Friday, July 1, 2016

What is Education Without Creativity?

This past week, I had the good fortune of teaching creative writing to a group of high school students at our Write Now summer camp. They are a wonderful group of teenagers, and we’ve had a lot of fun exploring fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and comics together.


As I watched them share their writing at the final reading today, I was impressed by their progress and also the sheer courage they demonstrated by sharing their writing with the world.

This week has also made me think about the good fortune that these teenagers have to take part in a program like this one at such a young age. When I was a high school student, I was definitely not encouraged to connect with my writer self, besides writing lab reports, historical arguments and literature analyses.

From second grade to senior year, I was enrolled in a rigorous academic program called International Studies (it becomes IB in junior year). The program is a bilingual curriculum that is partially funded by the French/German/Spanish governments.  It is intended for the children of European diplomats so that their children can follow their country’s curriculum while living abroad.

As a French citizen, I was able to enroll in the French program. For ten years, I took every subject in both French and English. My French teachers were brought over straight from the motherland, and they were not messing around. As an elementary schooler, I can remember crying over the sheer amount homework I had and its level of difficulty. The workload only got more and more intense as we got older. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I was challenged in school. I know that’s not always the case for students in America.

On the other hand, I wish my education had been a bit more balanced. I feel like I missed out on an important aspect of my development throughout my entire academic career (until now) and that is the development of my creative side. Even as a child, there was little encouragement from teachers to explore our creativity, and I believe that’s because our system is focused on the end results. In high school, when everything you do is for the sole purpose of getting into a good college, students’ creative impulses often get pushed to the wayside. These days, funding for the arts is getting slashed more and more each year in favor of more standardized testing, which will only drag us deeper into this mentality of product over process, left brain over right.

Creativity is about meandering, exploring, and making mistakes. It’s about taking a journey, even if you don’t know what the destination will be. Unfortunately, our academic institutions don’t value process as much as they value the final product, and I think that’s doing a serious disservice to our students. How can we become effective problem solvers if we do not know how to be creative? And with the way things are going environmentally, socially and politically, we need as many creative problem solvers as possible.


This experience has made me wonder where I’d be today if I had been encouraged to explore my creative writing sooner… Of course, I’m glad I finally did make it to the party! Always a latecomer, but better late than never!
Happy campers at WRITE NOW reading!