind”. Smart bored kids are told to shut up and take drugs. We left the public schools, working out much better.

Bill December 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm

My grandkids have this problem with no child left behind as well. What you have to do as a parent is challenge them with academic afterschool activities, push for advanced classes, and even ask for resources to help the kid who is behind get better, including after school tutoring and summer school.

Gabe December 12, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I’ll just find a way to pay for a real education…my kid doesn’t take too kindly to being made to do stupid shit for 8 hours while waiting for the “real learning” to take place after-school…he kinda values his free time. Crazy bull headed brat huh?…seems to think this is his life to live and doesn’t understand that he needs to be trained to pay taxes to billionaires and the like.

asdf December 12, 2011 at 9:18 am

Principal Skinner: “Two indepedent thought alarms in one day. WIllie, remove all the colored chalk from the classrooms.”

Willie: “I warned ya! That colored chalk was forged by lucifer himself!”

Rich Berger December 12, 2011 at 11:27 am

The most dedicated students are still absorbing valuable lessons on Sunday evening. After football.

msgkings December 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm

But for how much longer? I wonder how much IQs and creativity will drop after that show finally has to say goodbye.

Komori December 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Don’t worry. It’ll stick around forever in re-runs.

Meg December 12, 2011 at 9:24 am

I can’t blame teachers for not enjoying teaching creative people; I don’t enjoy working with obnoxious people who speak out of turn and don’t care about the people around them either.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 9:27 am

“Speak out of turn.” That’s an odd idea.

Meg December 12, 2011 at 9:35 am

In adults, I usually see this as the people who constantly interrupt, who feel the need to speak after any comment by anyone else, who don’t notice that someone else has something to say and instead plow in over them. These are the people who believe that whatever it is they are about to say is more important than anyone else’s ideas, and ignore the basic social conventions of conversation. Just because we no longer raise our hands doesn’t mean adults don’t respect turn-taking during effective communication.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 9:46 am

Sounds like a lot of teachers I’ve known ;)

sunbomb December 12, 2011 at 10:34 am

What exactly are you trying to say, Andrew’? I’m afraid I can’t tell.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 10:41 am

I assume you are kidding, but it’s kind of the point that school is NOT the real life. It’s the artificial, arbitrary, made-up part. If it actually supports behaviors we want in adults it results from pure dumb luck. I certainly had to deal with many more obnoxious people in schools, kids and adults, than out of it.

anon December 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm

+1

Bob December 12, 2011 at 10:10 am

There is a difference between the social ineptness that often accompanies creativity and just plain social ineptness/rudeness. Most times, creative people are not trying to get the last word in or ignore people. They are just so psyched about their idea or so lost in another plane of thought that it comes off as rude. The people you are describing are those who are insecure and/or socially inept and annoy everyone, teachers included. The problem is that most teachers aren’t savvy enough or haven’t been trained or don’t have the time to sort out the drones, the creative, and the delinquents. Therefore the creative get lumped in with the delinquents.

Nathan Tankus December 12, 2011 at 9:34 am

This study is flawed. it assumes that “teachers” is some homogeneous category that is not shaped by external forces. However, they are. If teachers were in any way rewarded (or at least not punished) for rewarding creativity I doubt they would dislike creative students. The classroom is designed to teach students discipline, not creativity. A teacher who encouraged creativity would like be cracked down on by supervisors and principals. In turn, the superintendent would likely crack down on Principals who tolerated such a lack of discipline in their classrooms. it goes up from there.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 10:43 am

They discuss that on page 9. I don’t think they necessarily assume anything about teachers. They just report their observations.

J1 December 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

It’s also flawed in that while creative kids are obnoxious and disruptive, the reverse doesn’t hold. Creative kids are a subset; most obnoxious kids are just obnoxious, and teachers have valid reasons to dislike them.

Bill December 12, 2011 at 11:47 am

+1 The obnoxious kid should wear a teashirt that says: “I Am Creative”

I think all of the students in Alex’s classes this week should be really obnoxious and disruptive to show their creativity.

DW December 12, 2011 at 10:07 am

Why does the classroom have to teach creativity? Isn’t that what electives and extra curriculars are for? I went to public school and creativity was never discouraged in art class, debate, or creative writing. Creativity is not discouraged, it’s just not part of the core curriculum, where other behaviors are taught, like disciplined work habits and paying attention. These are behaviors that are just as important to a published author or a composer as their creativity.

Scott H. December 12, 2011 at 10:20 am

I’d go one step further here and ask “How do you teach creativity?”. Also is “creativity” really “killed” or “stamped out” because teachers ask kids to mind the rules?

