VIMUKT SHIKSHA (LIBERATING EDUCATION)
Rediscovering our Creativity
December 1999 - Issue 6
Inside this Issue
Reconnecting to the Soul
Where Does Creativity Come From?
Characteristics of Creative Individuals
Conditioned into Conformity
Ending History by Murdering Creativity
Regenerating Our Creativity in India
The Disconnect Between Motivation and Creativity
The Truth about the TRUTH
Increasing Our Creativity
Closer to Home...
* * *
"The artist is not a special kind of man but every man is a special kind of artist." Ananda Coomaraswamy, 1956
What is creativity? Why do we need creativity in our lives? Where does creative urge come from? In what ways does factory-schooling suppress our human creativity? How must learning environments be designed to empower our creativity?
Why We Need to Reprioritize Creativity in Our Lives
The post-colonial Project of building India Inc. has ignored the generative concepts of creativity, aesthetics, imagination, and self-expression. In our fervent desire to forge a single, coherent national identity, we have pursued an agenda of homogenization steam-rolling over diverse and potent ideas, languages, talents, and ways of knowing/being. With our pursuit of bureaucratization, industrialization, and militarization, creativity has been taken out of our everyday lives out of our work, our families, our friendships and segregated to only those art products which can be sold for profit. The public has been bombarded and brainwashed with the language of efficiency, replication, compartmentalization, functionality and pragmatism, which condemn processes of creativity as frivolous pursuits something that only the idle rich or the super-gifted can afford to indulge in.
Such repression of our individual and collective creativeness has had very deep implications. On one level, we have become conditioned to accept the world as those in power (e.g., industrialists, bureaucrats, politicians, teachers, ivory-tower intellectuals, media moguls, or religious leaders) see it. They have conspired to make us believe that human existence is merely: a mundane struggle to meet our basic needs and primordial urges; a problem to be mechanically solved; a pre-determined tape to be played out; or, an economic activity to increase GNP. Such dehumanizing narratives have subverted the manifestation of our whole beings, our motivation to search for our own truths and meanings, and our ability to be part of and contribute to the beautiful unfolding of the universe.
On another level, our abilities to generate new solutions, cultural symbols, intellectual frameworks, and societal systems which are more just, sustainable and collaborative, have been greatly constricted. We have been reduced to ridiculous imitators, cheap recyclers and stagnant preservationists. It is shocking to witness how conditioned we are to think only in terms of bivalent options framed in either the present or the past. Either we must take schools as they are or go back to the gurukul model; either we must take representative nation-state democracy as it is or go back to authoritarian feudalism; either we must take exploitative free market capitalism as it is or go back to inefficient Nehruvian socialism. The real tragedy today is that very few of us even have the courage to try to dream of an original third, fourth, or tenth way for constructively regenerating our collective futures.
Factory-schooling has been a major tool for bludgeoning our individual and collective creativities. Most schooled graduates believe that they do not have any capability or right to think about creating new knowledge or systems. They have gone through schools learning only about competition, rules, and control and have never been given the opportunity to think about their own potentials; much less, about new kinds of educational, political, economic, social structures. NCERT and various Commissions have only recently started recognizing the importance of creative expression. However, these educationists still deeply misunderstand it as they continue to view it through the prescriptive lenses of teaching/transmission i.e., trying to pour creativity into the empty student.
Creativity involves both generating novel and ethical ideas, combinations and solutions and putting them into action. It demands thinking outside existing domains, conceptual spaces, and boundaries. But it is much more than this. Creativity is a lifestyle: a way of appreciating and questioning ourselves and the world, a sensitivity in connecting with the web of life, and a profound sense of hope and optimism. As we journey into the 21st century, it is imperative that we rethink our societal visions of creativity and develop nurturing environments for growing our different creativities. Reprioritizing creativity is not the exclusive responsibility of artists, industrial psychologists, art teachers, ministries of culture, etc. It is up to all of us to unlearn our conditioned fear, ego, hatred, insecurities, etc.; to de-institutionalize and de-mechanize ourselves; and to relearn the joy of living creatively in all spheres of our life. We invite you to join us in this process.
Reconnecting to the Soul
"Creation is freedom. It is a prison to have to live in what is; for it is living in what is not ourselves. There we helplessly allow nature to choose us and choose for us... But in our creation we live in what is ours, and there more and more the world becomes a world of our own selection; it moves with our movement and gives way to us according to the turn we take."
