The XX Factor

Problem-Solving for Creative Kids: Save Your School

Newsweek just published a report by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman on the ” Creativity Crisis .” For the first time since creativity testing was developed, scores in the United States are dropping. No one knows why (although television and video games are given the inevitable mention), and why isn’t the authors’ focus: Instead, they set out to figure out what schools and parents could do to nurture creativity in kids. It’s a persuasive piece, and from my position as a privileged parent (if your kids had breakfast this morning and a safe place to sleep last night, you’re there too-20 percent of kids in the United States are living in poverty and probably had neither), I’m planning to implement some of the ideas at home and send the article off to my kids’ school.

But click on the next trending article on the Newsweek page (” Should Seniority Count in Teacher Layoffs ?”) and it’s hard to miss the irony. The kids at the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame School in Akron, Ohio are developing proposals for how to reduce the noise in their library. The kids in some Los Angeles schools will be drumming up ideas for learning with faculty reductions of 50 percent to 70 percent. Other projects are on the horizon across the country: How can we work with five extra kids per classroom? How can we do without new books for Spanish class? How can we make these old musical instruments last another year?

Curriculum adjustments that coach kids in working with information in innovative ways on a daily basis sound good. (And that school in Akron isn’t a wealthy or private one-42 percent of its kids live in poverty, but it’s now one of the top three middle schools in town.) But our national focus should stay on the larger crisis. At the moment, we’re inadvertently nurturing creativity in struggling students in the worst way possible. “It’s also true that highly creative adults frequently grew up with hardship,” say Bronson and Merryman. “Hardship by itself doesn’t lead to creativity, but it does force kids to become more flexible-and flexibility helps with creativity.” Teachers may want to add creativity-promoting work to their classrooms, but administrators and school boards should save their energy for making it easier to get the kind of education that leads to putting creativity to work.