Monday, June 26, 2017

Do Arts Teach Creativity? Learning creative process takes more than a regular art class

The article below is from a few years back but the nonsense about creativity still goes on. Robert Root-Bernstein below is one of the few who pour cold water on the whole thing.  For a start, he rightly points to science and engineering as important areas of creativity rather than thinking it glorious to mess around with watercolors.

The whole idea that there is a general trait or ability at being creative has always been arrant nonsense.  Show me one great painter who is also a great composer.  Creativity as a general trait does not exist.  There is only creativity in particular fields.

Creativity is usually highly specific rather than general.  In my case, for instance, I am very creative at writing academic journal articles (200+ published between 1970 and 1990) but I couldn't write a novel for nuts.  So even within the field of writing, there is no clear generality.

Curiously, I have seen some slight evidence that language ability does generalize from natural to computer languages:  The poetry maven may make a good computer programmer! I do no more than suggest the hypothesis but it should not be all that difficult to test.  The point remains, however, that assumptions about generalizability of creativity from one field to another have to be tested.  It cannot reasonably be assumed.

Root-Bernstein is a major student of creativity so writes from extensive experience and has some claim to authority on the subject.  He also could himself be seen as creative if iconoclasm can be seen as a major form of creativity.  He not only challenges the conventional wisdom about creativity but is also one of the small band who reject as too simplistic the HIV = AIDS equation. 

The latter stance may damn him to some, but the majority is not always right.  Again, one has to look at the evidence to form a reasonable opinion.  Just going along with the majority can lead eventually to egg on face.  Conventional health advice on how to avoid peanut allergy and advice on the desirability of animal fat in the diet have both undergone 180 degree turns in the last few  years.

Massachusetts and California want to mandate teaching creativity and testing for its outcomes. Maybe your state does, too. In our last post we challenged whether creativity can be taught. In this one, we challenge the measures these states intend to use to test for it.

            In August 2010, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts signed into law an economic development bill that mandated the measurement of creative capacity among public school students. Governor Brown of California appears to be following suit. While the details of these measurements are still being worked out, there are two likely possibilities. One is to mandate 'creativity tests' and the other is to count up 'creative' activities available for student participation.

            Though our position is not necessarily a popular one, we believe that tests for creativity are generally a sham. The dean of creativity testing was the late E. Paul Torrance and recent use of his tests has supposedly demonstrated that American students are becoming less and less creative with each year.  With all due respect to Torrance and his students, we aren't sure that's what Torrance tests show at all. Torrance tests are based on the assumption that creativity is "out of the box" thinking that can be measured by how divergent a student's solutions to a problem or puzzle are compared with other students. Creativity is equated with originality.

            Unfortunately, in science, technology, engineering, economics and many other professions divergence from the norm is usually associated with being wrong.  In fact, studies attempting to validate divergence-based tests, including the Torrance tests, have found that they almost universally fail to predict creativity in the fields just listed. Divergence-based tests do not predict which scientists, engineers, etc., will produce the most patents, write the most cited papers, win a Nobel Prize or achieve other recognized measures of professional merit.

            What gives apparent validity to Torrance and other divergence tests is that many studies have reported correlations between these tests and whether students later go into disciplines such as writing, arts, music and acting. The assumption here is that everyone in these disciplines is creative.

            This lead us that second measure of creativity states might elect to employ -- access to, or participation in, arts and other presumably 'creative' activities such as debate or science fairs. The assumption here is, if you make or construct something you must be creative. But what makes artists, what makes a debate performance or a science fair project, intrinsically 'creative'?


            The truth is, there are more run-of-the-mill actors and commonplace painters than innovative ones, just as there are more regular historians and average engineers than peers at the forefront of either field.  The truth is, too, that the student who downloads a bunch of arguments off the internet for a debate is not thinking for him- or herself. The student who buys a science fair kit from any number of suppliers isn't being creative, either. And there's nothing creative (other than the sense of 'making' something) about copying a drawing or playing "America the Beautiful" over and over again out of tune. Just making something doesn't teach creativity in the sense of finding and meeting new challenges with effective thinking.

            Disappointed? Don't be. The fact is that ANY subject can be taught so as to emphasize its creative aspects and any subject, no matter how apparently 'creative', can be taught so as to eliminate all of its creative aspects. It's not the subject, but the approach to it, that teaches creativity.