DW December 12, 2011 at 11:25 am

“Teach” was the wrong word to use. What I mean is “foster.” Children are naturally creative and have active imaginations–they don’t need to be taught creativity. My point is that there are times during school education in which creativity is fostered and other times when the focus is on fostering other beahviors, such as diligence at a task, listening to others, and being considerate of others (not being disruptive). Unquestioning acceptance of authority is obviously a bad thing to teach, but questioning acceptance of authority is necessary in the workplace and in any society with a legal structure. Because of this nuance, I’m not surprised that grade school teachers might fail at imparting the latter rather than the former.

A lot of commenters here assume that focusing on these other behaviors supresses or destroys creativity. I would argue that these are behaviors that even creative people will need in their adult lives. The process of socializing a person will inevitably lead to supressing some of their creativity, because they learn to conform to social norms. But why is this a bad thing?

teacher December 12, 2011 at 8:19 pm

whatever you are doing is not as important as that bell…you better learn the rules stupid kid!

Marie December 12, 2011 at 10:37 am

This is something that bothers me in some mommy blogs I’ve browsed. “I want my child to be creative” is a good goal, but if they don’t learn the fundamentals of anything difficult (the technical aspect of art, mathematics, music, grammar)(see the above reference to Picasso) their creativity will not amount to much.

Creativity is a focused endeavor. Not teaching a creative child how to sit and focus on their work is doing them a future disservice. Not that I personally think this is something the teacher alone can accomplish.

Matt2 December 12, 2011 at 11:50 am

I think it is important to understand the rules before you break them. Except for in research papers my high school english teacher would indulge my stylistic flights of grammatical fancy because she knew that I knew that you were not generally supposed to start sentences with conjunctions and things like that.

Tom December 12, 2011 at 10:19 am

Too many parents think their child is “gifted” when usually they’re just little “a**holes”

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 10:49 am

There is a lot of research, we aren’t making this up. “Gifted” is basically the definition given to kids with intense sensitivity (and thus intense emotions, intense interests, intense everything). It’s just a perfectly understandable situation that they would bump heads with the teacher, and the kids can’t give the grades, so the teachers win that fight. The question is should they? Are these the kids we really want to sacrifice for the good of the system, as long as we have to pick which kids get the shaft?

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Actually, I pretty handily won my fights with my teachers. I figure I drew the military. Lost to IBM, though.

dearieme December 12, 2011 at 10:19 am

“the research design would have been stronger if the researchers had actually tested the students for creativity”: oh how I laughed.

Bob Barnett December 12, 2011 at 10:19 am

I have been a teacher, counselor, and school psychologist, and am now a clinical psychologist. In my experience, most teachers value creativity (I certainly did), but not the negative behavior that sometimes accompanies it. I really think you have to view these as two separate issues. In addition, the writer cites articles that are all over 20 years old- I am sure that there are more recent articles that examine this issue. What do they say?

BTW, I believe that you can foster and nurture creativity, but I don’t think we know how to teach it.

PS To: Right wing nut- Low grades are often associated with low ability and motivation, rather than anything else. I don’t know why people forget that ability is normally distributed, with half the kids being below the mean in intelligence.

Mikey December 12, 2011 at 10:53 am

The problem with saying that “ability is normally distributed” is that “ability” is NOT one-dimensional. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences outlines 9 dimensions, and I personally believe that it can be broken down even more fine-grained than that. I argue that trying to cram all people’s ability into a single bell-curve is one of the most detrimental things that we can do to children’s self confidence.

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Wow, I’ll take both here. Bob, I did not say “usually”–I said “often”. When the universe is tens of millions of kids in the US education system, “often” is certainly NOT “usually”.

Mikey, as much as it might make you feel better to measure along multiple dimensions, in the area of IQ, which is what I brought up, there is a very definite single bell curve.

Ian December 12, 2011 at 10:24 am

Creativity – and the desire to investigate that often comes with it – is awfully inconvenient when teachers and schools are told to teach to the test again and again.

If you can get the kids to color in the right bubbles, all is well. Kids who want to actually understand WHY they should color in a bubble require more time to teach. They screw up the scores in a time of budget cuts and totally upside-down priorities. So the creative kids get tagged as ‘ADHD’ or ‘difficult’.

So yeah – creative students are a teacher’s nightmare.

