Can I Think Outside the Box without Knowing the Box Exists?

I was recently copied with a Newsweek article on the loss of creativity in American students.  In good journalistic form it first sought to demonstrate the problem: that students are doing poorly on the Torrance Test of Creativity, much more poorly than in the past.  We are experiencing a drop in creativity, the tests tell us. Then the author sets out to authoritate this assertion scientifically through measured data: a scientifically measured decrease in “creativity quotient.”  He states on several occasions that no one would argue with the test, and thus the results, and thus his thesis.  By the end of the article I was thinking much about how we need the common sense Wendell Berry shared with us in Life is a Miracle, where he demonstrated that Science cannot take over all areas of life with a dehumanizing reduction of life down to that of a set of data points.  This article suffers from that world view which believes our only authority today is science.

But I agree with the concern of the writer.  We are suffering from a lack of imagination.  And I do think creativity is integral to good education.    Let me sally forth with a few disjointed points that came to mind as I read:

  1. Creativity is not first and foremost an issue of productivity.  When we make it so, such as in industry, we kill it.  Creativity is about thinking outside the box, and involves problem solving, but most basic to its action is that of being human, of seeing reality in a new way, not in manipulating that reality to our own ends. How we define the word “creativity” will determine how we pursue it.  The author established as the working definition of creativity as being the, “production of something original and useful.”  What kind of creativity are we then seeking other than one that this industry oriented?
  2. Creativity must abide with rules.  We don’t teach any rules anymore, but rather have classes on creative expression which usually emphasize a breaking of the rules.
  3. Creativity is formed in a mind overflowing with models.  One must know there is a box to think outside of it.  The author decries the effects of tv and video games, but does not state why these are causing the problem, if they indeed are.  My own, rather anecdotal, opinion has students less creative because they are exposed to less creativity.  We just don’t take our kids to museums anymore.  Great literature is buried because we want our kids to “enjoy” reading.  Pop music has come along and lowered the level of thought one expects to put into the enjoyment of music.  And poetry, “art” music, and modern graphic art has become only accessible to the artists themselves.
  4. I value the knowledge and understanding that can come from studying which side of the brain is stimulated by creative acts.  It is interesting and perhaps even useful in the classroom.  But for several thousand years Western culture saw great creativity simply by providing the basics of a Liberal education that allowed students to gain minds that could creatively approach the world with minds aflame.  I wish Newsweek could publish the solution to the problem they have identified, but I think they are leaving that up to a renewed Church and culture.
  5. Creativity is formed through apprenticeship.  For centuries we have known this in the arts, but our modern yearning for the individual has us trying to figure out how to gain it apart from community, rather than from within.  Each artist, thinker, person forms his box slightly extending outside the boxes of his teachers.  When education gives up on true community, and it appears to have done so, then we will lose the streams that fed the river of creativity, and we have.

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