Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

creativity in crisis

Well, this does not seem to be good news:

With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect — each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America — from kindergarten through sixth grade — for whom the decline is “most serious.”

On the surface, this seems to run counter to Clay Shirky’s thesis that the internet and related technologies are yielding a “cognitive surplus” that allows us greater scope for creativity. It will therefore be interesting to hear how Shirky responds to these findings. Presumably he won't reconsider his thesis; it’s possible that he will find flaws in the research, or in the definition of “creativity” the studies use.

But my bet is that he’ll say something like this: These studies identify a decline in creativity that begins before the digital era, which means that the blame cannot be placed on use of the internet, but rather on the preceding dominant technology, television; therefore, as our attention shifts more and more completely to the interactive media enabled by the internet, the decline in creativity will be arrested and then reversed. I don't think such a response is adequate to the facts on the ground, but I’m guessing this is what we’ll hear from Shirky and other congenital optimists.

I’m finding typing too laborious to give my own response in any detail, but I’m inclined to blame not the internet but rather our culture of managerial parenting, in which children are given almost no opportunity, from toddlerhood through late adolescence, to engage in unstructured play. Which would not be the worst news in the world: it’s more likely that parents learn to back off a bit than that we abandon online life.

12 comments:

  • Interesting article but I wish they would define "creativity" a little more carefully. In this case, what they mean by creativity seems to be the ability to "solve problems." I would have liked a more precise definition of what kinds of things that things do come out as "creative" in this definition.

  • To scritic's point, as a graphic designer, who is paid (not much) to be creative and solve problems, I separate the two. IMO, creativity is the ability to create something new, something that didn't exist in that form previosul. Even though I personally have issues with television, it can't be blamed any more than spending time online. The mind needs cross-training, just like the body. That said, I think the key to developing creativity is exposure to great examples of it: art, music, literature, film, food, wine, etc., even if it's on a Web site, or...television.

  • Might our inclinations to spend so much of our time online and the culture of rigidly structured childhood be related?

  • I blame both "helicopter parenting" (activity upon activity, preference of scheduled "play dates" over finding friends in the neighborhood) and using the TV as a babysitter.

  • Another reason for the decline in creative thinking may be, at least partially, traced to the rise of high-stakes testing in our public schools. Teaching to the tests, no matter what the testing companies may claim, results in more rote learning and skill-based instruction tailored to the demands of the test. Another consequence is the dimunation or elimination of intensively creative coursework such as Art, Music, Theatre, and even tech-ed classes. We are creating a generation of effective test-takers, but not so great thinkers and problem-solvers. I've been a public-school educator for 20 years, and trust me - the change has been profound.

  • Managerial parenting? I'm insulted - you'll be hearing from my mom.

  • bless this lovely machine, I just lost a long and nearly perfect comment that more or less wrapped up the entire question with a silk ribbon. bullet points.

    *My children are voracious consumers of all forms of media: books, tv, internet. It seems like it's very good for them; at least as far as fostering their intellect and creativity.

    *Structure, testing, play. Look at changes in American's vacation habits. A luxurious relationship with time is like a Birkin handbag; most people simply aren't in a position to appreciate the quality/craftsmenship, let alone benefit from it.

  • So there's a measurable loss of creativity among young folks. In addition to how we define creativity, I rather doubt we can narrow the cause-effect relationship down to any one, two, four, or twelve things. The human mind and the culture are both holistic.

    That said, I spent an hour on the treadmill last night staring at a TV screen. Even with the sound turned off and without reading the closed captioning, it's still pretty clear what a toxic influence it is. Of course, it takes time isolated from TV to realize that fully, since you can't see it when you're inside the bubble. Children certainly lack the wherewithall to make that assessment.

  • "I spent an hour on the treadmill last night staring at a TV screen. Even with the sound turned off and without reading the closed captioning, it's still pretty clear what a toxic influence it is."

    The treadmill or the tv?

    But seriously, framed up this way, would you take a critique of any other medium seriously?

    Try going for a walk/jog/run outside. Try sitting down and attentively watching a program you want to watch, with the sound on.

  • There are lots of reasons to train on a treadmill rather than outside. But that's not the point. It's unusual for me to have a TV screen in front of me, so when I do, my overwhelming sense is that it's a horrible way to be dialed into the culture. Your recommendation that I invest in it more fully is nonsensical. If I find it toxic, getting more of it won't make it more palatable. (Actually, maybe it will if it breaks down my critical faculties and establishes a new toxic normal. But I'm not about to go there.)

  • Creative –Constructive- Critical Reading, Writing and Thinking: Heroic & Attainable Goals for the 21st Century
    Based on: Teaching For Creative Outcomes: Why We Don’t, How We All Can
    • And excerpted with author permission from: Manzo/Manzo/Thomas Content Area Literacy: A Framework for Reading-Based Instruction (5th edition) Wiley (2009)
    URLs: Please consider stepping up to join the effort to speak candidly about where we might be ready to step up with our Best Instructional Practices. There can be no such thing as Teacher Education without a core Curriculum. http://teacherprofessoraccountability.ning.com/main/invitation/new?xg_source=msg_wel_network and…http://bestmethodsofinstruction.com/
    Anthony V. Manzo, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus
    Prologue

  • Dear Brutus,

    When my eldest daughter got to be the when kids start to voice their opinions about foods, we taught her that it was much more polite to say "I'm sorry, it's not to my taste" than something like "Ewwww, gross!"

    A couple years later it was reported back to us by a kindergardener playmate's mother, than upon being querried as to why she was not eating a very well-done hamburger (not the way they are served here in Casa Comstock) my then five year old daughter responded, "I'm sorry, it's not to my taste."

    Of course the woman was dumbstruck, and I wondered if my wife and I hadn't made an error in our child-rearing. But over the years, various things have happened to reassure me that, at least in that instance, we made the right choice.

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