Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Creative Limits?

       Recently I finished re-reading Bruce Nussbaum's Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire. Towards the end he writes,

We need to trade in an economics of efficiency for an economics of creativity. Because creativity and uncertainty exist outside the dominant economic model, there is little room for encouraging the role that start-ups play in economic growth. Yet it's start-ups--and larger corporations that haven't lost their connection to their founders--that are, by and large, driving modern innovation and job creation. Why shouldn't our economic model reflect that? We should be moving away from a model of economics based on the 'culture of control' that is embedded in the efficient market theory toward a new model that embraces a 'culture of chance' (237).
I saw that I had made a note: "Could make for great link to education. Blog post?" I'd never written the post, but the ideas certainly have threaded their way throughout this entire blog. A little bit later, Nussbaum raises a question with which I've also struggled: "How do we assess creativity?" (252). He cites several encouraging examples, ranging from portfolios to certain types of performance tasks. I'm proud to say that we use many of them here at St. John's. At the same time, though, while such assessments mark clear improvement in this area, I found myself thinking about how they can set us up for the same traps that have plagued education for so long.
     Soon after, I posted this Tweet:
Responses were varied. One I particularly appreciated came from Adam Fachler, who sent me a link to a piece by Grant Wiggins.
His response captures how, as great as it can be, sometimes Twitter is per its nature an unsatisfactory medium. This topic is not one explored well in short-form thinking. I also know that I won't have done it justice when this post ends.
       A response from Lee Finklestein captured part of the dilemma:
I completely agree with Lee, but I also think we need to extend his thinking in some clear and important directions. Beyond creativity being so highly contextual and nuanced, any time we apply standards and/or expectations in any form, we create limiting frameworks. They can affect how we assess, and they can greatly influence--consciously or subconsciously--the work of the creator. We automatically look for certain qualities and/or we try to please the audience. It becomes that much harder for us to see with an open, uncluttered mind. That is especially true when the assessment has some sort of stake attached to it. The subsequent anxiety can stifle the creativity even more. After all, we know the countless stories of those--especially artists such as Picasso or Pollock--who suffered rejection. I suspect the majority of us don't really accept the creative until somehow it has survived to become nearly mainstream because that artist not only touched upon something so human, but also managed to persevere. And how do you measure that?
       Let's take a concrete example from a junior level high school English class. Think about how you would have dealt with this. The course focuses on various aspects of language--what it is, how we use it, the various issues. For their first essay the students were told to write on any topic related to the novel they'd read. No rubric existed, but students were told to explore the boundaries of language and take some chances. Most students make some noble attempts, but for the most part stayed within fairly universal essay structures. Except one young lady. She wrote her essay on a box. I don't mean on a box, as in the topic was a box. I mean literally on a box. An introductory paragraph was on the top. Each side has a paragraph on it. She had set it up so the order made sense depending on where you chose to begin. In the middle of each side was a small door. When you opened the door, you found a small icon about the paragraph's primary example. The bottom of the box had a concluding paragraph. I wish I had a picture so you could see just how beautiful it was, and it was intellectually profound. But I have to admit, when I first received it, I wasn't sure what in the world to do with it in terms of assessment...even though I recognized the true creativity. I also admired the student's guts. Not surprisingly, when she received positive feedback, more students took such risks. If I had been using a typical rubric, would she have created such a work? Perhaps. If she had, how would I have graded her? I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this and can follow the lead to the logical conclusion of the fear mentioned at end of my first paragraph.
       The question for education, then, is quite daunting, especially if we truly consider the implications. Yes, we have to wonder about how we assess creativity. Perhaps more importantly, we need to ask--and answer quite honestly--how creative we ourselves are willing to be.

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