Why do we create? Rabindranath Tagore sought to answer this question, not only through his essays, but also in his plays, poetry, and stories. "Construction is for a purpose, it expresses our wants; but creation is for itself, it expresses our very being." For Tagore, creativity is actually a deep soul-connecting process, through which we strive to relate our souls to the wholeness of life to different cultures, to Nature, and to the Divine. Creators "infuse the colors and music of their souls into the structures of existence."
According to Tagore, an attitude of freedom and emotional sensitivity are central to creativity. We must free ourselves to go beyond the constraints of the world presented to us to try to discover our real selves only then are we able to freely create new realities. In addition, we must allow space for the expression of our feelings and senses in order to give intimate life to the world around us. Engaging in processes of creation, not only construction, is critical to the meaningful development of both personality and human relationships. "When humanity lacks this music of soul, then society becomes a mechanical arrangement of compartments, of political and social classifications."
Tagore saw abstractions, such as survival of the fittest (where people are animals), analytical science (which privileges machines/material production over humans) and efficient bureaucracy (where people are statistics) as destructive for humanity. He warned, "If profit and production are allowed to run amuck, they play havoc with our love of beauty, of truth, of justice, and with our love for our fellow-beings."
Tagore held faith "in the principle of life, in the soul of man," not in trite educational methods. Indeed, he believed that schooling accentuates the break between intellectual, physical, and spiritual life, as it is concerned only with pouring lifeless information into children. "The ultimate truth in man is not in his intellect or in his material wealth; it is in his imagination of sympathy, in his illumination of heart, in his activities of self-sacrifice, in his capacity for extending love far and wide across all barriers of caste and colour, in his realizing this world not as a storehouse of mechanical power but as a habitation of mans soul with its eternal music of beauty and its inner light of a divine presence."
References: R. Tagore. Personality. London: Macmillan, 1917.
R. Tagore. "Construction vs. Creation." 1920.
Where Does Creativity Come From?
In Handbook of Creativity (Cambridge: University Press.1999), Robert Sternberg discusses several limitations to the way creativity has been studied by researchers in psychology in the past. Many research studies viewed creativity as an extraordinary result of ordinary structures or processes, oftentimes emerging from divine intervention. Moreover, creativity had only been studied through uni-disciplinary lenses. Sternberg calls for more multidimensional and developmental approaches to understanding creativity. He suggests a new robust framework one that is dependent on a convergence of six distinct but interrelated resources: intellectual abilities, knowledge, styles of thinking, personality, motivation, and environment.
Three intellectual abilities are particularly important to creativity: (a) the synthetic ability to see problems in new ways and to escape the bounds of conventional thinking, (b) the analytic ability to recognize which of ones ideas are worth pursuing and which are not, and (c) the practical-contextual ability to know how to persuade or sell other people on the value of ones ideas. The nexus of these three abilities is also important. Analytic ability, used in the absence of the other two abilities, results in powerful critiques but not creative thinking. Synthetic ability, in the absence of the other two, results in new ideas that are not subjected to the scrutiny required to (1) evaluate their promise and (2) make them work. And practical-contextual ability, in the absence of the other two, may result in the transmission of ideas, not because the ideas are good, but rather because they have been powerfully presented.
With regard to knowledge, creators need to know enough about a field to move it forward. Yet, knowledge can produce a paradox. While one cannot move ahead in a field that one does not know, too much knowledge about a field can result in a closed and entrenched perspective. This can prevent a person from moving beyond the way in which he or she has seen problems in the past.
With regard to thinking styles, it is particularly important for people to think in novel (divergent) ways, rather than following the crowd. This includes how one questions, frames problems, makes connections, envisions scenarios, reflects, etc. It also helps if one is able to think globally as well as locally and can distinguish the forest from the trees. They can thereby recognize which questions are important and which ones are not.
Numerous research investigations have highlighted the importance of certain personality attributes for creative functioning. These attributes include, but are not limited to, self-confidence and a willingness to overcome obstacles, to take sensible risks, and to tolerate ambiguity. Pursuing ideas that are unknown or controversial often means defying the crowd, so would-be creators have to be willing to stand up to established rules or norms.
Intrinsic, task-focused motivation is also essential to creativity. Research has shown the importance of such motivation for creative work. It has suggested that people rarely do truly creative work in an area unless they really love what they are doing. This love allows them to focus on the work rather than on the potential rewards. Interestingly, carrying out creative activities also helps to generate intrinsic motivation.
Finally, one needs an environment that is supportive and rewarding of creative ideas. One could have all of the internal resources needed to think creatively, but without some environmental support (such as a forum for proposing those ideas and constructive feedback), this creativity might never be displayed.
