Education as the Key to the Growth of Creativity in America

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When I think of a career in the creative industries, the first thought that comes to mind is a community of extremely gifted individuals who have the ability to think outside of the box to create meaningful pieces of work that spark thought and conversation. While this may be true, Richard Florida’s examination of the creative class in his revised book, The Rise of the Creative Class, changes my perception of my original judgments. As he so thoroughly illustrates with in-depth research and statistics, it is evident that creativity has becoming the driving force not just in the workplace, but as a way of thinking whether one is or is not in a “creative” profession. This idea is embodied in Florida’s notion of the Creative Compact, “dedicated to the creatification of everyone” that “would help unleash the innovative and productive potential of people- our most precious economic resource” (385). Our expectations in the workplace differ significantly from those of our past, further displaying our need to adapt to this new labor environment where creativity is valued highly across industries. Specifically, the relationship between the individual and organization explains why there is a lack of creativity in some communities, in that the influence of an institution can play a major role in shaping human behavior.

In my mind, the polar opposite of creativity equates to mathematics, yet it seems to be relevant. In all my time as a student, when it comes to math, people usually categorize themselves as either a math person or not. This preconceived notion that people can only be good at math because they have the brain for it is completely erroneous and according to Miles Kimball and Noah Smith’s article, “The Myth of “I’m Bad at Math,’” it’s “the most self-destructive idea in America today.” I wouldn’t go as far as saying that, but it certainly is a problem considering that, as of 2012, the U.S. ranks 35th internationally in math (Desilver). But why is this important? Well, this problem parallels that of the creative mind, as Florida also describes it “as a rather mystical affair” (18). While the distinction between intelligence and creativity is defined in Florida’s book as “the ability to deal with or process large amounts of data” and a “cognitive ability separate from other mental functions” respectively, we are being conditioned to believe that certain people are born with certain abilities, limiting our growth potential in other fields when workers should be drawing from a multitude of experiences and talent when performing their job (18). In much the same way that “creativity draws crucially on our ordinary abilities,” intelligence can be improved through, you guessed it, hard work (19). Even though that sounds clichéd, this has been a subject of study by many, including Patricia Linehan of Perdue University, who studied how incremental and entity orientation, in other words one’s perception of having either malleable vs. nonmalleable intelligence, affected student’s levels of performance in school. As one might guess, the results showed that students who believed in the former received better grades than those who believed that you only “have a certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it” (Kimball & Smith). When you fail at something, there are two things one is naturally inclined to do: 1) try again and hope to improve or 2) try something else and see if you’re better. The problem here is that there is an absence of even trying in the first place when it is assumed that you are inherently bad at something. As Florida briefly mentions, restructuring America’s education system is one of the first steps worth taking in order to improve this problem.

There are numerous factors that can lead to an elementary or high school student’s low self-esteem in the classroom, especially in low-income neighborhoods where ineffective school systems lack suitable funds and resources to educate their youth. If a child is learning in an environment that cannot adequately provide students with the groundwork for critical and creative thinking, then the hope of fostering a creative class becomes harder when the necessary skill set required is missing at such a young age. While individual character traits and family teachings do contribute to one’s strengths and passions, a country’s education systems has a significant part to play in shaping the values of its citizens. To further emphasize this point, Kimball and Smith examine how a nation’s ideologies are usually reflected in their education system. In the case of Japan, self-improvement, persistence, and resolve are the principles that drive that nation to be one of the best in education. Japanese, Chinese and Korean citizens are generally smart because of the way in which education is prioritized above all else. As a response to this pressure, the U.S. has been trying to focus on developing math and science skills in its students with a variety of programs for young kids. As a result, there have been cutbacks in creative classes, like art, music, and theater, in order to improve math and science departments in schools. My high school for example did not place that much emphasis on art or music, but rather encouraged us to take as many AP math and science course as possible, as well computer science. That being said, while the U.S. is competing with countries like China and India for a high ranking number, the actual system itself isn’t showing much improvement, instead “stifling the individual talents and abilities of too many students and killing their motivation to learn,” which is disappointing considering that art and music classes have actually yielded improvements in the learning abilities of students (391).

All in all, it seems as though the creative class cannot fully reach fruition until there is a drastic change in our way of learning and thinking. Instead of trying to become number one in science and math like our competitors, the U.S. needs to invest in learning methods that can spark creativity since we all possess “varying degrees” of creative tendencies that “draws crucially on our ordinary abilities (19). Education is a step in the right direction, giving us hope that in our future, creativity will not only be considered a quality needed in some, but all workers in America. And in the words of our old pal Marty McFly…

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Desilver, Drew. “U.S. Students Improving- Slowly- in Math and Science, but Still Lagging Internationally.” Pew Research Center RSS. 02 Feb. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/02/02/u-s-students-improving-slowly-in-math-and-science-but-still-lagging-internationally/&gt;.

Florida, Richard L. The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited. New York: Basic, 2012. Print.

Kimball, Miles and Noah Smith. “The Myth of ‘I’m Bad at Math’” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/the-myth-of-im-bad-at-math/280914/&gt;.

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