I WAS SURPRISED TO learn that one of the measurements for admitting students to gifted and talented programs in schools is a high score on what's called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. In my mind, accelerated programs foreground product over process,and conformity over creativity. But the Torrance test, used around the world, is supposed to chart how well a student is able to create new ideas and solutions--not merely recite old ones.
So, it was heartening news to discover that "divergent thinking" plays a big role in admittance to gifted programs. What is disheartening is the following: since 1990 scores on the test for American students have been dropping. Steadily.
Today's Wall Street Journal ran a fairly thorough story on what it means to be creative and how parents can foster creativity. The piece also features sample questions and model creative answers to those questions. It's pretty interesting stuff.
According to the article, researchers blame computers, gadgets, television, and video games for the decreased levels of divergent thinking. One might lump in to that group very specific, overly realistic toys that leave no room for imagination. The article also hints at a growing intolerance for kids and students to be "wrong," a trend I've noticed myself. An over-determined emphasis on correctness might yield the appropriate answer but it can, over time, leave little room for experimentation and trial-and-error.
Our culture--and Capitalism in general--is all about efficiency. As our lives and our parenting becomes more and more mechanized, our patience for long, laborious, even circuitous problem solving seems to have gone the way of the rotary phone.
Professors talk about this new phenomenon quite often now. For us, it is a student's inability to do high-level work without direction. Nothing paralyzes my students more than an open-ended writing assignment.
While I'm encouraged that researchers place creative problem solving so highly and that people are keeping an eye on the creativity for the next generations, I do worry that the unbelievable inventiveness that has spawned the iPhone, the iPad, my new Evo, the flat screen TV, Slingbox, YouTube, and Facebook is actually causing an entire generation of kids to be less so.