With regard to the confluence of components, creativity is hypothesized to involve more than a simple sum of a persons attained level of functioning in each component. First, there may be thresholds for some components (e.g., knowledge) below which creativity is not possible, regardless of the levels attained in other components. Second, partial compensation may occur, in which a strength in one component (e.g., motivation) counteracts a weakness in another component (e.g., environment). Third, interactions may also occur between components, such as intelligence and motivation, in which high levels on both could exponentially enhance creativity.
The main thing that hinders creative thinking is our belief that we are not creative. Look at it this way. If you tell yourself: "I am a creative human being", then you have to have beliefs about yourself that support that identity. If you tell yourself, "I am just an ordinary person", then you will have a different set of beliefs. Once you have a particular identity and set of beliefs about yourself, you will become interested in seeking out the skills needed to express your identity and beliefs. If you believe that you are "uncreative", then there is no need to learn how to become creative.
Ned Hermann, The Creative Brain
Characteristics of Creative Individuals . . .
q Display a great deal of curiosity about many things and have broad interests in many unrelated areas.
q Generate a large number of ideas or solutions to problems and questions, and often offer unusual, unique, out-of-the-box responses. Criticize in constructive ways.
q Unwilling to accept authoritarian pronouncements without critical examination. Uninhibited in expressions of opinion, sometimes radical and spirited in disagreement.
q Are unusually tenacious or persistent focusing deeply on an idea or project.
q Display keen sense of humor and see humor in situations that may not appear to be humorous to others. Sometimes their humor may appear bizarre and irreverent.
q Willing to take risks. They are often described as high risk takers or adventurous.
q Display a good deal of intellectual playfulness; frequently be caught fantasizing, daydreaming or imagining. Often wonder out loud and might be heard saying, "I wonder what would happen if. . ."; or "What if we change this . . ." Can manipulate ideas by easily changing, elaborating, adapting, synthesizing, or modifying the original idea or the ideas of others. Concerned with improving the conceptual frameworks of institutions and systems.
q Are unusually aware of his or her impulses and are often more open to the irrational within him or herself. Exhibit heightened emotional sensitivity and aesthetic sensibilities. May freely display opposite gender characteristics (freer expression of feminine interests in boys, greater than usual amount of independence for girls).
q Are frequently perceived as nonconforming; do not fear being classified as different. Accept disordered/chaotic environments, uncertain situations, and ambiguity.
??? What do you think are additional characteristics of creative individuals?
Adapted from Dr. Leslie Wilson, www.uwsp.edu/acad/educ/lwilson/creativ/index.htm
In this excerpt, Lin Schuler (The One That Got Away, Golden, CO: Schuler Creations, 1982) challenges the dominant idea that only a lucky few possess creativity. She urges us to understand that creativity is not a gift, but rather is learnable. It requires perservance, concentration, and a desire to invest oneself in the creative process:
"So many times,
In a month,
In a week,
In a day,
"You are so creative,
How do you do it,
What is your secret,
You are so lucky."
Shake my head,
Shyly say its nothing,
This is what Im expected to say,
That is their illusion.
They dont want it broken,
Might rock their reality.
They might have to alter
Their expectations of themselves.
They want to believe,
I go home at night,
Take a can opener,
Open my mind,
Drop in a suggestion,
Stir a second,
And instant idea.
They want to believe,
It works that way.
They want to believe creativity,
Is a gift,
Given to a chosen few.
I have the strongest urge,
To take them,
Tell them they live,
In a greater fantasy than I do.
Creativity is not a gift.
Gifts are free.
Creativity is so damned expensive,
It takes everything you are,
Then demands more..."
Conditioned into Conformity
The following is excerpted from Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: The Power Of Improvisation In Life and The Arts (Los Angeles: Jeremy Tarcher, 1990):
"The child we were (and still are) learns by exploring and experimenting, insistently snooping into every little corner that is open to us and into the forbidden corners too! But sooner or later our wings get clipped. The real world created by grown-ups comes to bear down upon growing children, molding them into progressively more predictable members of society. This devolutionary process is reinforced throughout the life cycle, from kindergarten through university, in social and political life, and most especially in the world of work. Our newest and most powerful educational institutions, television and pop music, are even more thorough than school in inculcating mass-produced conformity. People are grown as a kind of food to be gobbled up by the system. Slowly our eyes begin to narrow. Thus the simplicity, intelligence, and power of mind at play become homogenized into dullness, conformity, and weakness..."