Josh December 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Definitely think this is a problem. There is little room for creativity in a system where the only goal is for you to fill in the right bubbles so the school can get it’s money

J1 December 12, 2011 at 10:51 am

Teaching the test is what teachers should be doing. If the test doesn’t properly evaluate what the student is supposed to learn, the problem is with the test, not the teaching method.

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm

The problem is that the test, like everything else in our sausage factories, is designed for the convenience of the factory, not for the validity of the exercise. Multiple choice tests are barely acceptable for rote learning, and not at all for anything which requires the higher centers of the brain to be involved.

J1 December 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Sounds like we agree – the problem is the test.

Alice January 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm

The only thing the tests measure is how well a student follows directions. On the math PSAA (Pennsylvania), there are questions that, if the directions are followed, lead to an answer that, if you actually know how to do math, the answer is wrong. But if you do the math correctly, it is scored as an incorrect answer. The program should be called No Child Gets Ahead.

Andrew' December 12, 2011 at 10:58 am

There are a lot of people assuming that the classes are teaching the right, desired behaviors and that creativity/creative kids are just the necessary casualty. But there is very little in adult world like a public school class. They are making assumptions rather than observations. So, even setting aside a value judgment of creativity, isn’t it simply more likely that the incentives in the classroom conform to the (arbitrary) structure of the classroom (when is the last time you worked in a group of 30? Not counting a classroom), rather than to the lofty assumptions and just-so stories? It’s also odd how people talk about group work when in school, most of the work you did was on an individual basis anyway. Isn’t it just more likely that the behaviors desired in the classroom were pretty much all about being in a classroom?

Antanarive December 12, 2011 at 11:05 am

I would propose to re-title the article:
“Teachers don’t like students who don’t have the time to be courteous, refuse to take no for an answer, and as are negativistic and critical of others.”
:-)
(disclaimer: I am a creative teacher)

Sarah December 12, 2011 at 11:18 am

Teachers like kids by default. That’s why they became teachers, duh.

When kids are actively rude, obnoxious, and disruptive, that’s what it takes to make teachers dislike them. Teachers are people, and they don’t like being treated like shit. Also duh.

Stupidity Hater January 4, 2012 at 2:33 am

This is blatantly the most ridiculously stupid comment of the bunch. DUH. Both of my kids had to endure a year of heartache and misery at the hands of a piece of crap (AKA teacher) who would have made a perfect Nazi SS officer. She was brutal, insensitive and hateful, and I saw that with my own eyes. And she was not like this with just my kids, either!! Grow up and think before you make such a bonehead comment as this one. Not all teachers like kids, and if that’s seriously what you think, then you never had one.

Matt December 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

This is definitely one of those studies that confirms what everyone already knew. Of course a teacher wants the students to just sit there and shut up. If I were a teacher I would want the same. Especially if I were teaching in one of the many ghetto schools that basically just function as holding pens for the future gang members of America.

msgkings December 12, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Stay classy, Matt

Venkat December 12, 2011 at 11:37 am

I am yet to meet a parent who doesn’t think his/her child is creative.

Brandon T. December 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I don’t think my oldest is particularly creative. My middle child, perhaps. It is a *wildly* overrated ability, if it is a thing at all. Most who actually fit the bill are hopelessly depressed–indeed, it seems to be one skill whose primary beneficiary is *everyone else.*

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Then you’ve not met enough of us. :P Although, I did have to get a hold of myself in high school when I started to notice a manic-depressive cycle happening.

Jennifer December 12, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Wow – I hope that attitude isn’t picked up by your child. Creative people can and do get depressed if they don’t have a positive outlet, which I think is the point.

S December 12, 2011 at 11:47 am

Why is the classroom considered to be some magical realm where the normal rules of mastery don’t apply?

Compare the classroom to sports:

In sports, children and teenagers are asked to engage in repetitive, demanding drills. They do this for hours each day, often including weekends.

Success in sports may indeed involve some element of creativity, but it is absolutely useless without mastery over the technical aspects of the game. There is very little creativity involved in children’s sports practice. Compared to this, the average elementary school classroom is a positive bastion of creativity.

And yet, I don’t see anyone criticizing sports for killing our children’s creativity. Everyone recognizes that hard work and repetition are essential to mastery. Why doesn’t the same apply to other pursuits?

DW December 12, 2011 at 12:09 pm

+1

Rich Berger December 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Amen. More true learning occurs in sports and other extra activities than in the classroom. That was my conclusion based on my kids’ experience.

