Creativity Crisis Solved with an Alien City

Newsweek’s article on the “creativity crisis” has been making the rounds lately. It fits the usual template of such stories: extrapolation of a trend leads to prognostications of vague gloom. In this case, it’s that US kids’ Creativity Quotient scores have been falling since the 1990s.

The article is talking about a specific flavor of creativity, namely the ability to generate a lot of ideas, pick out and combine the most promising ones, and then follow through on them. The article contrasts problem-solving-based education that can foster this kind of thinking with US schools’ focus on rote memorization and test taking, and does a good job of citing research into creativity.

The article is less persuasive when it trots out the usual bogeymen of TV and videogames. The best videogames, and games in general, give you a set of rules and invite you to then solve the problems creatively, the kind of creative problem-solving that the article calls for in schools. And as fanfic and other transformative works show, people will watch TV and incorporate their stories into their own. The article approvingly notes that creative kids often make their own alternate worlds to play in. Can you get the same benefit from in part populating your alternate worlds with elements borrowed from TV shows? After all, most kids at that age are synthesists, creating those worlds from pieces of whatever stories they’ve heard, whether those stories came from books or TV or their family.

Programs exist to foster creative problem-solving, including Dr. Torrance’s Future Problem Solving Program. I’ll be interested to see if Eli and Liza’s schools offer such programs. But at least for now, I’m not that worried about them.

6 thoughts on “Creativity Crisis Solved with an Alien City

  1. My favorite thing on Eli’s video was about the aliens being like us: “They play all day and sleep at night.” Oh, to be young and play all day…

  2. Yeah, every time I see the boy, he’s spinning a new story to me, and it’s always a really creative one. Sometimes he loses me because he makes these leaps that I don’t catch, but then I imagine that’s what it’s like having a conversation with me, Lord of the Rabbit Trail.

    Now, what was I talking about again? Oh, yes. Right. And so I was at this Don Chaffer show this weekend, and we read from II Samuel, and they talked about the Amalekites, so I got on Wikipedia …

  3. I wonder how much creativity is based on modeling. Our kids see both of us be creative in various ways and so they’ve picked up that process and are now using it in their own way. It seems to me to be a way of looking at the world. “Hey, I want X! If I take these three things from here, I can make my own personalized version of X.”

    Missy, I think the schools spending so much time teaching to the test-of-the-week are some part of the problem here as well. I already knew I’d be supplementing my kid’s educations. I feel so privileged that I get to show them the fun stuff.

  4. I’m always skeptical about test scores interpreted longitudinally over time when the test itself (or scoring rubric) has changed substantially over time.

    Dr. Kim, the psychologist whose paper is cited in the Newsweek article as the source for the “Americans are less creative now than in the 60’s” assertion, apparently published a critique of that particular test as part of grad school:
    According to this, the test has been renormed four times, had a substantial scoring overhaul at least once, and is a little sketchy on the reliability scores, like variations between testers.

    When young kids take this test, it’s administered verbally, as described in the first few paragraphs of the Newsweek article. I could see how this would be either problematic for a child who’s shy, or has difficulty expressing his ideas verbally, or who talks but doesn’t precisely address the prompt (there’s a difference between “what’s cool about this fire truck?” and “what would you improve on this fire truck?”) I don’t think kids are necessarily less creative than they used to be, but I think they are less skilled at precise self-expression, and I know they have shorter attention spans.

    And while I’m talking about the test changing on you — back when *I* was in school, a 1600 on your SAT meant you answered every question correctly. But now you can miss, what, 5 or 6 questions and still get a “perfect score” ?

Comments are closed.