I watched a TED talk this weekend given by George Land. Dr. Land was asked to make a creativity test for NASA to help qualify people in the application process and to test on their astronauts. After creating and using the tool for NASA he and his research team decided to try it on children.
They first tested kindergarteners. Their results showed that 98% of the kids test above genius level on creativity. They decided to make it a longitudinal study and tested them two more times. They tested them 5 years later, when they were around 10 years old, and only 30% were testing at genius level. 5 more years later, only 12%. Just for fun, they went on and tested adults and only 2% were testing at genius level. What does this mean?
First , there was a clear trend. As children get old their creativity diminishes. What causes them to get “dumber”? You could just say they get older and lose creativity. The world is a real place. Life is tough.
Where do kids spend most of their time between kindergarten and adults? School. I’m not going to say learning is a bad thing, but I will pose the question to you: What is the purpose of education?
If nearly all children born with this genius capacity why do they all loose it. Could it be that our school and society take it out of them unintentionally? The school system is about getting the right answer and society is highly based on competition. As children are told they are wrong for not getting “THE” answer, then they perceive are not smart. They would think, "I'm not smarter than Tom who got an A in the front. Mrs Jones loves Tom." Research does show that those who have better relationships with their teacher get better grades. It also shows that there are teacher personalities that work better with certain learning styles. So, Mrs. Jones held my mental state in 3rd grade and Mrs. Smith held my fate in 10th grade.
It’s the same pattern repeating it self all the way through college. If you can figure out what’s important to your teacher then you win! Children are fragile and as they start to see they are wrong, they don’t see the other possible right answers any more, what they thought was cool or important to them isn’t. They have to conform to one answer and one way and it’s usually the teacher's way and thinking. The child only feels dumb for not getting the right answer. They start to separate themselves from the “smart” people and become the “uneducated”. There is more behind that than the one item we have placed on the table (how was our public school system created, why study the subjects we do, how does standardize testing help our kids, how does testing them at one moment of time help them, focusing on ability not effort etc.)
So, what’s the purpose of education? Is it really for the student? Are they growing or just conforming? Are we creating people or one type of person that if they don’t fit the mold we don’t care? Children are born with the capacity. What if we helped people reach their capacity versus our standard. If we create an environment where they continue to develop their creativity, question the status quo, question what is considered important, allow them to fall and get back up, maybe we can all contribute to society in our own unique way.
I want to finish with two stories as examples:
1) I’m in a class where we read, “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” by Gottman. We discussed in class the importance of embracing how children our feeling. When they are clearly sad or frustrated instead of saying suck it up, ignoring them, or trying to fix their problem it’s good to say, “I can see that you are upset, and that is ok to feel that way. Why are you upset?” A child can recognize your care or concern by validating how they feel and then following up with trying to understand them. This helps them develop healthily. Now think back to the kids that feel dumb for doing bad on a test. Are those feelings of inadequacy valid? The teacher that asked us to read this book and taught us the importance of validating emotion asked us to turn to a page in our textbook. A girl who bought a previous edition, because of costs, was trying to find the same information in her book. The teacher asked her to read from her book. She asked for a second while she tried to find it. She said, “You know that is the wrong book. You should have this book.” She then directed a comment for everyone, “Those who do not have this book, it shows in your test scores.” WHAT! Not only was that extremely rude, pointed, passive aggressive, and impatient, but she publicly outted the girl on her grade and made her feel dumb for not having the right page and not doing good on her test. Does this girl not have the capacity to find the page? No. The teacher demanded performance and a certain time. The student did not perform, thus she was neglected. This is the same pattern that exist in our school system through the test we give and how our teachers move on to new material after.
2) I was at my brother-in-laws house a while back and we had just finished dinners. His two boys, 3 and 5, were playing with one of those sticky slap hands. They threw it up and it got stuck on the ceiling. They said, “Dad will you get it?” He replied, “No, I want you to try to get it.” They both started stacking chairs to reach it. Didn’t work. They added a box. Unstable. They took off the boxes and jumped from those chairs. Didn’t work. They started to stack those chairs on the couch. Couldn’t reach it. Seeing that it was unstable, my brother-in-law got up and stabilized the chairs and then helped them reach it. He let them fail. We need that. They tried several different ways that could have potentially worked. In the end dad saw where they were missing and helped them see a solution after they had created a foundation. How empowering for those kids.
We all have the capacity.