Creativity Killers & Paper Clips
Over 75 million people have watched Sir Ken Robinson's "Do Schools Kill Creativity?", a TED talk from 2006. It is one of the most watched TED talks of all time...and I think it's because it hits a nerve that a majority of people relate to. As a creative mother with six children in the public school system and one in university, I probably contemplate this dilemma more than most. (For those freakin' confused...I have two biological children, and five stepchildren. LOL)
The other day, my 15-year-old daughter shared with me her thoughts on the subject through a paper she wrote for school. I read it and asked if I could share her words as they epitomise my sentiments on the issue and seeing as it has been a couple years since I last published a blog, it seems like I could use some assistance in this space..and considering she continues to come first in English
And also, considering she mentioned me in her assignment, I was a bit chuffed and had to put it on my 'electronic' fridge with a magnet... so to speak lol.
In Selah's words:
"Someone I know once told me, a couple minutes ago to be exact, an intriguing story from their kindergarten experience about how their school oppressed students' creativity. An idea that is not distant to any of us who have journeyed through the education system and had our individuality and creative thinking drained away. While it is not an obvious process as it is occurring, it becomes more prevalent with age to the point that drawing a short story from the imagination is a struggle. I myself have been faced with this dilemma.
One evening while babysitting the children of a family friend, I was tasked by their little girl to tell her a bedtime story. When asked of this before I had drawn magnanimous inspiration from the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, but now with my mind blank of his stories I searched the recesses of my brain for a shrivel of imagination from which I could craft an appropriate tale for the person in my care. On finally discovering the drying well that was my tank of creativity I was shocked by its depleted state, but unable to spare the time to reflect on this sad occurrence, I rushed to weave a tale that would allow me to escape from this awkward and somewhat depressing situation.
As a child and even now I have a partiality towards creative activities, and would often receive compliments from my parents, an artist and a musician, on my “wild imagination”. Unfortunately, my father has drifted slightly away from music, however my mother has increased her prowess in the art industry and has even begun to speak on matters such as embracing authenticity, and in closer relation to this topic, the powers of creative living.
In preparation for one of her speeches she spoke to me about a fascinating experiment dubbed “the paper clip experiment”. The paper clip experiment was a research study conducted by George Land and Beth Jarmen in 1968 to test creativity. Land originally used this test to assist NASA in selecting innovative scientists and engineers, however this time he conducted it on children around five years old. The paper clip test simply involved asking the person being tested: “how many different ways can you use a paperclip?” When the results came back, Land was astonished. To see how the results would change with age he tested the same group of children and 10, and then again at 15; he also tested a separate group of adults with an average age of 31 years old. The percentage of people who had tested at the genius level were as follows:
- 5-year-olds: 98%
- 10-year-olds: 30%
- 15-year-olds: 12%
- Adults : 2%
Think about that for a moment. 98% of 5 year olds tested as creative geniuses, while only 2% of adults did. This completely undermines our previous knowledge of intelligence when it comes to children vs adults. Additionally the fact that 68% of 10 year olds dropped from the genius level after spending five years in the education system and another 18% fell by the time they were 15 demonstrates the significant impacts of school’s belligerent attitude towards creativity.
If we go back to my peer’s story I mentioned before, this concept of mental inferiority of the child is further expressed. His art class was asked to create imaginative artworks, however as he later revealed, and here I quote verbatim:
“Our art teacher would come over to “give us a suggestion” on our artwork, and then takethe paintbrush and just do it for us. Making everyone’s practically the same.”
This structured form of creativity is heavily impacting students and future generations as the need for divergent thinkers is rising and we are unable to respond to the demand. Thus, schools’ oppression of creativity will have detrimental effects on our society if we have no imaginative intellectuals to predict and counter future problems previously unthought of."
Well said, Selah. (Her name literally means to "pause and reflect" and I believe she will inspire thousands to do just that...)
Feeling inspired? Set a timer for two minutes and see how many different uses you can dream up for paper clips, and then as a kindergartener to do the same challenge and compare notes. ;-)