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Does Standard American Education Stifle Creativity?

There are articles and podcasts that question whether standard American education actually KILLS creativity.

As arts integration educators, we’re not sure that creativity, by its very nature, can be annihilated. And certainly not by the likes of standardized education.

But we ARE certain it can be squelched. And such squelching can feel akin to suffocation.

Okay, so maybe we’re just mincing words.

Whatever the case, where creativity is concerned, there’s definitely something rotten in the state of American education.

Standard American Education Does Not Reward Creativity

In fact, it discourages it.

Education once stressed the importance of thinking for oneself. There was value to creativity. Everyone learned the basics, then with an understanding of what made them “tick,” branched out from there.

But with the shift in focus to STEM, as well as the added importance of standardized tests, the American school system has shifted to more of a cookie-cutter model over the past few decades. Take practical classes, get good grades, go to college, get a job, live your life, the end.

Students who stray from this model are pressured and pushed to conform. And if they’re unable to do so, they’re cast aside; relegated to the halls of hopelessness.

Meanwhile, those who follow the rules and who just happen to have a remarkable proclivity for rote memorization are given a letter that represents their ability to move to the next phase of life. Even creative writing assignments – what there is of them – often follow a general format with a specific topic.

The striving for college acceptance soon becomes like a game or a contest. And those who get the highest score win.

But Do They Truly Win?

These students are taught the right way to “succeed.”

But society’s narrow definition of success often doesn’t line up with their internal definition they’ve never been allowed to explore. Once they graduate and move into real life, they begin to feel at odds with that so-called success. And simply haven’t developed the creative skill set to find a way out.

It’s not the fault of educators in the American school system. Most teachers want their students to thrive and grow. But with all of the financial cuts to education, they’re under tremendous pressure to deliver on high test scores while often instructing classes with far too many students.

So regardless of whether educators they agree, there’s very little room for creativity in that equation.

It Definitely Looks Like Creativity Is Dead

International advisor on education, Sir Ken Robinson discusses this possibility in his TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

But he’s questioning it, rather than saying flat-out that creativity has met its demise. And he adds that there’s a serious need for reform. He feels it’s critical that we “reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity” and adjust our education systems to fit that.

But why is creativity so important?

One of the most important lessons creativity teaches is that it’s okay to make mistakes. And in order to make mistakes, one has to take chances and prepare to be wrong.

Because the world is in a state of constant transformation, Robinson contends that, “creativity now is as important in education as literacy,” and it should be treated with the same status. And students who are “not prepared to be wrong will never come up with anything original.” He goes on to say, “we’re educating people out of their creative capacities.” In other words, the American school system is destroying the young student’s natural willingness to take chances.

And this has long lasting effects – for both the student, and society as a whole.

Creativity Fosters Entrepreneurship

The arts (and those who have been in them) have long been misunderstood.

This is not helped by the fact that many American parents recoil from their child telling them that he or she wants to be an artist some day. Some parents are even unwilling to fund a college education that isn’t geared toward becoming a doctor, lawyer, financier or other financially lucrative career.

And that’s unfortunate because while they entertain the clichéd starving artist living in a refrigerator box lifestyle for their child, they’re also denying them the skills that are a necessary foundation for becoming entrepreneurs and innovators.

The fact is, the vast majority of entrepreneurs and innovators have to fail multiple times before they succeed. Interestingly enough, as there has been a marked drop in highlighting creativity over the past two decades, so too has there been a decline in startups.

Coincidence? We think not.

The creative process teaches students to both succeed and fail. By learning from their own experimental successes and failures, students learn to be comfortable with both. And those skills are priceless.

Bring Back the Power of Creativity

If anyone you know is feeling creatively squelched in the standard American education system, it’s time to consider an arts integration education

We strongly believe that the next generation of students needs to be empowered with the entrepreneurial thinking that’s a natural outgrowth of the creative mindset.

It’s vital to maintaining a vibrant and productive society.


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