Why creativity is important
Sweat dripped from my hair as I listened. The American college students were planning their lesson for their Chinese friends. The topic was American literature in a one-hour lesson. Whew. They picked a classic short story, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.
Do you remember it? (spoiler alert: you can read the story here first if want..it’s a 15 minute commitment) It’s literary genius hidden in horror. A perfect small town, the excitement of a yearly summer ritual, everyone gathering, anxious, kids gathering rocks, townspeople chatting, while they wait to see who will get picked. Tessie wins the yearly lottery. Someone hands little Davy a rock. Tessie cries out about the unfairness and the story ends with “And then were upon her.”
My husband and I were assistant directors to these eighteen students from America who came to hot central China to make friends with another 18 Chinese college students. We lived in Chinese dorms and ate Chinese food and stuffed down the rice when nothing else agreed with our stomachs. Daily we taught English and culture lessons and prayed to communicate God’s love.
These Chinese students were walking history books. They knew the names, dates and accomplishments of every ruler of China since before Christ. They were loyal. Decisions were made not on personal likes but on how they would reflect on family and their country. We marveled at their real tears of joy when Bejing was awarded the 2008 summer Olympics. They reassured us that the Tiananmen square massacre never happened.
The Chinese students, gathered in groups with American students to discuss the story. They couldn’t. They could recite the facts of the story. But they couldn’t imagine what characters might be thinking, what reason there might be for such a lottery since it wasn’t stated.Really. This story should evoke strong emotions. But such opinions were too risky.
Other American cultural lessons bombed too. Anytime we asked them to draw, or act, they stared–unsure of the meaning of our request. They were English majors trying to learn from us the intricacies of our language. Yet, when we performed skits they laughed from their bellies. I remember being impressed with their knowledge but sad that memorization was king. There is freedom in creative expression they did not know. A dozen of the Chinese students became Christians over time and these statements no longer describe them. Christ’s truth releases freedom from more than sin!
I believe humans are born with creativity of some kind (we are made in God’s image and God is creative. Consider the varied landscapes of the world. Read the descriptions of the temple and its furnishings in the Old Testament.) But we need to be taught to use our creativity. Parents and teachers need to nurture it. The Chinese students were taught to use the incredible brain God gave them to memorize facts and retain them. The American students couldn’t give the dates of the Civil War, but they could create new ideas quickly. Surely a balance is best, but not being able to create feels criminal.
There is a creativity test that has been in use since the 1970s. It is called the Torrance Test. It meaures divergent thinking (the essence of creativity?). For example it might show a picture of a toothbrush and ask test takers to list all the ways it can be used. Test takers get points for originality.
Researchers, studying thirty years of using this test, say that since the 1990s kids are less able to create new and original ideas. Experts blame media, couch potatoes, and No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on test taking. The head researcher claims creativity is innate and cannot be lost, but it has to be nurtured.
I don’t foster my kids creativity because I want them to score well on a creative test or be the world’s most original thinker. Helping them create is a kind of nourishment.
Teaching creativity and allowing kids to create gives them coping skills. It gives them an outlet for emotions and teaches them to love a process even if the end result isn’t perfect. Hopefully it teaches kids to create until they find the solution or the expression or the medium that they love and can use best. And then they create for Christ’s glory without stopping to wonder what others think. Creating is risking and overcoming fear.
Perhaps my words are too much of me. Probably academic research is more convincing, so I will end with an excerpt from research compilation from the National 4H Council and the University of Arizona,
Creative thinking allows both young people and adults to “avoid boredom, resolve personal conflict, cope with increasing consumer choice, accept complexity and ambiguity, make independent judgments, use leisure time constructively, and adjust to the rapid development of new knowledge” (Strom, 2000, p. 59).Furthermore, for societies to prosper in the midst of rapid scientific and technological advancement, people need to be inventive and flexible (Cropley, 1992). Therefore, it is important for adolescents to be creative thinkers in order to keep up with today’s accelerating social and technological developments (Fryer, 1996).
If you missed the first post that inspired the creativity series, click here. Come back next week for the last two posts (How to Nurture Creativity, and What to Do With Their Creations) in this series, they are less about the whys and more about the practical hows of creativity.
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