Ending History by Murdering Creativity
Upon triumphantly carrying out the worlds first nuclear holocaust, leading Western [mostly American] intellectuals began the second phase of their murderous quest to conquer the world by declaring that people-led socio-spiritual initiatives to create new frameworks for human liberation and justice were no longer necessary. With the emergence of the Western democratic welfare nation- state, they argued that there was no further need for a radical transformation of society. "With this consensus of intellectuals, the quest for any radical liberatory ideology is dead" [see Daniel Bell, End of Ideology]. We were told that we could tinker with our way of life here and there in order to better fit into the global system, but it would be wrong to try to modify these systems any significant way or to develop anything outside of them. So over the past fifty years, we in the sub-continent have been faithfully spending our time trying to reform these imported political-economic-educational structures while simultanteously wiping out indigenous languages/voices of dissent.
In the past decade, a new pack of sycophants of corporate techno-capitalism have emerged to further propel the self-congratulatory hype of Western society. They have called for a conclusion of all human efforts to think beyond the paradise of American Society, which for them epitomizes the pinnacle of the human civilizational effort [see Francis Fukuyama, End of History]. They advise us that there is no further need left to think and act together creatively on larger societal concerns; instead, each individuals creativity should be best channeled into getting rich quick by either finding novel ways to squeeze the system or con the public. The best way to do this these days is to be like Bill Gates and design slick software for export markets.
This essay seeks to expose the viciousness of such fascist myths which seek to repress the dynamic spirit of creativity required for radical transformation of fundamentally unjust and destructive societal systems. I will discuss how the meaning of creativity is obfuscated by linking it to materialistic needs. Finally, I will argue for the need for communities to reclaim their right/space to create new conceptual frameworks for real liberation.
The ascendancy and legitimacy of the present (fragile) global system of exploitation up requires total thought control and repression of ideologies which might question/challenge free market capitalism. Thus, we must all be made to believe that the individualistic, materialistic, superficial, and soul-less cultures of the West are humanitys greatest achievement and we have no power and no other choices. Conveniently, these civilizational assertions are verified by B.F. Skinners scientifically authentic experiments which prove that individuals only labor for gain and wealth, that too under the threat of punishment or the lure of reward. Skinner also injected new life in the Darwinian belief that people are inherently aggressive, greedy and egocentric. Maslows infamous Hierarchy of Needs serves to perpetuate the myth that only those who have their bellies full are capable of engaging in creative radical thought i.e., the poor cannot feel, think or create for themselves because their only concern is with obtaining their next meal. Thus, we must focus all of our attention on symptoms related to poverty alleviation, rather than work on root systemic changes.
The global power managers today use factory-schooling and the global media to reinforce these myths and to teach us that any call to organize oppressed communities and civilizations to create fresh frameworks for liberation and counter-development should be ignored (or derided) for every thing that needs to be created has already been (or will be) created by our white benefactors in the fora of Ox-bridge, Harvard, the White House, Silicon Valley, and the United Nations. The great body of scholarly-experts stemming from these esteemed centers of knowledge advise us that pragmatic tinkering must replace the commitment to deep critiquing and creativity.
So-called Third World intellectuals, having found their secure positions in the global hierarchy [mostly as tenured professors/state servants], play a key role in squashing the search for any radical transformation. They tell us that our traditions are backward, stagnant, barriers to progress and must be eradicated. They also fuel the myth that things are improving i.e., people are becoming more empowered, democracy is strong, the economy is growing, etc. In other words, the goals of justice and freedom have been achieved in the West (and are in the process of being achieved in developing countries) we must just be patient and cooperate as the last shreds of human decency and dignity are stripped away from us.
Fortunately though, there have been individuals of colossal stature in recent history who have been invoking the creative sensibilities of individuals, even entire societies, to liberate themselves from cultural and intellectual hegemony. Mohandas Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Franz Fanon, Malcolm X, bell hooks, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Ali Shariati, are a few names that come to mind. These thinkers have tried to highlight the real essence of and contexts for generating socio-spiritual creativity which is required in complex and problematic times like ours. Such creativity provides the basis for both listening to our inner conscience and giving it expression. It gives us the energy for both questioning/challenging oppression as well as the inspiration for creating new realities and connecting to our greater humanity. The human spirit, according to these freedom fighters, is far too evolved to be condemned to behave like a narcissistic fool. They remind us that the most powerful human aspiration has always been to generate reflective frameworks for freedom and justice for all. When Gandhiji was calling for Hind Swaraj, it was not out of his backwardness of not knowing fashionable [Nehruvian] Socialist or Marxist thoughts, but he perhaps more than anyone else knew that true liberation can only come from nurturing and invoking the indigenous creative and moral capacities of the oppressed. Creativity coupled with parampara (dynamic tradition) and radical reflection are one of the few real options available to us today to liberate ourselves from this vicious enclave of modern indoctrination and manipulation.