           For this reason we find it meaningless to give schools a 'creativity quotient' based on how many 'creative activities' or 'creative courses' they make available to students. It is equally meaningless to use divergence-based tests to assess how many students are likely to go into 'creative disciplines'.  All these measures really show is that people who don't like to conform are often more comfortable in arts careers than in science, technology, business and social science careers. If non-conformity were all that it took to be creative, that would be fine, but there's more to learning creative practices than that!

        In this regard, we urge everyone who is interested in improving the teaching of creativity in any and all subjects to refer to the credit guidelines in the arts recently established by the Michigan Department of Education. Unlike the majority of arts education requirements adopted around the country, which mandate simply a set number of arts or crafts courses, Michigan (with Bob as one of the co-chairs of the committee) adopted a creative process-based requirement. In Michigan, on paper anyway, it is insufficient simply to take band or orchestra or a class in drawing or jewelry making or graphic design. Any course that wishes to satisfy the arts requirement must incorporate into itself, in an explicit manner, the teaching of and experience with the entire creative process.

            Unlike creativity itself, the creative process CAN be taught. Attention can be paid to the challenges that have motivated creative individuals; the problems (technical and social) they have faced in meeting those challenges; the new skills and knowledge they have needed to acquire in order to address those problems; the options they have played with in exploring possible solutions; the realizations they have had that what they really wanted to do wasn't what they had set off to do; the role serendipity and chance have had in the final production of their work; the role that performing or publicizing their work has had in pushing them to modify and rethink their goals; and the struggles they have had in achieving recognition. This is the process that will prepare students for doing creative things in the world, not a high score on a divergence-based test or a ho-hum exposure to debate team, science fair or art making.

            So what's the take-home message? If we want a more creative society, we need to shift how we teach every subject. Creativity tests are irrelevant. Just adding arts to the curriculum, or debate or science fairs, won't do the trick, either. What arts can do, when they are done right, is teach creative process better than any other subject. What other core disciplines can do, too, is incorporate and emulate the best teaching practices of the arts concerning creative process. An understanding of that process, in whatever subject it occurs, should be what we strive for and measure.


Hate-filled Connecticut professor

Professor Johnny Eric Williams is black

The campus of Trinity College in Hartford was closed for much of Wednesday after receiving threats from people outraged by a professor who shared an inflammatory online posting about the Congressional baseball practice shootings.

But the private college is due to reopen on Thursday morning with increased security after determining that there was “no immediate threat,” following the posting by Johnny Eric Williams, Trinity announced.

Williams, who teaches about race and racism, shared on his personal Twitter and Facebook accounts an article published on that cited “another writer’s perspective on the shooting,” the college said in a statement.

The article -- which was not written by Williams -- also explored the “relationship between ‘victims of bigotry’ and ‘bigots,’ and culminated with a “call to show indifference to the lives of bigots,” the statement said.

“That call was reprehensible,” Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney said in the statement. “and any such suggestion is abhorrent and wholly contrary to Trinity’s values.”

Williams, a sociology professor at Trinity since 1996, could not immediately be reached for comment by the Globe.

He also posted at least one message to his Facebook page using the hashtag “#LetThem[Expletive]Die,” which was the headline of the article. Campus Reform, a conservative website, published a screen grab of the hashtag on Williams’ Facebook page.

Berger-Sweeney made an oblique reference to the vulgar hashtag that he used online, saying it “connected directly to the inflammatory conclusion of that article.”

The president said she denounces “hate speech in all its forms” and “will explore all options to resolve this matter.” She did not quote excerpts from the article.

The dean of faculty will review the matter and advise Berger-Sweeney if any college procedures or policies were broken, the statement said.

Williams told the Hartford Courant that his words were twisted by some people to sound as though he was saying the victims of the Alexandria, Virginia, shooting should’ve been left to die, the Associated Press reported.

The postings were not publicly available on his Facebook and Twitter accounts Wednesday. Campus Reform had published screen-grabs of the messages.

The article remained publicly accessible Wednesday night and quoted another posting from the outlet Fusion.

The Fusion article noted that Capital Police Officer Crystal Griner, an African American lesbian, helped stop the baseball practice shooter, who wounded Republican congressman Steve Scalise and GOP operatives.

The Fusion story described Scalise as an anti-gay lawmaker who has “kept company with racists.” The author wrote in response, “What does it mean, in general, when victims of bigotry save the lives of bigots? For centuries, black people have been regarded as sub-human workhorses whose entire purpose is to serve white people’s whimsies.”

