Is there a coming creativity crisis?

Last month, Newsweek magazine ran a feature story discussing how “for the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining.”

While creativity may seem difficult to quantify, there is in fact a series of tests called Torrance Scores, which have been shown to be remarkably good at predicting kids’ future accomplishments. Children who have scored well on Torrance’s creative tasks consistently “grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers.”

Creative minds look at an unreal cubeNewsweek‘s feature was inspired by a recent analysis of decades of Torrance Scores presented by Kyung Hee Kim of the College of William and Mary. Kim’s analysis shows that the creativity scores have been steadily declining since 1990. In releasing the report, Kim added that the decline “is very clear, and the decrease is significant.” It’s additionally disconcerting that it is “the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is ‘most serious.'”

As might be expected, the Newsweek article directly blames or implies that video games, television and the education system are responsible for kids’ failing creativity.

The article and findings have been met with some skepticism, of course. Anne Egros, an Executive Coach who works with Fortune 500 companies, says, “You cannot use a creativity test designed in 1966 in today’s global economy using new technologies to draw any conclusion on the ability of solving current problems.” Elsewhere, Felix Salmon of Reuters agrees with Egros: “Conceptions of things like originality and elaboration are culturally determined and evolve over time; indeed, every so often the tests are ‘renormed’ making long-time-series comparisons even harder.”

However, there are many who have wondered if creativity is certainly in decline and if education is at least partly to blame. A while ago, we discussed the work of Sir Ken Robinson, who has been questioning the undervaluing of creativity in schools for some time now. Robinson has argued that schools can also encourage creativity, if they change methods and examine philosophical underpinnings.

Not all bad news
Newsweek also tempered its bad news with a discussion of how creativity can be taught and inculcated through practice. Studies at the University of Oklahoma, the University of Georgia, and Taiwan’s National Chengchi University have all concluded that creativity training can have a strong effect.

Whether speaking at the 2010 SEAL Best Practices Conference earlier this year or as found on TED.com, Robinson says education does not – but can – value creativity as much as literacy “and we should treat it with the same status.”

Some of Robinson’s critical points of discussion:

  • School administrators need to stop assuming a hierarchy of subjects based solely on usefulness. “Every education system on earth is the same: at the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities and at the bottom are the arts. I think math is very important but so is dance.”
  • Western education needs to examine its roots in industrialism and question this. Because education is predicated on academics “many highly talented, brilliantly creative people think they’re not [because] the thing they were actually good at in school wasn’t highly valued or was stigmatized.”
  • The movement away from mass education toward individualized attention is critical for inculcating creativity.
  • Teachers and educators need to take a very broad view of talent. “Human talent is actually wonderfully diverse. My contention is that all kids have tremendous talents and we squander them.”

What do you think? Are children today losing their creativity? If so, why?

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