Those who dare to believe that its possible to create other societal systems are immediately condemned as idealistic, anti-national or outright fundamentalists. The challenge before creative socio-spiritual thinkers today is to remain open to dialogue but not to be deterred by such assaults.
Most of the thinker-activists of our time have called for a radical break with colonial culture and the hypocrisy of Western liberal thought for a organic revolutionary consciousness to emerge. Such breaks must be created as they can provide us much-needed space and intellectual freedom to creatively rethink our notions of progress, re-value our parampara and generate new reference points for societal development.
Regenerating Our Creativity in India
I was good at singing when I was in 5th grade. But whenever I sang in front of my class I was always de-motivated by everyone, who said, "You dont know how to sing! Just sit quietly." I was also very curious to know who I am, why are we living, and what is a meaningful life? When I asked my teachers such questions, they totally dismissed me and said, "These questions will not come in your exam. Just cram whatever the text book says." Similarly, whenever I played the harmonium, my family members were always screaming, "What nonsense are you playing! It is not your cup of tea. Keep it aside." I was interested in exploring and experimenting with different ideas, but each time I tried to do so, I was forced by my peers, my teachers, and my family, to do things in a conventional manner.
When I failed in 12th grade, my family members and other friends made comments that implied that I was a failure and good for nothing. These comments tortured me deeply. Shortly after, one of my cousin brothers, who was good at crafts and had an excellent sense of humor, committed suicide due to examination fear and family pressure. His only fault was that he did not do well on his 12th grade examination paper. We lost a person who could have spread happiness all over the world.
The incidents I have been describing are not only limited to me or my brother. The majority of children and youth in India today are facing such problems. They are constantly being suppressed and frustrated by their families, schools, and peer groups. Every human being is a potential creator, thinker and experimenter. But often, our vast human potential remains hidden due to lack of opportunities, oppressive surroundings, and mechanical thinking/living. How do we get beyond these obstacles to create a united, peaceful, loving and creative India?
The Demise of Creativity
India, a civilization of diverse cultures, languages, and spiritualities, is a unique role model for the development of indigenous creative forces. According to Devi Prasad (Art: The Basis of Education. NBT,1998), "traditional India did not compartmentalize art and life." The pursuit of knowledge included wisdom, a capacity of discretion, control over the ego, humility, truthfulness, self-dignity, social service, and creativity. For centuries, people explored and shared the meaning of life through creative living expressions and divine creative power in various forms: chores, relationships, farming, cooking, decoration, festivals, games, crafts, music, dances, prayers and yoga. Yet, today, there seems to be a dearth of people who value and seek out creativity in their daily living. In fact, instead of developing and nurturing creative processes in our lives, we are being mechanically conditioned to become more egoistic, rigid, insecure, and dishonest. I see several institutions as responsible for this demise.
Factory schooling: In the present model of factory-schooling, no more than 4-5% of pupils are declared successful or educated. Yet of these, very few can creatively think/judge/analyze/synthesize by themselves. The imposed standardization of MLLs force us to fit into the system to all follow the same goals in exactly the same way. In the name of examinations, childrens diverse abilities/potential/talents are judged in just a three-hour, extremely limited didactic question paper, which punishes students for their creative answers. Pre-occupied with perfoming in the exam, a childs mind is full of tension, fear, and depression. When we can see that schools are nearly as inhumane as prisons and that they nurture a false sense of superiority/inferiority, why do we continue to send our children to them?
Mass Media: Today, what we should wear, eat, buy, do, is defined by the mass media. We no longer think for ourselves; instead we copy those whom we see who themselves are usually copying from someone else. The media also makes us passive observers. We are so busy watching others perform, that we have neither the time nor the inclination to reflect or to do things ourselves. Moreover, the mass media manipulates our diverse senses of aesthetic and beauty. In todays world, for example, the creative expression of women has been reduced to distorting and destroying ones face and body to win beauty contests. How can we engage with the media in ways that offer us opportunities to develop our aesthetics, imagination and creativity?
