I had planned to review one of my favorite books, Prodigal Summer, this time, but after Beth’s comments about my previous post, I wanted to elaborate on some related thoughts that came up. So I’m saving Prodigal for next time.
In the late 60’s I was an elementary school teacher. Fostering creativity was a big issue in those days, and in my county a program was instigated to address it. Basically, the children chosen to participate went to a special site for a day where they collaborated in small groups with other students of similar ages and abilities to find creative solutions to a challenging task. Sort of like a duplicate bridge tournament.
While this program was stimulating and prodded kids to think outside the box, I always thought it missed the mark somehow. It taught great social skills like leadership and cooperation, and it encouraged brain-storming and problem-solving, but all this was just good teaching. How did it address creativity in ways that were not already being used by fine teachers?
But our school system had done its best and I had nothing to add to the situation, so I figured this was just one of those problems without a solution. Maybe nobody understood creativity. Maybe there really was no practical way to teach it. Maybe it was just a matter of genetics, some characteristic of DNA with which you either were or weren’t furnished at birth.
Several years later when my own creativity began to blossom I finally understood. At bottom, creativity is not a function of our proficiency with the objective logos skills emphasized in most classrooms, but of our ego’s willingness to use these skills in service to our deeply personal mythos realities: things like what feels important, how we yearn to spend our free time, or what brings a deep sense of accomplishment. For example, one of my earliest memories is of trying to write a book on folded pieces of paper. Since I was only four years old and didn’t know how to write yet, I drew pictures instead. But while my passion for writing persisted throughout my school years, few teachers noticed it and nobody ever encouraged me to pursue it.
The problem is, most kids are too busy trying to learn what their parents and teachers want them to learn and most schools are run more like factories than forums for individual exploration and expression. As Einstein wrote, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
The psychological realities of each soul are as unique as our fingerprints. Creativity is about manifesting that uniqueness. We activate our creativity by pursuing self-knowledge and personal meaning. We hone our creativity by following our passions regardless of the world’s opinions; by sacrificing popularity and approval for self-knowledge and authenticity; by creating original works of art out of our lives. By becoming who we are.
And how do we foster creativity in others? By mentoring them on the path to self-discovery. Until educators understand this, we will continue to be far better at stifling creativity than fostering it.