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m opposed to drilling the fundamentals. Indeed, I have argued this point repeatedly with my wife. The problem, however, is this. I usually gained mastery of mathematical concepts before the teacher finished explaining them on the board. Homework was a complete waste of time in this subject. The nature of mass instruction is that you cannot individualize the process. In sports, I went out for track, and guess what? My coach adjusted my workout to my personal needs.

So try another example.

S December 13, 2011 at 12:41 am

I did sports too, and I never had a workout tailored for me. So I’m not really impressed by your example.

Anyway, in your case, if the coach had to submit a report to his boss showing that he had treated all students exactly the same and judged them by the exact same work, then assigned them a ranking based on this work, and could be accused of serious impropriety and “unfairness” if he didn’t, then I suspect he might have behaved differently.

Right Wing-nut December 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

Sorry. I guess I received one of the benefits of being in a 1A school–or going out for an individual sport. But even then, surely the quarterback received different training than the linebacker or the punter? Yeah, everyone drills the basics, but that is not the end of the story.

And yes, if the coaches were restricted in the same inane ways that the classroom instruction was, the results would be equally abysmal. But we all know that school sports are FAR too important to let that happen…

cmprostreet December 13, 2011 at 2:47 pm

It’s also important to note that not every student is required to even do a sport, let alone to do every sport at the same time and pace as everyone else. I loved swimming, but I hated soccer. Therefore I joined the swim team instead of the soccer team.

Likewise, I excelled at math but didn’t care for Spanish. Therefore, I doubled up on math classes instead of wasting precious time in that other class. Oh wait, no I didn’t- I got to choose which sports teams to be on, but not which classes to go to.

Donald A. Coffin December 12, 2011 at 11:51 am

I wonder if there might be disciplinary differences in this, with (for example) studio art and music performance teachers being more tolerant of “creative behaviors.”

Will Pflaum December 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Homeschool is right.

prior_approval December 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm

‘My experience as a parent’
Which is a disqualifying statement right there – speaking as a parent, myself, I might add. I find teachers have a hard job, while the majority of parents (especially the ones that consider themselves involved) earn my active dislike, though my true hatred is reserved for administrators.

Of course, the one group that truly gets it from all sides are creative teachers – no one seems to stand up for them the way parents can be counted to stand up for their children.

But then, that is only to be expected – a creative teacher that is not providing what a parent (and remember, there are dozens of parents with very different ideas and judgments) requires for their child is not creative – they are failing their most important student – that is, the one that the parent represents.

crankee December 12, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Why does school need to foster creativity? It’s a post WW2 phenomenon for elites to carp so uniformly about school hindering creativity (see: Catcher in the Rye). It’s been a staple of literature and of middle brow “creative concern” for decades. Yet the post WW2 USA was a center of creativity and innovation for the world. Silicon Valley has had its famous dropouts but rested on the unsung genius of thousands of conformist nerds. No other country has been as consistent in serving as an incubator for both research and entrepreneurship. How really bad was that system for creativity?

Is it possible that creativity really flourishes only when constrained? Frankly, the lesson of high end music, art, and poetry post WW2 is that — freed of the need to conform to the mainstream — artists conform to each other and produce sterile, self-referential sludge that only highly schooled “artistes” appreciate. At least in comparison to more conformist ages like the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.

In contrast success in both industrial production (Silicon Valley) or in creative commercial art (jazz, rock and roll, cartoons, modern film, video games) came out of creative people expressing themselves yet being constrained by market forces and the desires of consumers who were NOT for the most part very tolerant of “creativity” and “anti-social” displays except in very limited doses.

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm

“Conformist nerds”? BWHAHAHAHAHAHA! Have you actually met any of us? We only conform within the confines of a subculture which we ourselves have constructed. Some of my college buddies created a fake student, and ran him all the way through high school. No, these “conformist nerds” are the ones likely to look in the back of the chemistry book for more interesting experiments, and try them without telling any one. Or sit in the back of the classroom and make rude comments about how the examples that the teacher is using fail to communicate some of the more subtle aspects of the material.

MattW December 12, 2011 at 12:41 pm

School is not for creativity. School is for learning the basics, the rules and the history of a subject. No one is creative in high school math. The same goes for almost every other class up to about grad school.

Annonymous December 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I believe that the psychologist Richard Lynn has stated that creativity
as a personality trait is identical with psychopathy. I suppose most
people don’t like psychopaths.

robbl December 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Alex,
I think that the teachers you came into contact with as a parent would have been more interested in nurturing creativity if they were not being evaluated almost solely on how well they could hammer into their students the ability to take standardized tests. If they were being evaluated on creativity and encouraged to let kids develop those skills, you might have had a different experience.

just sayin….