Family and Samaj: In the name of samaj (community/society), we are constantly told to behave in the right way; that is, to be respectful, to be silent and submissive, and to seek security. Samaj tells us to remain within certain safe boundaries that close us off to diversities which may threaten our narrow identity. It has become a rat race, where people are forced to blindly follow a path of greed, competition and materialism. Success is judged by how much money one has, rather than by creativity or compassion. Can we create such a samaj where creativity is valued and everyone has the chance to explore their unique human potentials?
Today there are very few constructive or open channels for children and youth to fully express themselves. All around us, the world is pressuring us to think in one way: one uniform, one hairstyle, one language, one culture, one identity, one Truth. How do we get out of this system which is designed to homogenize us and kill our diversity?
Rediscovering Creative Living
To adapt from Paulo Freire (quoted in bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress. Routledge, 1994), creative living is a process "to begin always anew, to make, to reconstruct, and to not spoil, to refuse to bureaucratize the mind, to understand and to live life as a process live to become." Facing the challenges of the future will indeed depend on an artistic, aesthetic, and creative attitude towards life. Though we have much to learn from the past, we cannot copy it. Generating (and regenerating) Creative Indias will depend on our ability to engage in processes of learning, unlearning and relearning. We can begin these processes together by initiating the following steps:
- Very little research has been done on creativity in India. We must carry out applied research on indigenous creativity that can nurture common peoples aspirations and that can transform the systems before us.
- Instead of simply adding a creativity subject to an already homogeneous/stifling curriculum, policymakers, teachers, parents, students must collectively begin to rethink both the vision of education and its structure.
- Schools can create a pro-creativity learning environment by eliminating competitions and by developing more participatory self-assessment techniques.
- As individuals, all of us must introspect and reflect on our own creative potential and how it can be applied for the regeneration of Self and community.
In The Creative Spirit (New York: Plume, 1992), Daniel Goleman et al., argues that schools, through their particular structures and procedures, prevent the emergence of creativity in children. Without fundamental changes in our education system, the following creativity killers will continue to inflict their damage on children:
Evaluation: making children worry about how others will judge what they are doing. Children should be concerned primarily with how satisfied they are with their own efforts and accomplishments, rather than focusing on how they are being evaluated or graded, or what their peers will think of them.
Rewards: excessive use of prizes, candy, money, or toys. If overused, rewards deprive a child of the intrinsic pleasure of creative activity.
Competition: putting children in a desperate win-lose situation, where only one person can come out on top. A child should be encouraged to progress at his own rate.
Over-control: telling children exactly how to do things their schoolwork, their chores, even their play. Parents and teachers often confuse this kind of micro management with their duty to instruct. This leaves children feeling that any originality is a mistake and any exploration a waste of time.
Pressure: establishing unreasonable, grandiose expectations for a childs performance. For example, "hothouse" training regimes that force small children to learn the alphabet or math before they have any real interest can easily backfire and end up instilling an aversion/dislike/fear for the subject being taught.
Examine your own practices as either a reflective teacher, learning activist or a concerned parent and think about:
- How many of these "killers" are found in schools in India?
- How can we remove these "killers" from our education system?
- How can you alter your practices so that your learners have opportunities to develop their creativity more fully?
The Disconnect between Motivation and Creativity
The future is bright for those individuals who know how to work creatively within groups and take control of their own futures through lifelong learning so many business leaders and policymakers argue. Yet we have apparently created a culture for many that is antithetical to lifelong learning and creativity. Todays teachers use extrinsic rewards to bribe children to learn, and simultaneously rely on the fear of failure to punish those turned do not cooperate. In fact, a major US newspaper reported that nearly every school in the US rewarded students with gifts (candy, pencils, toys) if they performed well. Along with these bribes, the tacit motivator of student achievement is a vision of a good job and lots of money. But, according to Geoffrey Colvin, "financial incentives will get people to do more of what they are doing. Not better, just more."1 In other words, money never motivates imaginative thinking or creative problem-solving.
Teachers argue that they need such incentives because they find it difficult to motivate students, who live with busy parents that dont have time for them, more family and societal problems, widespread consumerism, and short attention spans. Teachers hope that by "forcing" children through external rewards and punishments, young people will develop a desire to learn, take control of their own mental faculties, and somehow become creative in the process.
Yet, as American researchers Hennessey and Amabile observe, "People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself - not by external pressures."2 Furthermore, motivation to do well on competitive tests can often defeat efforts to experiment with creative ideas. It can produce excessive caution, an inclination to stay safely within the boundaries of ones competence and of ones role. For children to develop creativity, persistence and commitment must also come into play. The most creative people stick to a problem, and the problem sticks to them. This dedication only comes from internal motivation.
