TSTI found an article on the Wall Street Journal today by Rafe Esquith titled Why Great Teachers are Leaving the Profession and it got me thinking about Creativity and how it seems to be stifled in today’s society … a perfect topic for Top Sites Tuesday #213 where we offer Two Thoughts on Tuesday.    Naturally, the article addressed low salaries, disinterested or too-busy parents and decreasing school budgets.  But what it focused on most was the way that creative teachers are being stifled by a system obsessed with standardization, both in curriculum and testing.  I have witnessed this through my wife, Muri, who was an instructional aide in the local school system for over 20 years.  Believe me, with her experience and joy in working with the kids, she was the best bargain in education at an aide’s salary but her biggest strength was in coming up with creative ways to teach children struggling with English as a second language.  Then, a few years back. the school brought in a new principal who insisted that every teacher … and every aide … do things according to her standardized approach.  Struggling to both teach the kids and follow the principal’s dictates, Muri got the first negative review of her career.  She was miserable for a year and eventually retired.

Back then, it surprised Muri that I understood so much about working with someone that is more concerned with the process than the product.  Although our careers have been very different … Muri’s product was educated young minds and mine signal processing algorithms … I had witnessed the rise of the processprocess weenie weenies in my field.  As one of the more creative engineers in my company, managers involved in trying to capture the process continually encouraged me to write down the way in which I came up with the things I did so that others could do it, too.  I couldn’t do it then and I can’t do it now, so the process weenies invented phrases like Think Out of the Box and Consider the Impossible, two slogans that have never entered my process.   They filled conference rooms with engineers for Brainstorming, a process in which no idea is too dumb to be written on the board, resulting, of course, in a lot of dumb ideas on the board.  The problem is that trying to standardize how things are done inherently stifles Creativity.  My business partner and I, for the years we worked in Big Industry, spent a lot of time circumventing the process in order to come up with the ideas needed to create a better product, ideas that blossomed once we had our own business.  And teachers do the same thing.  Rafe Esquith speaks of schools filled with quiet heroes who superficially play by the rules but insert their best lessons under the radar. In my own situation, he says, I will not let the latest Stalinesque five-year plan destroy 30 years of Shakespeare productions with my wonderful fifth graders.  I know just what he’s talking about, even though I’ve never taught a day in my life.

Everyone can be creative.  In fact, it is my experience that many people who are creative in what they do don’t know it.  Part of the problem is that society creates an aura around creativity, making it the domain of artists and dreamers … and sometimes implying that it’s a little too heady for regular people.  Creativity, Wikipedia says, is a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created.  What could be more new and valuable than a way to teach a kindergartner to read or a way to get the laundry done while leaving time to play with your toddler?  But you can’t bottle creativity or write down exactly how to do it.  And you can’t make everyone equally creative no matter what you write down.  You can, however, describe the general  steps in the process.   An article on Productive Flourishing titled Demystifying the Creative Process does this very nicely but process weenies will still be mystified because they want details, not generalities.  Still, the best sources on creativity encourage open-mindedness and a willingness to learn one’s own creative process.  There is no better book on this than The Artists Way.  Even though it addresses opening your artistic creativity, it can be applied to creativity of any sort.  If you want something a bit more business oriented, A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech is fun and helpful.

This all scares the hell out of process weenies who like to believe that if they can only capture on paper how we do what we do, they can do it, too.   But they can’t.  They can be creative only if they take the shackles off themselves and find their own ways.   That’s what I think, anyway.  Tell me what you think and please take the time, too, to do a little creative … gentle … button pushing to make me Number One on Top Sites Tuesday #213.

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12 Comments on “Creativity”

  1. cherperz Says:

    That is a real shame about the final year that Muri worked in that particular school. I worked in a grade school for awhile and find that some educators are totally devoid of logic and interpersonal skills. The deem their education as something that makes them superior.

    As for creativity…, Wikipedia says, is a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created. Interesting that they use the word valuable. I am not sure I entirely agree. Who decides if it is of value? Some starving artist that really starved and whose work was never noticed would agree with me, I think. Still he/she might of been creative. says :
    the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination:

    I like the word “originality” as it relates to creativity. All of us are so different. What inspires me to create is unique to me. My process might be throwing salt over my right shoulder and turning around three times before I create something. (it’s not of course, but just for the sake of the discussion) Then that would be my “process”. I doubt that it would work for someone else but that doesn’t make it less important to me.