Gary Pashko December 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Public or private education is neutral towards creativity. Schooling, as it is, is intended to broadly instruct students so that they may function within the boundaries of today’s societal norms. Creativity will find a way despite the pergatory of youth. Until the mind has experienced enough of the seemingly disconnected facts and methods that bombard us everyday, creativity will lie dormant. Mozart had a leg up on his peers by about two decades. When the unknown relationships of the right pieces are finally recognized by the individual, creativity blossoms like a flower on the tundra. Thus, it’s false to say that teachers do not like creative students. The broad-based approach of today’s public eduction is exactly what creativity requires. Everyone, from the wall-flowers to the class-clowns, is a creative genius.

Komori December 13, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I disagree. Schools can do quite a lot to either foster or discourage creativity.

Anecdotal evidence, but a blanket statement only needs one counter argument, so here goes.
For grade school I was in a Montessori school. They did a lot to foster creativity, and among other things that happened, I ended up writing a puppet show. The teacher encouraged me to put it on, so a couple friends and I did a performance. It was well received, so I wrote more, and it turned into a pretty regular thing.
Then, Junior High. The school I had been attending didn’t cover Junior High, so I got shuffled over to public school. Attitude was completely different. There was a teacher here or there (like my freshman English teacher in high school) who were exceptions, but for the most part any sign of creativity was smashed down on. Doing anything but sitting still, shutting up, and handing in the homework got me in trouble. Heck, my 6th grade didn’t even have an “English” class, per-se, it was actually a “Reading” class, where we had to read a few paragraphs and answer some multiple-choice questions about it on a scantron form. How can you possibly be creative when you aren’t allowed to create?

Right Wing-nut December 12, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I’ve seen a shocking correlation between giftedness (high IQ) and a difficult childhood. I suspect that the difficult childhood drives the child to spend more time in imaginative play, and to pursue interests which do not rely upon others. Also to expressly reject significant parts of society’s norms. I always find it amusing to hear the 120-130 (IQ) set talk about how non-conformist they are–they don’t realize just how big their cohort is, and how many people there are who are very much like them.

Bill December 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Let’s experiment.

Tell me what you think the IQ distribution is for the students who show up at the Vice Principals office for disruptive behaviour. Is it above normal or below?

Right Wing-nut December 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

Bill, you’re trying to force me to defend a position I never took.

Tom December 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm

All the gifted (>140) I knew didn’t really have a hard time getting along in school or at home. The real problem kids were the want to be’s.

Ryan December 12, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Did you really keep track of the IQs of your classmates? Seems like a leap…

Right Wing-nut December 13, 2011 at 11:05 am

For all the weaknesses & problems with the IQ test, it does seem to do a good job of indicating one’s ability to judge the IQ of others. (Higher IQ -> better judge) And yes, there is a set that pays WAY to much attention to the score.

Ryan December 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Setting all that aside, what are the odds that Tom actually knew with certainty which of his students were >140 and which were not?

Ryan December 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I was on the creative side in (grade) school, but was also always a teacher favorite, star student, and not known to misbehave.

I think a lot of this stems from the fact that I would apply myself to finishing my work early before I misbehaved. As a result, teachers couldn’t exactly scold me because I had already finished my assignments early. They knew my whole goal was to finish early, avoid homework, and spend the rest of my time horsing around. So I think they basically figured out the routine and started giving me extra work to prevent me from disturbing the other students.

The older I got, though, the less welcome were my distractions. By the end of high school, my teachers were simply exasperated. I still didn’t misbehave, but my attempts at fusing creativity with academic performance often made them uncomfortable. Instead of writing essays, I would write stories that contained all the information of an essay. Those “essays” received poor marks.

By the time I hit college, all of my writing assignments were essentially mockeries of the assignments themselves. I didn’t write essays, I wrote sarcastic screeds that made fun of the dreariness of essays.

It’s basically my gradual disillusionment with the formal writing process that drove me out of grad school. I didn’t understand the point of writing research papers that no one really wanted to read. I tried to spice them up and the “spice” received lots of professorial red ink. I lost interest.

I’d rather have a personality than good grades. I’m sure plenty of students agree, and I’m utterly certain my experience is not rare.

Dhanson December 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I was much like you in grade school – I raced through the material, got A’s, and then was bored silly and restless, and therefore disrupted class too much.