While the inherently bureaucratic nature of factory-schools inhibits real creativity, members of a learning community can take several initiatives to nurture intrinsic motivation and creative talents and to reintegrate schools back into the community:
- Let children do what they love, while encouraging them to think about what and why they want to learn. Give them space to set their own learning goals, and design their own questions and projects.
- Free students from decontextualized classrooms and expose them to a diversity of nurturing people involved in real world issues, ideas, problems. To make this exposure more meaningful, encourage apprenticeships between children and adults, whereby children see activities and thinking processes modelled by adults and learn by then applying their knowledge to real world things that matter to them.
- Develop assessment tools that value real experimentation and risk-taking, and provide constructive feedback.
- Open up more opportunities for learners to engage in genuine self-awareness and self-reflection.
Adapted from: Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, The School of Thinking, <www.thinkers.com>.
The Center for Arts in the Basic Curriculum
CABC engages teachers, administrators, and the public in dialogue about the power of the arts to educate all children and about the changes in curriculum, teaching strategies, and classroom structure necessary to access that power. Founded in 1989, CABC represents no particular group or arts discipline, but simply believes in the enormous power of the arts to strongly impact and facilitate learning, social behavior, and academic ability.
CABC seeks to respond to a growing trend in schools, in which reformers reduce or eliminate time for the arts to make time for expanded math, science and language studies. These policymakers fail to realize that the supposedly nonessential subjects of music, theater, dance, and art actually promote the kinds of thinking, enthusiasm, self-esteem and self-discipline that are necessary for lifelong learning. Though aware of the art productthe song, the picture, or the play most people are less aware of the thinking process that creates the product. The arts result from a persons capacities for creative thinking and imagining, dealing with complexity and ambiguity, considering different viewpoints, problem-solving, critical sound judgment, and a host of other mental processes. These forms of cognition are every bit as potent as the verbal and logical/mathematical forms of cognition that have been the traditional focus of public education.
In fact, the most important benefit of the arts may be the fueling of the imagination. As CABC explains, imagination is a powerful tool indeed: If we can imagine something, we can make it happen. Imagination is an invaluable resource for seeking and finding solutions to problems, as well as for defining and acting on opportunities. The arts are also expressions of an eagerness for truth and meaning. In this way, they are identical to the scientific processes of inquiry and discovery, and they represent an equally powerful measure for exploring the relationship of man to man and man to nature. The arts can awaken the craving to comprehend the motivating force behind all forms of self-learning.
But beyond simply suggesting arts education to enhance the traditional curriculum, CABC calls for a meaningful restructuring of education through the arts. It believes that "the arts should be the basis of education," because they promote "the deepest and most lasting learning participatory and whole-brained." Thus, CABC calls for artists and art educators to join forces with educational initiatives that aspire to transform the whole structure of learning, the whole climate of learning, and the whole relationship between teacher and learner.
In addition to gathering and sharing ongoing research on the arts and learning, CABC conducts intensive teacher training seminars in which they focus on the basics of the multiple intelligences, differing learning modalities, critical thinking and creativity techniques. The seminars, which use various activities to evoke the artistic talents of the teacher-participants, have generated high levels of enthusiasm from the teacher-participants (who initially insisted that they "had no talent"). CABC also advises schools on how to transform themselves into Arts-Integrated Learning Organizations.
Eric Oddleifson, Chairman
The Center for Arts in the Basic Curriculum
80 South Street, Suite 203, Hingham, MA 02043 USA
Phone: (1) 781-740-0114 * Fax: (1) 781-740-0116
"The more we try to define our creativity by identifying it with a specific set of values, meanings, beliefs, artifacts and symbols, the more our creativity will be focused and limited; the more we define our creativity by focusing on how different values, meanings, beliefs, artifacts and symbols are generated, the greater the chance that our creativity will become less restricted and more potent." - Charles Cave
What can I do to increase my creativity?
- Begin to think of yourself as a creative person and of creativeness as a set of skills that you can practice and get better at using.
- Try to surround yourself with people who love and support you, particularly those who can give you honest and constructive feedback. Also, try to expose yourself to a diversity of environments, cultures, ideas, and symbols.
- Try to experiment with creative thinking techniques (such as mind-mapping, brainstorming, lateral thinking, simulation exercises, etc). However be careful, when methods become the rules for behavior, they stifle creativity. Creative thinking always goes beyond any codification of it.
- Try to express/record your thoughts and ideas in a variety of media. Also take time to relax and rest your mind to properly reflect on and digest different ideas.
