“A society’s competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity.” Albert Einstein said these great words over 60 years ago, and yet in todays’ 21st century, America has still been in what is commonly known as “The Creativity Crisis” as described in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s article published in Newsweek in 2010. Their findings, based on the widely taken Torrance Test which tests for someone’s “Creativity Quotient” (CQ), show that the American public has had a significant decrease in it’s CQ scores since 1990. However, at the same time that this Creativity Crisis is taking place, leading businesses are craving creative and innovative people, as shown from an IBM poll taken in 2010 of 1,500 CEOs. This disconnect between what America wants in the workforce and what America’s CQ scores are leads to the question of, “How might we raise America’s CQ scores?” That is, how might we have more Americans that are proficient at going through a process of the exploration and creation of something new? A start would be to examine our education programs to assure that we as a country are setting the conditions for people to be successful. Schools are meant to prepare students with the knowledge and skills to be successful in the world. With our world craving creative people with innovative ideas, it is imperative for schools to allot time in their school day for students to explore creative outlets and passions.
By allotting this time in the day, students can be more prepared to get jobs in the companies that they are interested in working for. One of the “big dogs” of American companies is Google, with about 1 in every 4 young professionals wanting to work there. When trying to get a job at Google, it is helpful to know that interviewers are looking for applicants that go through a creative thinking process. For example an applicant may be asked, “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” The interviewer is not looking for the answer to this question, because there is no exact answer, instead the interviewer is looking to see how the applicant thinks through the problem and hoping to see the applicant go through a creative, yet logical, process to arrive at an answer. If schools hope for their students to be competitive in the workforce at places like Google, then schools must prepare students to be creative thinkers while problem solving– even if the problem seems impossible to solve.
In school, students are tasked to learn and mast content which lays out the foundation for the logical side to any process, but there is another side to this process: the creative side. To answer seemingly impossible problems like those that arise in the “real world”, you must have a basic understanding of facts along with the creative confidence to quickly discern what things you think you need to know in order to arrive at an answer.
This creative confidence isn’t something that some people are born with and others are not; it is developed over time through experience and guidance. Students need mentors to help them develop their creative confidence, and school provides an opportune time for students to receive this mentorship, and not just from teachers. Just like how chemistry classes do lab work in order to better understand how chemical equations work, what if all students were given the opportunity to enroll in a“real world” lab? Imagine if in this “real world” lab students were working alongside business leaders, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits to tackle work that matters. Work that might not be in a textbook. Through these “real world” labs, students could develop relationships with these game-changers that may lead to long lasting mentorship. Schools need to begin developing relationships with members in the local community because this real world experience will build confidence in students, so they can be empowered to be agents of change in today’s world. School currently communicates that students have to wait to make a difference. They have to wait to be told what to do. They have to wait to get their graded test back. What if we didn’t want to wait?
Some schools already have programs set in place to allow students school time to work on creative pursuits and passions, and their students are working on some mind blowing things. Some notable examples are High Tech High in California, The Independence Project at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Massachusetts, and Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s Innovation Diploma in Atlanta, Georgia. Students from these schools have done things like making their school more environmentally sustainable, cooking a meal for over 80 people, designing a picture of a historical character using math and technology, writing a novel, partnering with organizations like the Center for Disease Control on “real world” problems, and consulting with industry leaders to tackle complex challenges.
These schools exemplify that it is possible for schools to give students time to focus on creativity and passion finding during school time. Not only is it possible, but the students that are given this time in school have been advantageous in a world craving creative people. Imagine if all American schools had this time for creativity and passion finding. Imagine how much the American creative quotient scores could raise. Imagine how many more creative solutions America could be generating to solve big problems in our world today. The world demands creative people, so to solve the Creativity Crisis the world should also demand that schools, with their mentors and resources, provide the time for students to explore creative endeavors and personal passions in order to develop their creative confidence before it’s too late.