My grade school teachers had a perfect solution for this – they incentivized my behavior by telling me that as soon as I was finished an assignment, I could go to the library and read whatever I wanted. And my teacher told me that I had to pick a special project on a subject of my choosing, and she would simply review my proposal to make sure that I was learning something and that it challenged me. This of course required the teacher to do a little more work on my behalf, but back in the ’70′s this was fairly normal.

Man, I loved that. I broadened my education and learned to love reading. Because I got to choose my own projects, I engrossed myself in them.

My daughter today is similar. She’s coded ‘gifted and talented’ by the school system, and is usually first to finish her assignments in class. Then she’s bored. I asked if she could be allowed to go to the library when finished, but no… the teachers don’t want to go to the effort, the librarian doesn’t want to supervise independent kids, yada yada. She’s expected to sit quietly with her paper in front of her and wait for the other kids to finish. What a ridiculous waste of time. The only compromise I could extract from the teachers was to allow her to bring her sketch pad to class and draw while waiting for the class to finish, and a couple of them wouldn’t even allow that.

S December 13, 2011 at 12:36 am

I suspect that this kind of incentive–doing an independent study project–only works if it seems like a special privilege to the one doing it. Expand it and it loses meaning.

In seventh grade, our teacher gave us an hour each day to study what ever we wanted. Very progressive and I still applaud the idea in principle. In actual fact, we spent the whole time goofing around. Was it because we were “creative”? No, we just didn’t really care about learning when there was flirting to be done. Most mechanisms of classroom management and teaching–which are one and the same in most cases–are designed to prevent exactly this situation.

Right Wing-nut December 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

Please, PLEASE get your daughter out of there! As you have observed, things are not the same as they were for us. Figure out a way to make it happen.

Tom December 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm

“I’d rather have a personality than good grades.” Often not very difficult to do both.

Ryan December 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm

*forehead smack*

My GPA was the least important aspect of the story, Tom. But yeah great point. A copy of my transcripts is in the mail, further buttressing my credibility that I am both not a moron and also not a stiff.

…Or *IS IT*??

Gaythia Weis December 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm

It might help to look at why teachers (statistically speaking) don’t like creativity. It could be because administrators distrust creative teachers. It could be because University education departments are not conducive to producing creative teachers. It could be that governmental policies that push teaching to the test strategies suppress creativity in teacher.

So then the question becomes:, if potential teachers who are naturally creative people have been selected against, and/or teacher’s innate creativity has been suppressed, where is the best place to start to make schools creative places for students?

Right Wing-nut December 14, 2011 at 9:35 am

By emptying them.

Baphomet December 12, 2011 at 4:13 pm

There seems to be a presumption here that creativity is always good, all the time. It is not. Creativity involves potentially wasteful competition, or rent seeking if you like. Hence it may in fact increase efficiency to punish creativity, as it means that only the most highly motivated creative individuals, who are most likely to produce something really useful, will bother, whereas others will direct their efforts where their comparative advantage lies. My apologies if this is a crassly economic, non-romantic perspective.

If you think about it you realize that everybody thinks of themselves as “creative,” which is why the attitude of teachers described in the post sounds so bad. Nobody self-identifies as a conformist. Nevertheless, we cannot all of us be usefully creative.

Ryan December 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Creative is a personality trait.

Replace the word “creativity” with “ingenuity” or “conscientiousness” or “kindness” and see if your point still holds. Obviously we can indeed all be “usefully kind,” so why not “usefully creative?”

Or would you disagree?

Right Wing-nut December 14, 2011 at 9:38 am

I sure hope you’re European. As I occasionally observe: my people left there for a reason.

elizabeth December 12, 2011 at 5:08 pm

that’s why my kids don’t go to public school anymore-
as an art teacher, i saw their creativity being squashed as early as first grade!
now we go to Brightworks in San Francisco.
Check it out!

James Fung December 12, 2011 at 5:16 pm

1) The paper cited is not a “review paper.”

2) Alex’s lead in quote comes from the Introduction/Related works portion of the paper. As the paper was published in the Creativity Research Journal, the authors might have been writing to their audience.

3) I disagree with the methodology of the paper in several places:
a) The authors state that their creative child prototype from undergraduates agrees 95% with previous research. The way they derived this 95% is that they took 50 adjectives used in previous research, had them rated, and compared their top 10 and bottom 10 to the top 25 and bottom 25 of previous research. Frankly, a 95% match is not surprising if get to pick your best variables.
b) The authors go on to state the teacher ratings only agree 45% with previous research. However, these teachers did not have access to all 50 adjectives, only the 20 adjectives selected by the pretest. This is comparing apples to apples.
c) If you look at the actual numbers of given by the teachers’ prototypes, instead of imposing a 10/10 split on the adjectives, they actually rank many “creative” adjectives fairly high: “is impulsive” (mean 6.20), “is nonconformist” (6.33), “is determined” (7.53). This 10/10 split is forcing words down teachers’ mouths.
d) Given the selection of adjectives in the list of 20 after the pretest, my interpretation of the Study 1 is that a teacher’s favorite student was well-behaved and least favorite student was a trouble maker, not that their favorite student was an automaton and their least favorite student was misunderstood genius.
e) Frankly, I think most teacher’s least favorite students were trouble makers who also were not creative or productive.

