Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Enrichment vs. Creativity

Via Reuters:

With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”…

It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.

It's a good thing to talk about, definitely, but I share others' guarded skepticism. The link above has some good rebuttals. From the first quoted paragraph, though, I started to wonder about another possible culprit, one perhaps more plausible than the ever-scapegoated TV and video games. "Enriched environments are making kids smarter." Could enriched environments also be making kids less creative?

I am skeptical of some forms of childhood enrichment. I posted not long ago about Dora the Explorer, and how programming of this sort (as well as related toys, games, activity packs, and so forth, I'd now argue) may be educationally sound but deficient in real interactivity. Developers may have made a trade-off unintentionally--in creating entertainment that enacts more educational standards than ever before, they may have compromised children's ability to bring their own knowledge and activity to the mix. When Dora gives you only one avenue of possible participation at any given juncture (identify a treasure, get up and jump, say something in Spanish), it may shut down creative instincts: to imitate, to (spontaneously) sing along, to change the rules or the plotline. Shows like Dora are creative and do support creativity, but they may not actually develop it in young children.

And again, this is mostly based on observation--of the teaching of kindergartners, of the efforts of new moms and dads, of the play of nieces and nephews--but I've been somewhat bugged by the degree to which some young children seem to lack independent thinking abilities, or more, the ability to self-entertain. Concerned parents often so order children's days, structuring them with numerous activities, projects, visits, learning opportunities, and educational materials. This is ostensibly good, and I think it could be said to count partially toward that general rise in intelligence. But always ordering a child's day, giving them few moments of independence to envision their own activities or develop their own ways of playing and learning, seems to me to stifle creative instincts. I've spent enough afternoons with children who need to be occupied and accompanied at every moment of their play to make me worry that some degree of creativity is being lost as more parents, educators, and entertainers push toward the total interactivity model.

The model has many benefits, it seems to me, but if creativity is a desirable attribute for children to develop (I think it is), we need a fuller discussion of what types of play and learning truly encourage original creativity as opposed to just showcasing the creativity of others. And I think such a discussion could potentially start as an effort among creative artists to better understand and analyze how creativity is built up and refined. I for one am not content with the explanation that it "just happens."

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