Govt schools, teachers, and creativity

Reply Thu 3 Jan, 2013 09:16 am


Teachers Don’t Like Creative Students
by Alex Tabarrok on December 12, 2011 at 7:33 am in Economics, Education | Permalink
One of the most consistent findings in educational studies of creativity has been that teachers dislike personality traits associated with creativity. Research has indicated that teachers prefer traits that seem to run counter to creativity, such as conformity and unquestioning acceptance of authority (e.g., Bachtold, 1974; Cropley, 1992; Dettmer, 1981; Getzels & Jackson, 1962; Torrance, 1963). The reason for teachers’ preferences is quite clear creative people tend to have traits that some have referred to as obnoxious (Torrance, 1963). Torrance (1963) described creative people as not having the time to be courteous, as refusing to take no for an answer, and as being negativistic and critical of others. Other characteristics, although not deserving the label obnoxious, nonetheless may not be those most highly valued in the classroom.

….Research has suggested that traits associated with creativity may not only be neglected, but actively punished (Myers & Torrance, 1961; Stone, 1980). Stone (1980) found that second graders who scored highest on tests of creativity were also those identified by their peers as engaging in the most misbehavior (e.g., “getting in trouble the most”). Given that research and theory (e.g., Harrington, Block, & Block, 1987) suggest that a supportive environment is important to the fostering of creativity, it is quite possible that teachers are (perhaps unwittingly) extinguishing creative behaviors.

From Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom?, a good review paper. What the paper shows is that the characteristics that teachers use to describe their favorite student correlate negatively with the characteristics associated with creativity. In addition, although teachers say that they like creative students, teachers also say creative students are “sincere, responsible, good-natured and reliable.” In other words, the teachers don’t know what creative students are actually like. (FYI, the research design would have been stronger if the researchers had actually tested the students for creativity.) As a result, schooling has a negative effect on creativity.

My experience as a parent is consistent with the idea that teachers don’t like creative students but I try not to blame the teachers too much. Creative people, for better and worse, ignore social conventions. Thus, it can be hard for teachers to deal with creative students in a classroom setting where they must guide 20-30 students en masse. As Jonah Lehrer puts it:

Would you really want a little Picasso in your class? How about a baby Gertrude Stein? Or a teenage Eminem? The point is that the classroom isn’t designed for impulsive expression – that’s called talking out of turn. Instead, it’s all about obeying group dynamics and exerting focused attention. Those are important life skills, of course, but decades of psychological research suggest that such skills have little to do with creativity.

One hope I have for personalized learning, ala the Khan Academy, is that teachers will not feel the need to suppress creative students when classroom dynamics do not require that all the students follow all the rules all the time .
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Reply Thu 3 Jan, 2013 11:04 am
That report they cite is from 1995. I'd love to see it refreshed in light of No Child Left Behind.

The one thing that really bugs me about this is that I think there is a real misunderstanding of "creativity".

Creativity involves a LOT of discipline, it's really just a type of problem solving and solving problems requires a lot of knowledge. Some of the most creative people I know/know of are scientists, lawyers, mathematicians, engineers -- people we don't necessarily think of as creative.

Right now I just happen to be reading a book of essays that includes one about the film maker Stanley Kubrick -- someone I think we can all agree was a creative person. He was obsessively organized and logical, he laid extensive groundwork and did extensive legwork to realize his vision. He wasn't some flighty person who just hoped things worked out okay.
Reply Thu 3 Jan, 2013 11:37 am
Some of the most creative people I know/know of are scientists, lawyers, mathematicians, engineers -- people we don't necessarily think of as creative.
Boom as an erstwhile inventor myself I can testify that a prime requirement is laziness
Reply Thu 3 Jan, 2013 11:46 am
I completely disagree.

I worked all of my adult life in a creative field and I was quite successful. I was the opposite of lazy. I've never known anyone who was successful in a creative field who was lazy.

I'm willing to bet that you really aren't lazy either. Inventors only appear to be doing nothing because others can't see the process of invention.
Reply Thu 3 Jan, 2013 12:11 pm
I've never known anyone who was successful in a creative field who was lazy.
I suppose Boom it depends on how one defines laziness or creativity. You might consider a dozen inventions for instance respectable evidence of ambition but in my own case a mere ego boost
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