4) What conclusion I think can be drawn from the article are as follows:
a) Teachers have a different prototype of creativity than undergrads, but it is not radically different, if you look at the means of the adjectives not this arbitrary 10/10 split. The primary difference is, looking at a classroom as a whole, the teacher doesn’t see why a creative student also has to disrupt the education of their peers.
b) Teachers prefer well-behaved students to trouble makers. This can be seen in that there is not a statistically significant difference between the teachers’ favorite and least favorite student in the context of correlation to the teachers’ creative prototype.

5) As the authors state in the Discussion section, it’s not as if teachers are actively suppressing creativity in the classroom, but suppressing creativity does happen (I won’t argue with that) as byproduct of the classroom management issue. They say 1 of 3 things happens: 1) the rebel refuses to conform and has bad teacher-student experiences for their schooling; 2) a student changes to appease the system, and thereby loses some traits that would have aided their creativity; or 3) a student learns how to not be disruptive while maintaining their creativity. Which path occurs may depend on the student, their teachers, and their parents.

James Fung December 12, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Correction: This is *not* comparing apples to apples.

DW December 13, 2011 at 10:19 am

Thanks for the analysis. I found Alex’s interpretation of the study very confusing, based on my actual experience.

GiT December 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Back to Althusser, it seems.

Dave December 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm

…and we were all angry when those “creative” kids decided to walk out of Mankiw’s class?

Mary December 12, 2011 at 8:40 pm

I think this is a very strange article. Are all creative people actually obnoxious? Do all teachers really like conformist students? The teachers I know, including myself. enjoy students who say or do something unexpected and think creatively, and I am 100% certain that a good number of them are quite pleasant to be around. The line about teachers not knowing what creative students are like is really off — I can’t even begin to count the logical flaws there. The “obnoxious” students I come across tend to have a harder time thinking about the topics at all, let alone thinking creatively or actually doing something original.

Don't fire me December 12, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I do my best to keep my students from cheating during exams, but I figure if they are creative enough to get around my watchful they have earned themselves a few extra points.

Sebastian December 12, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I can see that this is actually true, but I certainly don’t believe it anymore now that I’ve read the paper than before.
The paper is essentially saying that 13 teachers (16 originally, three got thrown out for incomplete data) don’t agree with the definition of creativity as assembled by asking 30 college students in their early 20s and they don’t particularly like student’s who conform to the College students’ idea of creativity. Read the methods sections if you don’t believe me – it’s mind-boggling.
I’m going to claim that this is the single worst study that has ever gotten a favorable mention on MR.

Joe Bellacero December 12, 2011 at 10:27 pm

To begin with, Alex is wrong, his studies (the most recent almost a decade old) are narrow in scope and don’t study the availability and effects of extra-curricular activities (take a look at the studies, that’s why they are there). Creativity in drama, music, sports, the arts, spirit activities, newspaper, yearbook, peer tutoring, and the host of other extracurricular activities offered in American schools is, encouraged, supported and rewarded by both enthusiastic but inexperienced young teachers, as well as deeply experienced veterans. Take a look at the walls in modern schools, at the choices of electives, at the rubrics used to judge many projects and you will see ample evidence of creativity on the part of the students and appreciation of it on the part of the teachers.

Next, the idea that being disrespectful to others, or arrogant,or unwilling to learn about and build upon what has come before are the character traits of creative people ignores the millions of quietly creative people whose names you do not know but who contribute flashes of originality to every utilitarian product some “creative” person gets credit for. Yes, creativity does require a pushing against boundaries, but here’s a flash from someone whose been in education for 40 years, are you ready? Every non-pathological student who walks into a schoolroom pushes boundaries at one point or another!!! Some of them figure out how to do so and still get along, some of them beat themselves to death against the walls and produce nothing. And some manage to tic a lot of people off and still learn enough to create beautiful and useful things.

