Creativity, persistence and curiosity...shows up at camp

Girl and boy surrounded by question marks
I’m striving to help my children grow into creative and curious adults. Combined with persistence, creativity and curiosity are the critical attributes of the most successful and happiest people I know. Apparently, research agrees with me (thanks again to Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman for reviewing and summarizing all the literature in this week’s Newsweek). Creativity quotient correlated with accomplishment and invention better than IQ over the last 50 years. What’s frightening is that American children, who traditionally had the highest curiosity quotient of any population are showing precipitous declines in their curiosity quotient over the last 20 years.

The decline corresponds to the timing of a change of American educational focus. In the last twenty years, our US public education system has focused on standardized testing and AP courses in order to ensure that all children are receiving the same caliber of education.  But that education hasn’t been focused on cultivating curiosity.

Curiosity asserts itself in interesting moments. For example, we had our first camp visiting day as parents recently and besides the joy of seeing our eldest child, the camp director pulled me aside to give some insight into my son. The most important thing he wanted to tell me was that my son asked interesting and provocative questions – all the time and especially during Friday services. And he had creative solutions to questions he asked. Having just read the Newsweek article (and I recommend it and NurtureShock to all parents and educators), I was thrilled.

My response, albeit glib, was that my children are in a school that stresses creative thinking and problem solving. The school certainly believes in assessments, tests and grades – benchmarks through which the student, teacher and parents can measure progress.  But learning to ask good questions and consider multiple answers is a crucial capability. It probably helps that my children are not shy and that we expect them to figure things out on their own at home too.

I read a lot about brain development and education – ever since I had my first child, I’ve wanted to understand how his brain develops and how I can help him grow into a productive, confident and independent adult. What I’ve been reading lately – The Global Achievement Gap and Disrupting Class – reinforce that standardized testing-oriented public schools are turning children off to learning and squashing their natural creativity.  Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman’s article pointed that creativity is not about art class – it’s about the entire education; it’s about asking questions.  We need all our schools to be cultivating creativity as that is at the heart of the American dream and the American story.

When I look to hire someone, I look for creativity, persistence and team play. According to Tony Wagner (author of Global Achievement Gap), virtually every hiring manager – white color, blue color, manufacturing, information technology – is looking for the same attributes. What can we do to bring creativity back to the public schools? Is it still there (and the things I’m reading are just alarmist and misguided)?