Creativity in Decline?

There can be no reasonable dispute that creativity is an integral part of innovation and of entrepreneurship. One of the problems with thinking about creativity as a life skill is that creativity is difficult to quantify and measure. More on that in a minute.

The “traditional” advice that kids should study hard in school, get good grades so that they can “get a good job” misses a very large point. I use the quotation marks to show some disdain for traditional thinking. Traditional thinking is a good way to get suck in a rut and put yourself far away from your goals if you aren’t careful.

Here is the point that the traditional advice misses: the effort of the students is only one aspect of the development of creativity. It is the contents of school curricula that matter just as much if not more than student effort. So what about modern curricula is problematic, you ask?

The availability of arts education and live interaction with the arts is invaluable in fostering interest in creative pursuits. Sadly, the cuts to public school budgets, coupled with a de-emphasis on the arts in private schools leaves us as a society at a disadvantage relative to the rest of the developed world.

The story is not new. In 1993, the New York Times ran a story - which is only one of many over the years - on this issue, and there seems to have been little improvement since. You can read the entirety of the Times article here.

So back to how creativity can be quantified. Recently, Newsweek ran a lengthy story on the marked decline of creativity among American students. It is a lengthy article and worth a read. Here are the highlights:

  • Dr. Paul Torrance, a pioneer in the formal study of creativity, began the use of a formal assessment of creativity in young people in 1958. The assessment consisted of a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist;

  • The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking have been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages;

  • The measurement is known as a person’s CQ, or Creative Quotient;

  • While IQ scores increase approximately 10 points every generation, CQ scores do not;

  • A recent study of the data from over 300,000 Torrance Assessment results showed a shocking result.

The CQ scores of American students have been steadily declining since 1990.

I’ll submit that the cause of this decline has been primarily the de-emphasis in arts education in American schools, among several other factors. Perhaps another factor is the rise of near ubiquitous screen time and the immersion in content, gaming and information on a near constant basis.

This is where community based organizations and creators have to step up and develop programming to put the arts in front of people, not just for art’s sake, but to bolster creativity.

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