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Cater to Creativity

American public schools are in quite a bind. They need to improve immediately, if not yesterday, but they are not sure exactly how to make that happen. The US has been slipping down the global educational rankings, and the legislative response has been to increase standardization in schools, focusing particularly on math and science. It generally makes sense. These are the tools people need to succeed in higher education and eventually the work force.

But what about creativity? Does it deserve a prominent place in our education? Laura Richardson, a principle at a global innovation firm, wrote an article in the Atlantic this morning that talks about the imperative role creativity plays in America’s future, and stressed that schools need to incorporate more activities that stimulate imagination and innovation, not less.

Richardson points out that our education is moving closer to a traditional Chinese education, emphasizing rote memorization, while over looking hands on activities like building, coloring, or creative writing. This is a big problem.

Companies need thinkers, problem solvers, and innovators. In short, they need people that think imaginatively and outside the box. Employees that generate ideas are what pushes the company forward and makes for industry leaders, instead of industry imitators.

Another point to consider is that America shouldn’t be competing on rote memorization standards. The investment it would take to be #1 is astronomical, and the payoff would be pitiful. Instead, we should play to our strengths. While India and China are besting American schools on math and science tests, Americans still think outside the box far better. US children are empowered to be their own person and to think for themselves. The US culture is individual focused, rather than collectivist, which is an inherent advantage we have over other countries. American kids are encouraged to use their imagination and to be different, which translates into a knack problem solving and resourcefulness. Building on the inherent advantages seems to offer higher returns for students’ futures. Standardizing a curriculum and asking them to memorize facts doesn’t make for problem solvers. It makes for automatons.

This is not to say that kids shouldn’t focus on math and science. They should. But it should not be at the expense of creativity. Building a public school education that caters to the students’ futures is important, because global competition is rising, and they will need every advantage they can get. The individualistic culture of the US is made for problem solvers and thinkers, so playing to the student’s natural advantages can differentiate them from the students of other countries. It seems a bit more logical.

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