Why creativity in the classroom doesn't matter

Hashtags: #creativity #education #learning #pedagogy

Wait...what?  Creativity in the classroom doesn't matter? After posting comments to Why creativity in the classroom matters more than ever, I've come across several additional posts through my personal learning network (PLN) that have all promoted creativity in the classroom. And just now (freaky), I got a notification that others within my PLN are thinking about creativity as well. So what's wrong about developing creativity in the classroom?  Why would I dare say that creativity in the classroom does not matter?  Let's dissect.

What others say about creativity and my response...

It’s a crucial skill for everybody to master. 

Key words here are skill and master.  I have a hard time believing that creativity is limited to what we usually associate with being a skill.  This ignores any characterization of competencies that also include knowledge and disposition.  If creativity is only seen as being a skill - isolated from any connections to knowledge and disposition - it has no place in the classroom.

...creativity is when one idea branches into a complex, rich and vibrant neural network...creativity means starting with the bricks in the garden and winding up with the universe.

Now creativity is a noun, limited to a single idea, that metaphorically speaking branches into a "neural network".  This definition ignores socio-cognitive aspects of learning that leaves the term creativity empty. Also, the metaphor "...bricks in the garden..." is so abstract that some (like myself) would not recognize what is meant by bricks, garden, and universe. Thus, creativity has not place in the classroom.

[Creativity] doesn’t have to be new to the whole of humanity— though that’s always a bonus— but certainly to the person whose work it is.

So here, innovation comes to mind. Downes (44:00), claims the innovation is taking something new and presenting it in a way that is of benefit of others.  Here, there is no mention of creativity as benefiting others.  Secondly, if it doesn't have to be new to the "whole of humanity", although it might, for whom must it be new? Now we are running into issues of how relativism and rationalism might fit within the classroom (I would argue they don't). Therefore, based on this definition, creativity has no place in the classroom because it potentially means too many things to potentially too many individuals.

Creativity is putting your imagination to work. It is applied imagination. Innovation is putting new ideas into practice.

Again, a definition ripe with metaphors.  Putting new ideas into practice...here we again have the problem of defining new.  Is it new for the student who is trying to be "creative"?  Is it new for the entire class?  Is it new for the teacher?  Is it new for the local community?  Is it new for society? etc. And how might practice be defined?  Is it possible to develop a working definition of practice that is applicable across disciplines?  Again, creativity as it's being defined here has no place in the classroom.

The process of having original ideas that have value...the idea you start with is not the one you end up with.

Ken Robinson uses original instead of new, and adds a second component, value.  Whether one uses original or new, the same issue applies: original for whom?  The term value is interesting because it links to what Downes discusses when using the term, innovation. So now there is a transactional element to creativity that employs an interpretive process that extends beyond the person(s) being "creative".  This definition might avoid problems of relativism and rationalism on the part of those putting something new into practice, but ignores the still vast potential for interpretation when trying to objectively articulate ideas of new, valuable, innovative, etc. to those beyond the practitioners - I use the term practitioners to mean those who are setting out to be creative. Finally, the problem with accepting that an idea might change throughout the creative process means that assessment comes after the completion of instruction.  In formal education (for better or for worse), this goes against the reality of adhering to a curriculum, syllabus, scheme of work, and/or lesson plan.  That is, desired results are established beforehand, and instruction and assessment intertwine to facilitate how these desired results are met. This reality does not automatically mean students are unable to learn.  For this reason, creativity as defined here, has no place in the classroom.


I have never entertained the idea of creativity in my classroom because to do so would mean judging my students as opposed to assessing them.  Judging my students would be like saying...
  • Mary, you sure are creative.
  • Mike, you produced a creative brochure, video, etc.
  • Monica, your group worked creatively on that project.
In all cases, I am labeling my students dichotomously as being either "good" or "bad".  In formal education, the feedback students receive needs to go beyond good/bad, pass/fail, etc.  It needs to be more nuanced.  This is where the alternative, assessment, becomes more important than creativity.

Assessment includes more useful terms like formative assessment, summative assessment, dynamic assessment, diagnostic assessment, alternative forms of assessment, rubrics, portfolios, etc., which if collectively considered, limit the subjectivity of judging students and instead focus more on objectively providing feedback in terms of quantitative, qualitative, and interactional forms of data.

A Picasso painting is viewed as creative because the work is completely finished, and enough time has passed that enough people have determined that something new has been developed and that this object (the painting) has value. Picasso, the man, is viewed as creative because he has produced enough works that collectively are viewed by others as creative.   Creativity is retrospective of the process and product together. Indeed, the term (creativity) serves a purpose, but not in the classroom.

Assessment is (or should be) more prospective; that is, formative.  Assessment of learning is more about guiding, facilitating, coaching, and leading students towards understandings, skills, and dispositions that they haven't experienced before.  Learning is a result (and process) of an individual being able to do something or think/feel a certain way that previously was not possible.  Assessment allows this to potentially happen in varying degrees.  In formal education, like scenarios found in the classroom, words like assessment, feedback, etc., should replace words like creativity, creative, creation, and creatively. It's possible (perhaps likely) that students learn something in the classroom that others deem uncreative.  It's possible that educational stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, admin, etc.) deem a classroom experience as creative where students fail to learn much.  Creativity in the classroom doesn't matter because it ignores other more useful terms like assessment, etc.  If one wishes to articulate what creativity is in terms of assessment (using related terms mentioned above), wonderful.  My only point is why not just talk about assessment and leave creativity out of it.

Photo attribution: http://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2014/07/18/08/40/creativity-396268_640.jpg