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Creativity Education

by Kali Ferguson

May 7,2008

Sir Ken Robinson, an international education and creativity expert and former university professor, claims that in the twenty-first century, “creativity is as important as literacy.” I couldn’t agree more. Creativity education is the next level of social responsibility.

Creativity comes in many guises. Artists get the most credit (although sometimes the least money) for using our creativity, but it doesn’t stop there. Event planners constantly create new experiences. Architects bring new solutions to everyday living issues. Parents innovate ways to communicate with and raise their children. Development directors initiate fundraising methods that engage their constituencies. Marketing experts convey the necessity of products with newfound humor and heart. Teachers use their intuition to encourage “troubled” students. You add a new spice to that chicken dish you’ve made for years. It is natural and human to create.

Many people do not know their own creativity. We get so caught up in survival or competition that we overlook the joys of using what we have to make something new. Ironically, our heroes and heroines were big risk-takers in some aspect of their lives. They trusted themselves to see the world in a new way, and shared that vision with the rest of us. Most did this with a concern for humanity that can get lost in the workaday world.

By the time children reach the age of twelve or thirteen many have lost the willingness (but not the ability) to take risks, to be creative, to trust themselves. Not enough teenagers have sufficient faith in their own experience to bypass the outside voices of peer pressure and traditional education. In truth, formal school environments have left most of us "educated out" of our own creativity to some extent, by teachers and/or schoolmates. Sir Robinson aptly states that because of this “many brilliant people think they are not.”

I have many examples of this tendency. Here’s one. I recently gave a workshop on poetry to seventh and eighth graders at a local school. Although some teachers were wary, the students rose to the occasion and created brilliant poetry in groups despite the “organized chaos” of working together. One young lady was chosen to represent her group by reading their poetry to the rest of us. Somehow she became frustrated with her colleagues and cursed out loud in front of everyone. We reprimanded her and asked someone else to present.

After the program I talked with the young woman about her slip-up. She told me unflinchingly that she had an attitude problem. Everyone knew and accepted this fact. She also said she had been writing poetry for years, but her peers did not know; she had never told them. She told me what she wrote about and we discussed the possibility of her becoming a professional writer or speaker. We agreed she would work through her anger issues and keep writing. I wish I had encouraged her to share her poetry with someone who could acknowledge her creativity. What struck me is that she was so comfortable showing others her “bad attitude,” but NOT her creativity. This is common in schools since there is often little room there for our imaginative side – the part of us that cannot be measured with numbers.

One might say they will grow out of it. Teenagers are that way for a while and then become full-fledged adults. But as adults, we have too many excuses for ignoring the urge to explore our creativity. Our intuitions are weak and untrained. We doubt our right to healthily enjoy life and to contribute something to it from our personal store of wisdom and wonder. We want only to write checks to charities or cash checks from work and let “creative people” take all the risks. Let them implement ideas that tangibly address issues in our communities. My newsflash: we are those creative people.

In a city that claims to be modern, world-class, and innovative, we must educate our children and ourselves to be creative. This happens formally, informally and most of all by example. Like the girl in my story, we should share more of our brilliant hearts and minds with each other and less of our anger. That brilliance will light the way toward a better Charlotte and beyond.

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