In a recent column, EdSurge asked a small panel of people who might be considered “creative” the rather interesting question, “Is creativity a skill?”. They went on to also ask whether creativity can be taught or learned.
Almost everyone answered yes in one way or another, but this, from a journalism teacher, came closest to the way I would respond.
Creativity is a mindset. It is a way of looking at life. If you look at life the standard way, then there is no creativity involved. It is copying.
Creativity means thinking outside the box; thinking in ways that requires you believe in yourself enough to take a risk. It is not a skill; it is a mindset.
Anyone remember “21st century skills”? Although the use of that phrase has thankfully died down in the past few years,1 creativity was generally considered one of four skills to be included. What was called the “4-Cs” in the overly-large school district that used to employ me: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.2
So, we could expand the question to ask if any or all of those items are really skills? Or are they also mindsets.
If you look at very young children and how they process the world, it’s clear that most already come equipped with those abilities. From the earliest age, kids use a lot of critical thinking and creativity to cope the world. They experiment with just about everything to make sense of everything that is new to them.
However, parents, teachers, and other adults, work very hard to reign in that inclination and provide some structure that fits the societal norms. Certainly much of that really is for their own good, but those restrictions also begin the process of stunting the 4-C skills kids were born with.
That process expands greatly when children get to school, a place where creative experimentation is usually discouraged and channeled into those approved topics contained in the curriculum. Likewise, collaboration and communication, something young children are actually very good at (even if we don’t always understand it), is now restricted to only adult-approved formats.
All of which is why I don’t think any of those 4-Cs are skills. And they can’t be “taught”. At least not in the way we normally use that verb.
Teaching these so-called skills almost always involves imposing on kids our interpretation of what it means to be creative, or the correct way to communicate, or how to think critically, or what “real” collaboration looks like.
So, what happens if instead we used classrooms to help kids explore and develop their own creative abilities, in their own way?
It probably would look much different from the current structure we call “school”.
The picture is one of my attempts at creativity by playing with shutter speed on my camera. I’ll leave it to the viewer to judge the results.
1. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve stopped following people who continue to use silly cliches like that.
2. Sometimes that list was awkwardly expanded to include curiosity, which is even less of a skill than the other four.