Tests since 1990 show a steady decline in the creativity levels of American children, despite the fact that IQ tests indicate they are getting smarter.
Score one for public education, but subtract one for hours in front of televisions and computer screens?
As usual, it’s not that simple.
IQ vs CQ
IQ scores have been steadily rising with each generation, thanks to something called the “Flynn Effect”, which basically accounts for the fact that intelligence quotients rise over time.
Creativity is measured using a test developed in the 1950′s by E. Paul Torrance. Torrance developed a method for using a variety of activities and questions to assess a person’s ability for convergent and divergent thinking, or more simply — problem solving on the fly.
Until 1990, the creativity quotient of American children steadily rose, but since then, the scores have begun to drop for reasons that researchers can’t precisely pin-point. And this is in sharp contrast to IQ scores, which continue to rise.
Too Much Passive Entertainment
Possible culprits for the fall of creativity range from video games and excessive television viewing, to the fact that in the last twenty years children’s lives have become highly structured, with very little time allowed for play and daydreaming.
Indeed, even schools are guilty of scripting the learning environment to the point where spontaneity is viewed as counterproductive and a time-thief, stealing time away from preparation for testing, which dominates the educational environment.
It’s More Than the Arts
Some critics point to the elimination of art and music courses as the cause of the decline, but experts are quick to point out that creativity is more than art. Invention and imagination are necessary in all professions. Engineers, doctors and businesspeople all need to be able to think beyond the narrow confines of their professional boxes. Blueprints, diagnoses and balance sheets are all forms of “art” that require just as much imagination as writing a novel or making a movie.
What to Do?
One solution involves stepping away from the rote memorization that the testing culture has created in public schools and introduce learning based on problem solving. Schools that employ project-based learning ironically post better scores on their states’ standardized tests than those that “teach to the test”. It is when education centers around the asking of questions and the searching for solutions, that learning occurs and creativity is fostered.
Parents can promote creativity, too, by encouraging the natural instincts of children to ask “why”. This means reading to/with them, watching what they watch and discussing it, and just overall being engaged. Studies have shown that parents have a tremendous effect on whether or not their children grow up to be creative types. Parents who are responsive, but who also challenge their children and create a home environment where children must learn to be flexible and to entertain themselves, produce more creative youngsters.
The Hardship Factor
Growing up in a challenging environment also produces more creative people. This is probably because hardship also forces children to be adaptive and to think outside the box. But it’s not the hardship that makes people creative; it’s their reactions and ability to cope that do it.
The king of all creativity makers is still play. Children who can entertain themselves, and who make up games or create alternate fantasy worlds, tend to score highest on creativity tests even as they get older. The child who would rather play with the box, instead of the toy that came in the box, is likely the future inventor or author or Nobel scientist.
Share Your Creativity Stories
What do you see in your community and schools that encourage creativity in young people?