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.

Rob Szarka December 13, 2011 at 11:53 am

Seems to fit well with Sam Bowles’ and Herb Gintis’ work, e.g. in Schooling in Capitalist America. It would be interesting to know whether teachers’ attitudes differs at elite private schools.

pjcamp December 14, 2011 at 11:53 am

On the other hand, sometimes an asshole is just an asshole.

Dalton Herrell December 15, 2011 at 11:26 pm

I would not consider myself all that creative but I do believe that I am rather intelligent. I say that not to boast but to make a point. In the high school that I graduated from I was lucky enough to study with a group of peers that were not only exceptional students but were also outstanding people. I bring this up because not only did I have that one “Picasso” in my class I had about 10. All these people brought different things to the table when it came to the class work. Despite the risk of near to total anarchy in the class room full of highly outgoing and very stubborn students they assigned group assignment as often as possible to make sure that all the different thinking in the class room did not get smothered by the ideologies of the standardized school system and was allowed not only live longer in the select few that thought one way but was helped spread out through or class. We were promoted to think outside the box and not to conform to just take a class for a test like most high school classes teach but to get the most out what we could possibly learn. This was in my AP US History class and my AP English III. I was introduced to how different these two teachers were from their collogues when the next year I signed up for an AP Euro class and AP English IV. Both teachers often told us that their class was to prepare us for our AP test and that was it. Over the year I as well as my peers learned less and less as class was narrowed down to a very strict view of the course. So I, as well as many member of those AP courses, know that most teachers are not brave enough to handle these students and though it might be hard it is a teachers duty to help prosper the minds of students every wear to take our great nation places it has never gone. That dream will not be possible if everyone is running on the same thought pattern.

Tre December 17, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Einstein was one of those children as well.

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