The author concluded the posting with a poem that said, “Let. Them. [Expletive]. Die./And smile a bit when you do./For you have done the universe a great service./Ashes to ashes. Dust to bigots.” The posting was also headlined “Let Them [Expletive] Die.”

Williams’ sharing of the article had consequences for Trinity.

At 12:38 p.m. Wednesday, the school announced that “due to threats received and out of an abundance of caution, all campus buildings are card ID access only.”

At 1:10 p.m., Trinity officials said, “Given the threats to campus and upon consultation with the President’s Cabinet, the decision has been made to close the College until further notice. “

Finally, at 5:38 p.m., the college announced there was no immediate threat and that the College will reopen Thursday morning.


Australia: School funding package passes Senate, as Conservatives take big win

He's very low-key but PM Turnbull does get a lot through a very difficult Senate. The legislation was to make school funding  "needs-based", something Leftists would normally support.  So it was just anti-government bloody-mindedness behind the opposition from the Green/Left

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said attention must now turn to improving student outcomes after his Government's landmark $23.5 billion funding package passed the Senate.

After a marathon debate extending into the early hours of this morning, the Gonski 2.0 plan passed with the support of Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party, the Nick Xenophon Team and crossbench Senators Derryn Hinch, Jacqui Lambie and Lucy Gichuhi 34 votes to 31.

While the Coalition was quietly confident it had the numbers, it had been on tenterhooks waiting for the final vote.

Mr Turnbull said this morning that the vote was "an outstanding result for Australian schools, students and parents".

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the deal would deliver about $2,300 per student to schools in the next few years.

"That's really critical because it flows fastest into the schools who need it most, delivering fairer funding for all Australians according to the Gonski needs-based principles," he said.

Labor, the unions and the Catholic education sector spent much of yesterday trying furiously to sway Senator Lambie's vote but she made it clear to the chamber that she "strongly supported the legislation and would not be persuaded otherwise".

Lower House MPs were recalled to approve the amended bill and those on the Coalition side clapped, cheered and whistled as Cabinet Minister Christopher Pyne hailed the passage of "the most significant reform to school education in Australia's history".

How 'Gonski 2.0' will affect schools

The Government's proposed needs-based system will benefit some schools more than others.

The changes will replace the 27 separate school funding deals with different states and sectors, with a nationally consistent, needs-based funding model.

In a bid to win over the crossbench, Senator Birmingham agreed to spend an extra $5 billion, on top of the additional $18.6 already announced, rolling out the funding over six years instead of 10.

This morning, Mr Turnbull acknowledged his Government would need to find an extra $1.5 billion to pay for that concession over the forward estimates.

The Government also agreed to set up an independent body to monitor the way the money was spent.

While Labor remained firmly opposed to the plan, the Greens had been on the verge of supporting it and heavily influenced the compromises Senator Birmingham eventually made.

But once the Coalition secured the 10 crossbench votes it needed, the Greens announced they would oppose the package, citing "special" transitional arrangements put in place for Catholic schools.

With their votes no longer critical to determining the fate of the bill, intense internal pressures were instantly relieved.

The party was in fact on the verge of splitting, with the NSW Greens heaping pressure on Senator Lee Rhiannon to vote against the Bill even though the party's leader Richard Di Natale and Sarah Hanson-Young wanted to back it.

School funding wars continue

In settling on the needs-based funding model, the biggest loser was the Catholic school system, which says it will be billions of dollars worse off.

Public schools catering to special needs will also be winners in the new education deal. For Giant Steps and 26 other independent special schools like it, raw numbers tell the story.

The National Catholic Education Commission believes there has been a breach of faith by the Government because it claims it was not properly consulted about the changes.

It has vowed to campaign against the Coalition all the way to the next election and, in a foretaste of that, it launched a robo-call campaign in four marginal Liberal seats in Victoria.

But the win is important for the Coalition on a number of fronts, not least because it shows it can govern with the fractious Senate that it had a hand in delivering with the 2016 double dissolution election.

The Government will argue its education plan is both good policy and good politics; delivering funding to the schools that need it most, while helping to settle education as an issue.

Labor has promised to continue campaigning on education and will have strong allies in the Catholic Education Commission and Australian Education Union.

But the Coalition is hoping their arguments may lose some of their bite once the money begins to flow to state schools.


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