Closing the Creativity Gap

Posted on by Dodge

Ross Danis, Program Director, Education


You may hear the mention of a number of “gaps” when people are talking about education: the achievement gap between various income groups and races; the gap in funding between school districts; and the gap between athletics and, say, the arts. Perhaps the most serious gap is between the skills of even the most successful, best educated students and the skills required to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing, and very challenging world – the creativity gap.

View the situation this way: our children are just as literate as they were 20 years ago, but the standards for being literate have changed. The stakes are higher. Today, children will enter, as adults, a world where the “creative class” will rule. In fact, creativity is right up there with the basics of mathematics and reading. UNESCO reports that almost 60% of all the jobs in the 21st century will depend on the capacity to be creative.

scantron-formWhat does this mean for schools? It means that being proficient on standardized tests is not enough to be successful. It means that focusing exclusively on raising test scores at the expense of other pursuits helps schools appear successful in the short run, but may be setting our children up for failure in the long run. Our children need pursuits such as extended arts residencies, interdisciplinary investigations, and inquiry-based student-driven learning activities that encourage right brain and communal thinking skills.

These creative learning experiences are happening but, disturbingly, mostly in private schools. The reason is that private schools have the flexibility to do what they know is necessary: to rewrite curriculum to focus on how to think, not just what to think, and to foster creativity in young people. Private schools are “off the grid” in terms of having to comply with the narrow definitions of literacy that are foisted upon traditional public schools through state and federal standards.

nj-youth-theatreSo, back to the gap. Yes, there is a gap between the performance of students in many urban districts and those in suburban districts. But what if the high performing suburban districts are not the standard of excellence in terms of preparing children for the future? As Sir Ken Robinson states, “Creativity now is as important in education as is literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” What if ALL public schools need to be re-imagined so they can foster the kinds of critical and creative thinking that will be required to be successful? The essence of our work here at Dodge is to foster creativity and develop sustainable communities. That is our response to closing the creativity gap.

It would help us to know if you think that such a gap exists. And, if you believe it does, how you think a foundation like Dodge can have the greatest impact on helping to prepare our youth for their future, not our past. Please leave us your comments.

Photo: New Jersey Youth Theatre

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3 Responses to Closing the Creativity Gap

  1. Fear is the biggest obstacle in creativity and education. Every one is afraid of the low test scores in the Abbot districts. The voting citizen complains about all the money spent there. The politicians revive the term accountability to pacify the concerned citizen and under that term only success and moving forward are acceptable.
    It’s difficult to cultivate creativity under a 19th century factory model of production. Creative people are comfortable with failure. Our society equates failure with being a looser. Imagine what a failure Edison would be today if he was trying to modify the light bulb in an Abbot Public Schools. Creativity means to intentionally throw a piece of wood on the gears to stop the machine (schema) from being an absolute dictator. Creative people thrive under the banner of failure. Failure is the road least taken and the only way to invent new possibilities.
    Deconstruction (fear of the French) gets put on the curb with the garbage in our culture. Just look at all the broken toys on the sidewalk during spring-cleaning. Why rethink and recreate when we can just buy a new one. Our culture is taught to discard the dysfunctional and the functional is usually given very narrow parameters.
    Listening and observing are perceived as a waste of time in our culture. We fill our lives with busy work as long as we can make money. My father worked long hours to make enough money to support my sister and me. When he got home there was a small amount of energy my sister mom and me. After a day of being sucked empty by our culture, it took great courage to just sit and observe and reflect wile not making a penny from it. The perception is that thinking and observing, in our culture, are a waste of time for the working class if they are not making money from it. Only white-collar workers at a creative company, or Ivy League university can get pay to be creative. Ivy League sometimes gets criticized for being disconnected and irrelevant in their Ivory Towers. We all need a tower to protect us from the fear of failure and looking foolish. Lets build an ivory tower of the foolish in our school to protect their right to observe and play.
    There is a creativity gap in our culture that gets filled with supersize me TV shows and video games.
    There is hope in teaching visual literacy and cultural criticism to our students so that they can think and deconstruct the Madison Av. prepackaged expectations that are sold to them every waking hour. A solution might be to use the selling power of Advertizing to question everything they and we hold dear.

  2. Ross,

    Thank you for this thought provoking blog article. Creativity and critical thinking skills are indeed 21st century skills – just as they were the sparks that made the United States great in prvious centuries. We will lose that edge we have had that has made us leaders in the world on so many fronts if we don’t quickly recapture creativity and critical thinking skills as important priorities. From the arts to math and science they are both critical skills.

    Who we are is built on our life experiences and with all the emphasis on basic skills that we have today we are losing these other essential ingredients.

    Marion Conway

  3. Jaime Parker says:

    I have been thinking about this article for the past few weeks.

    One thing that I think is important to realize is that creativity is not linked to socio-economic status. To offer a case-in-point, I work at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) and we have a visual arts group, “The A-TEAM Artists of Trenton”, and a performance arts group, “The SHARE Project”. All of these performing and visual artists are unschooled in the arts (many of our artists do not hold high school diplomas), yet create amazing artwork.

    Random House Dictionary defines creativity as “originative; productive”.

    The visual artists create much of their pieces from found objects and their work is stunning and prolific. A-TEAM art covers the soup kitchen walls top to bottom and they are always running out of wall space, despite the fact that they do well with art sales.

    Some of the poetry, music, and plays written by The SHARE Project can rival that of an ivy league scholar.

    Some of the essays written by the students in TASK’s Adult Education Program are incredibly moving and original. These are all individuals who never completed high school. Some students didn’t make it past grade school.

    I find that many of the soup kitchen’s clients exist in an environment in which they must be resourceful in order to survive – i.e. how to survive on a very small income. Resourcefulness and creativity are cousins.

    The concept of “being creative” is not something that can be learned from a textbook. Creativity cannot be graded. I feel that creativity stems from coming to the realization that there are no formulas or correct answers. This seems to be the antithesis of our educational system.

    I agree with Fausto’s comment that fear is one of the biggest obstacles to creativity, but I think another big stifler is a society that says we must look, dress, and act a certain way in order to be viewed as having a credible perspective and to receive a healthy paycheck.

    Although I do not think creativity can be taught, it can be fostered, especially by parents and teachers. I feel the key is in the attitude with which individuals interact with their children. The best example I can think of is articulated in the song “Flowers are Red” by Harry Chapin. Here’s a link to it:

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