Teachers Don’t Like Creative Students — Marginal Revolution

Freedom is one of the central characteristics of holiness; creativity is another. God is called holy because He is not bond by anything external to Himself. Likewise, God’s holiness is seen in His ability to call into being something other than Himself. God creates by freeing us from non-existence.

In the classical Christian understanding of creation, not only does God remain free relative to His creation, He leaves His creation–primarily though not exclusively, humanity–free relative to Himself. Such mutual freedom is essential if we are to turn to God in love.  But I would suggest that not only freedom but also creativity is constitutive of love and therein lines a challenge.

A recent post at Marginal Revolution summarizes some interesting research that argues that classroom teachers generally are not all that supportive of creativity. Interestingly, while teachers say they value creativity in their students, when we actually look at how teachers describe the creative student we discover that they (the teachers) don’t actually value the personality characteristics associated with creativity. Why? Because creative students are disruptive.

I’ve reproduced the whole post after the break. Take a look and tell me what you think. I’d also be interested in what, if any, implications you think the research might have for our life in Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Teachers Don’t Like Creative Students

by  on December 12, 2011 at 7:33 am in EconomicsEducation | Permalink

One of the most consistent findings in educational studies of creativity has been that teachers dislike personality traits associated with creativity. Research has indicated that teachers prefer traits that seem to run counter to creativity, such as conformity and unquestioning acceptance of authority (e.g., Bachtold, 1974; Cropley, 1992; Dettmer, 1981; Getzels & Jackson, 1962; Torrance, 1963). The reason for teachers’ preferences is quite clear creative people tend to have traits that some have referred to as obnoxious (Torrance, 1963). Torrance (1963) described creative people as not having the time to be courteous, as refusing to take no for an answer, and as being negativistic and critical of others. Other characteristics, although not deserving the label obnoxious, nonetheless may not be those most highly valued in the classroom.

….Research has suggested that traits associated with creativity may not only be neglected, but actively punished (Myers & Torrance, 1961; Stone, 1980). Stone (1980) found that second graders who scored highest on tests of creativity were also those identified by their peers as engaging in the most misbehavior (e.g., “getting in trouble the most”). Given that research and theory (e.g., Harrington, Block, & Block, 1987) suggest that a supportive environment is important to the fostering of creativity, it is quite possible that teachers are (perhaps unwittingly) extinguishing creative behaviors.

From Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom?, a good review paper. What the paper shows is that the characteristics that teachers use to describe their favorite student correlate negatively with the characteristics associated with creativity. In addition, although teachers say that they like creative students, teachers also say creative students are “sincere, responsible, good-natured and reliable.” In other words, the teachers don’t know what creative students are actually like.  (FYI, the research design would have been stronger if the researchers had actually tested the students for creativity.)  As a result, schooling has a negative effect on creativity.

My experience as a parent is consistent with the idea that teachers don’t like creative students but I try not to blame the teachers too much. Creative people, for better and worse, ignore social conventions. Thus, it can be hard for teachers to deal with creative students in a classroom setting where they must guide 20-30 students en masse. As Jonah Lehrer puts it:

Would you really want a little Picasso in your class? How about a baby Gertrude Stein? Or a teenage Eminem? The point is that the classroom isn’t designed for impulsive expression – that’s called talking out of turn. Instead, it’s all about obeying group dynamics and exerting focused attention. Those are important life skills, of course, but decades of psychological research suggest that such skills have little to do with creativity.

One hope I have for personalized learning, ala the Khan Academy, is that  teachers will not feel the need to suppress creative students when classroom dynamics do not require that all the students follow all the rules all the time .

Hat Tip: Erik Barker.

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  • Oui_bee_speeds

    I see a difference between those who are learning outside the box and those who are not willing to conform to basic civility. All four of our children have definitely disagreed with teachers at times, and I would say all have a streak of creativity. We frequently had challenges, and some teachers more than others . . . but we didn’t have bad reports on basic manners. I do think you hit a point with mentioning 20-30 students; you have to have a fair amount of cooperation and conformity to get anything done. That is why college upper level classes are so much better (or at least mine were); because we had time and freedom to really address the topic.

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    • http://palamas.info Fr Gregory Jensen

      Your point is well taken. There is a real, and often substantive, difference between “learning outside the box” and incivility. At the same time, there is a real, and often substantive, difference between civility and mere conformity. Ideally, my conformity to social norms is a freeing experience for me and for my neighbor. Unfortunately, these difference are easily overlooked and, when they are, we risk quashing the uniqueness and creativity of the person.

      The challenge in the classroom, as in the rest of life, is finding the balance between human uniqueness and our social nature. Without tradition, without that deposit of wisdom that has been handed down from generation to generation, I can’t hope to make much (if any) progress in life. I must be civilized, which is to say “traditioned.”

      At the same time, the acceptance of tradition is only the precondition, the starting point if you well, of a fully and distinctively human form of life. Fidelity to tradition or social norms–even when they are objectively good and true–will not in and of itself make me the person Christ has created me to be.

      Thanks for the comment!

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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