    You always write the most though provoking posts, Bud. VERY CREATIVE OF YOU.


    • oldereyes Says:

      I’d suggest that perhaps meaningful and valuable take the same role in the definitions. Some people looking at a Jackson Pollack painting would say it’s neither meaningful or valuable (or at least they’d say they don’t know why it’s valuable). I think there is something original in everything we do, which is why have a low threshold for what I consider creative. In the end, I think something’s creative if it is new (original) and valuable (meaningful) (in any sense of the word) to the person creating it.

  2. liggybee Says:

    You brought up an interesting point, Bud. The education system is just so different from when I was in elementary school. It’s kind of sad, I agree, because I still think school was more enjoyable then. It still had its challenges, but it was still fun. I think that is part of the reason a lot more parents these days, especially those who are old-school, opt to homeschool their children if their situation and district permits.

    • oldereyes Says:

      It’s my experience that at least some percentage of people who home school their kids are trying to keep them from being exposed to religious ideas or philosophies they don’t agree with. In a way, that teaches a kid to me more narrow-minded and less inclusive. When a parent opens up the world to a child to make he or she more creative, there is always a risk they will find their own path. It can be a dilemma.

  3. Trina Says:

    I remember my teachers in Elementary school well. I had trouble following them sometimes and they would figure out a way to get the lesson through my thick skull. Creativity is in everything, from the way people mow their lawns to the way they do their hair. Instead of stifling, we should be embracing creativity and individualism. And by keeping the teachers from being creative we doom the students. *Sigh* But in the world today, where kids can’t even play cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians, I am not surprised.


    • oldereyes Says:

      I agree … almost everything we do can be creative in some way. I think creativity is often stifled because there is always some risk in creativity, even if it’s just the risk that a kid will think for herself. I’ve actually got a post brewing o exactly that subject.

  4. Wolfbernz Says:

    Hi Bud,

    Creativity and imagination are at the center of our learning processes. I know schools are trying to become more standardized and the idea behioond it makes some sense, but every kids is different. Ever mind works differently. Teachers have to teach creatively and entertain their students to keep their attention, how do we expect these next generation to turn out? Mindless zombies?

    Clicks for you!

    • oldereyes Says:

      Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be every school. My gradkids grammar school seems to take a very creative approach to learning while sticking to a fairly standardized curriculum.

  5. I am proud of sharing your attitude on the creativity and the education, yet while applauding to you I sensed that our truth looks like a story of the LAST MOHICAN who perfectly defines the current situation, but it is a sunset.
    Would our grandsons meet the dawn, or will it sink into the tales?

  6. My two younger grandchildren, as you are aware, Bud, both have autism so finding ways at times to get points across to them, to help them learn, can be difficult. However, two years ago, my granddaughter got involved with a local theatrical company that is primarily for the youth and not only did you enjoy that but she learned many social skills through that affiliation. Now, at our local school district, my next-door neighbor has been the head of the Drama club at the school and she has directed kids of all school ages in numerous plays -most of which have been headliner-type musicals, Broadway productions, until about 2 years ago when some people in the area -along with several individuals on the school board, threw hissy fits about the wardrobe for some of the cast when the kids did “Pajama Game!” One school board member went so far as to announce that plays and such no way were educational tools. (Paraphrasing there.) Apparently this guy has never read any Shakespeare for openers… So many of the kids who have worked under my neighbor’s direction have gone on to college, become successful in their own rights now and will tell anyone that their time spent in the Drama Club was one of the big things that pushed them forward and in the right direction. Kids need creativity in their lives and this was one way that enabled them to learn and grow from their experiences -built a whole lot of self-confidence in many of them!

    • oldereyes Says:

      Theater, art and music have amazing therapeutic value, not just for kids with autism but for everybody. People like your school board member were probably raised in an art isn’t practical environment. I was lucky to be raised by a practical math minded Dad and an artistic mother who loves music. Your story makes my heart smile.

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