What kind of career comes to mind when you think of creativity? Maybe acting, writing, or filmmaking? In the past, these have been described as the “creative fields,” as opposed to disciplines like business, law, math, or science. You don’t hear them described that way quite as often anymore, but the implication that creativity isn’t a vital part of these other areas of study is preposterous.
What Does Creativity Involve?
Creativity involves developing new ideas and imagining different ways of collaborating with others to solve problems. Those are critical skills in any line of work. Just look at the astonishing speed at which the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed. How many lives will be saved by the creativity of the scientists who envisioned new ways to manufacture a vaccine and produce it at astonishingly fast rates?
As teachers, we should be thinking hard about how well we’re equipping the next generation of students for the world they’re about to enter.
Are we stuck in a by-the-book approach because that’s the way it’s always been done? If you walk into many college lecture halls, you rarely observe fires being kindled or new ideas being generated. What you see instead is a herd-like submission to the same status quo that defined the college classroom of a generation and two ago: a professor standing at a podium, overlooking a sea of passive students quietly jotting down what they will need to regurgitate later for a test.
Do we honestly believe that we’ll create a better society by graduating a generation of students who apply the very same technocratic, hierarchical, individualistic, competitive mindset that many of today’s leaders were indoctrinated in a generation ago?
We can do better, and we should be having this conversation in all fields. We want our students to have the critical thinking skills necessary to adapt to whatever problems arise down the road — and the creativity to come up with a solution.
Opportunities For Creativity
In my course, Books Behind Bars, I structure the class in a way that students have no choice but to be innovative. I give my University of Virginia students lots of autonomy to come up with their own ways of facilitating the discussions they have with small groups of incarcerated youth.
Instead of providing them with a curriculum to follow or a list of questions to ask, I invite the UVa students and their partners to come up with these on their own. This, in turn, gives them the opportunity to resolve the many other real-world problems they will face:
- relationship-building challenges,
- communication challenges,
- group management challenges,
- and a host of other difficulties arising from working inside a prison environment.
To teach students creativity, view the classroom not as a space where a professor reports on old discoveries but as a place where new insights are co-created in real-time by students and instructors alike.
Envision a class as a journey without a clear destination. An experiment without predetermined outcomes. Empower your students to become active participants in the process. Only then will students develop the habits of creativity essential to reaching the level of consciousness required to solve today’s most intractable problems.