Creativity and education across cultures

Cultural Insights — By on August 4, 2010 at 11:33 am

students working together on a projectIn previous posts about education across cultures, it’s been frequently noted that one of the traditional strengths of the American system is that it promotes creativity and individual initiative. Now, however, there are rumblings that many U.S. schools are doing less to promote original thinking than are their counterparts in other nations. A recent story in Newsweek – which notes that creativity scores among U.S. students have been slipping for two decades now – looked at the issue as it relates to creative problem-solving in business and other areas of life.

The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.

The article notes that creativity scores in this country have slipped as teachers have increasingly been tied to a standards-based curriculum, although it’s not clear that the decline is entirely due to a changing educational system.

It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.

What is interesting, however, is that other countries are now trying to replicate the old U.S. model and are “making creativity development a national priority” at the very time that Americans are going in the opposite direction. That is somewhat ironically illustrated in this anecdote about a meeting between U.S. and Chinese education officials.

Plucker recently toured a number of such schools in Shanghai and Beijing. He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”

It’s a fascinating cultural topic and one that has implications far beyond education. The entire story is worth checking out.


Photo credit: Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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