- Try to probe deeper on things that, on the surface, seem obvious. Dont be afraid to ask questions. Some of the most penetrating questions are so-called dumb questions. The only dumb questions are the ones that are not asked.
- Try to spend time meditating on your own strengths and weaknesses, and understanding and overcoming your personal blocks to creativity. These obstacles could be a big ego, fear of embarrassment, negative thinking, entrenched routines, and self-criticism. It is important to remember that creativity requires great patience and humility; a willingness to work hard for creative outcomes; and, deep concentration on the power of your own intrinsic creative forces.
??? What else do you do to develop your own creativity and the creativity of others around you? What kinds of environments, opportunities, communities, or processes currently exist for you to understand and develop your creativity? How can you contribute to transforming anti-creative learning spaces?
Adapted from Charles Cave, The Creativity Web and from Daniel Goleman, et al., The Creative Spirit.
And Closer to Home
Among the South Asian organizations consciously thinking about and creatively working on issues of creativity are:
Founded in 1976, Sarjan is an innovative experiment in non-formal education for children ages 3-12. It began under the assumption that all children, regardless of their background, are creative. Unlike the standarized formal education system, Sarjan seeks to nurture childrens creativity, provide them a chance to speak, think and work out their own answers to the dilemmas they face, and enable them to grow into capable, confident, and responsible adults. Imagination, experimentation, group work, and the spirit of sharing are encouraged, and children use local, low-cost materials to draw, play, write and express themselves. Among its many activities, children involved with Sarjan hold a weekly Bal Sabha (childrens meeting where individual, family, community, national, and international news is discussed and questions are discussed), create a Bal Jagat (childrens world wallpaper for their poems, news, stories, and puzzles), and celebrate Bal Mahotsav (childrens festival where their work is shared with parents and the outside community). Children from Sarjan also travel within the country and abroad to run workshops with children their own age and older on learning techniques for self-expression.
In each of its eight centers, Sarjans approach to working with children is also unique. Its training for the teachers aims to promote and develop their creative thinking and encourages them to stop teaching or prescribing to the children. Instead, the focus is on providing a conducive, non-critical atmosphere, where childrens creativity can flow freely and where their creations are appreciated.
Contact: Fulchandbhai Purwar Sarjan, Ahmedabad Study Action Group, Dalal Building Behind Capri Hotel, Relief Road, Ahmedabad, Gujarat 380 001
Founded in 1983, Alarippu attempts to increase individual and collective confidence and awareness through creative, cooperative, and experiential methodologies. Alarippu believes that the process of sustained social change begins with nurturing and affirming the Self. Creativity is key to this process, as art, craft, drama, games, stories, and poems are used to build self-esteem and confidence and make connections between the Self and larger reality. Through these various media, Alarippu is able to address the social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual needs of individuals, as well as a number of socio-political issues: the environment, right to information, gender justice, and child labor.
Alarippu publishes Jharokha, a newsletter on continuing education, and Antyakshari Kahani Mala, a story series to promote literacy and literature. It has developed curriculum, learning and teaching aids, for non-formal education centers under Lok Jumbishs program in Rajasthan. Alarippu also conducts trainings for teachers, NGOs, and government agencies on how to build self-confidence and self-esteem in order to both better understand oneself and empathize with others. These principles can then be applied in their work with children or in their daily lives.
Contact: Vandana Mahajan
28 B/4, III Floor, Jia Sarai, I.I.T. Gate, New Delhi 110016
Phone: (91-11) 652-8639; 656-1382
|"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge." Albert Einstein|
Further Reading and Resources
Creativity Magazine: <www.volusia.com/creative>
Edward de Bono Web: <www.edwdebono.com>
The Creativity Web: <www.ozemail.com.au/~caveman/Creative>
University of Wisconsin: <www.uwsp.edu/acad/educ/lwilson/creativ/index.htm>
Articles and Books
Please stop by 21 Fatehpura at your convenience to check out the books, articles, newsletters, and unpublished original research in our Resource Center.
Boden, M. (ed.) Dimensions of Creativity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 1994.
Freire, P. and A. Faundez. Learning to Question. NY: Continuum, 1989.
Goldberg, M. Arts and Learning. NY: Longman. 1997.
Herrmann, N. The Creative Brain. Herrmann Intl. 1989.
Krishnamurti, J. Beginnings of Learning. London: Penguin Books. 1975.
Michalko, M. Cracking Creativity. Ten Speed Press. 1998
Prasad, D. Art: The Basis of Education. NBT 1998.
Smith, F. To Think. NY: Teachers College Press. 1990.