Last week, Newsweek published The Creativity Crisis with this subheading: For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What was the evidence for this disturbing claim?
College of William & Mary researcher Kyung Hee Kim analyzed 300,000 scores of children and adults on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. She discovered that although creativity scores had been steadily rising until 1990, “since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. ‘It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,’ Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America – from kindergarten through sixth grade – for whom the decline is ‘most serious.'”
Three days after the Newsweek piece appeared, my local newspaper published an article with the following lede:
“Nicholas Nieves is a veteran test taker. The Horace Mann Elementary student is 10 years old. ‘We do practice tests and practice tests and more practice tests,’ the soon-to-be Binghamton fifth-grader said. ‘And then we do the real thing. We take a lot of tests.’ But does he learn from the tests? ‘Not really,’ Nicholas said.”
Are Nicholas’s insights related to Ms. Kim’s? I suspect so – as are numerous other phenomena that may be sapping a child’s natural inclination to exercise the imagination and be creative. These days, children are less likely to experience active, free and unstructured play and more likely to experience passive, guided and structured play. Just as a for instance, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that “8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day” and that doesn’t count the 1 hour and 35 minutes they spend each day sending or receiving texts.
If Ms. Kim’s findings are accurate, the news is disturbing for the nation’s children and our future prosperity. Consider. Scholars have been tracking those administered the Torrence tests to see how well performance on the test predicted creative accomplishments in adulthood. The findings? “Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently reanalyzed Torrance’s data. The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.”
Obviously, the converse will prove true: the less creative our children, the fewer innovative and productive adults our nation will produce. But the situation is not dire. See The Antidote for America’s Creativity Crisis for a discussion of the intentional teaching of creativity.