Institutions of all kinds have concrete structures that reward compliance. Creativity needs those structures because it blooms best in the cracks. Yes, the structures concentrate mediocrity in them, but that is what leaves places for creativity to grow.

Articles like these take a small bit of truth, twist it into something so provocative that the truth becomes a lie, and too often the responders, too willing to argue their prejudices rather than the facts, line up to spout the same uncreative nonsense back and forth at each other. Maybe Alex’s next article should be about how the writers and readers of these articles hate creativity.

Bob December 13, 2011 at 1:28 am

Most creative people create useless crap or pernicious crap, Nazis were very creative coming up with ways to kill people. so it is reasonable that creative people aren’t welcome with open arms in most places most of the time If you create something good, most people will overlook, or endure the unpleasant aspects of your personality and behavior, or find a way to avoid you as much as possible. Until you come up with something, don’t expect special treatment just because you are “creative”.

Maybe someone else has pointed this out above (didn’t read all 154 responses yet). If so, I’m pointing it out again.

Matt December 13, 2011 at 4:23 am

Or they may be selecting for a pro-social form of creativity that is more useful than generalised creativity (if anti-sociality is decreased less than creativity).

Less general creativity, more prosocial creativity may actually be more useful “creativity” in the sense we think about it. As is creativity combined with intelligence – good behaviour in class tracks prosociality and intelligence, not just low creativity, so the system we have probably works out for the net good.

Generally, I’m skeptical of these kind of things – I assume most “right thinking” people would prefer to biased that troublesome children and simply too creative and non-conformist for a school environment (it’s a better way to signal you’re a nurturing, maternal type of person to fawn over problem cases than acknowledge what they’re actually like, plus everyone in social science wants to look like the smart confident rebel who contravenes the accepted wisdom in social science), rather than the reality that they’re generally stupid and can’t do the work and its more fun to be disruptive than fail.

Firstly, the number of children who exceed the curves set by the school is going to be much lower than those who lag it.

Secondly, I can’t imagine most school systems react to smart children who max out the math exam (and if you don’t do that, how can you argue you’re “too smart for school”? – you’re dumb enough for school unless you get perfect scores on everything all the time) by telling them to take the same tests, even if they ask for more rather than giving them a textbook and telling them to sit down and carry out the exercises.

Lynne December 13, 2011 at 9:04 am

My, how things have changed. As I have aged, I see/meet/read of more and more parents who declare that their child is “creative” and “special” and must have customized, delicate handling in school. There are now so many parents making that exact declaration that I can’t help feeling pretty cynical about it. It begins to seem more like an issue of the parent’s ego rather than the child’s actual qualities.
There’s nothing wrong with pushing for constant improvement in schools and debating new techniques and ideas- that’s all good. But we should also remember that the Marconis, Einsteins, Beethovens and Balanchines of the past all emerged from far cruder and more rigid schools than those endured by the legions of supposedly “special” kids today.
There is a balance to be struck. Creativity is useless if not harnessed to self-discipline and technique. That is an unpleasant-but-necessary task imposed in the classroom. Look at the biographies of the great artists and scientists and two things always stand out- innovative thinking and the drive to focus, hour after weary hour, on perfecting skills and refining experiments.
You can’t teach creativity any more than you can teach someone to have blue eyes- but you can teach them the tool of self-discipline, which is the setting in which the diamond sparkles.
I will now climb down off my high-horse. Thank you.

anon December 14, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Creativity is useless if not harnessed to self-discipline and technique and persistence.

+1

Marlene December 19, 2011 at 3:23 pm

I was hoping someone would make the comment that you have made. I completely agree, based on both my experience as a kid in school, a co-worker of these types as adults, and as a parent of a grammar-school kid now.

Boris Smirnov December 13, 2011 at 10:08 am

All this reminds me about what public schooling is about. John Taylor Gatto has done some interesting research about the history of compulsory education.

Lynne December 13, 2011 at 10:47 am

There is one more side to this. For the past 40 years there has been a cottage industry of biopics and autobiographies devoted to excusing bad behavior such as alcoholism, drug abuse, spousal abuse, etc. as expressions of the tormented creative soul. Movies like Pollock, The Doors and The Roseand revisionist biographies of stars like Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra have embedded the idea that bad behavior is an inseparable part of creativity.
I think the result is that if a kid doesn’t indulge in enough nasty behavior, he is suspected of not being truly “creative.” Deep down, we’ve been conditioned to expect the bad stuff, and when it doesn’t appear, we’re suspicious of the good stuff. And I can’t help wondering how this also affects children, since they have consumed these cultural stereotypes, too.

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