School squished my creativity and I’m someone who by all measures, “succeeded” at school. For myself and most others, school is where we learned to color inside the lines, to honor “the expert” who had all the answers, and most importantly, to produce “the right” answer on cue. None of those things have anything to do with creativity be because we were being socialized to be followers.
In contrast, most employers today are looking for folks who know how to think outside the box, take the initiative, and to solve real problems (ones that don’t have an answer key at the back of the book). Again, these are all hallmarks of creativity and not something that is encouraged in most traditional classrooms, so we all enter “the real world” without solid training or experience in the thing we need most.
I went to an interesting talk today by Michael Wesch, an anthropologist who is looking at how culture is being affected by new media. One of the themes he spoke about is the role of media in learning. While the amazing power of computers and media should be transforming learning in phenomenal ways, in reality most teachers only use these tools for maintaining the traditional education model of the “sage on the stage.” While students might use the internet to research a paper and to submit a digital copy to the instructor’s email, the actual process of learning information and demonstrating mastery has not really changed — it certainly has not become more creative, despite all these technological advances.
Michael has focused his own teaching on getting students to be the leaders and creators of their own learning. He often teaches without a syllabus and truly lets the process come from the students’ passion and creativity. While it may have been dormant for years, the students quickly embrace this freedom and produce more work of higher quality than when the class is guided by structured assignments and grades. Check out some of his great videos on the subject, many of which are on YouTube.
This really got me thinking about creativity and how hungry we are as a culture to express ourselves. I mean, how else can you explain the explosion of blogging and uploads to YouTube? We all have something to contribute to the world, whether it’s silly or profound or artistic, because we are by nature creative beings. While traditional classrooms might try to pound it down, our inherent creativity survives — it may be a little squished but it’s there in the background waiting for someone or something to unleash it.
So how can we unleash it? Michael would argue that you have a great tool already at your fingertips — literally. Your fingertips used some kind of media device to access this post so you already have a powerful machine that can help you learn anything you want to learn or create anything you want to create, often within seconds. How cool is that?
In addition, you have the freedom to do what you want. Really! Even if you are in school or have a job that’s not very fun, there is time in your day that is just yours. (And to all the parents in the world, I acknowledge that time may be at 11pm but it’s still there so claim it for yourself, even if it’s just once a week). Time and freedom are precious things that make the playground for your creativity. There is no one there to set up the rules, no one to grade your work, no one to give you a performance evaluation.
So play with joyful abandon! You will be surprised how quickly your creative self fluffs back up with just a little time and attention from you. And in giving that permission to yourself, you will open the door for others to reclaim their own creativity.