Yes, I think there is a creativity crisis in America, and I feel it has deep social roots. The blindness of our learning institutions to the importance of creativity is astounding. There must be a generalized, proactive response to integrating creativity into all levels of teaching. The current condition of our culture reminds me of the fable of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” The “new clothes” are standardized tests and programs like No Child Left behind. The “nakedness” is our institutions failure to add creativity into all levels of curricula despite a lot of talk about its importance. Upon this issue hangs the ultimate destiny of our nation. We need creativity to compete in the global free market of ideas. We have effective metrics in such tools as the Torrance’s creativity index. So why is this not being accomplished? In my mind, the primary explanation for this wrong thinking is that creative curricula would require more effort, and ironically more creative thinking. In other words, it is caused by intellectual laziness. I also see a shift toward totalitarianism. Why are we allowing this to happen?
I think it interesting that creativity has been almost exclusively identified with art and music classes. Why should this be? As a programmer, some of my most creative “eureka” moments have been when I thought up a coding solution. Why is computer programming not taught as a liberal arts elective? Creativity applies to every human endeavor. Moreover, I think creativity is vulnerable because it has been grouped together with what some administrators consider to be nonessential material.
I disagree with focusing on TV, video games, and technology as the malefactors. I think we need to go much broader than this, and point to a macro-critique of our culture. We are more and more a conformist, and thought restrictive society. Why? The government and corporations are motivated to produce controllable and non-threatening citizen workers. Our institutions of higher learning have become some of the most hostile centers to a true expression of free speech in our country. Politically correct thinking has produced a culture of policing thought. Yesterday’s eccentric has become today’s potential pedophile. In our technological/bureaucratic nation, we have become less accepting of free expression, and of individual thought differences. As we more and more share a common culture, we are limited by that culture. In addition, the so called “War on Drugs” and “War on terror” have given the federal government unprecedented police state powers. In some ways, we are not that far from realizing George Orwell’s dystopia of “1984.” Why have we allowed this? Everyone is hypnotized by a daily dose of pop-culture and pop-technology seen in the current favorite media or entertainment of the day. There a huge number of neurological medications being taken. How long until we have a government issued pill that assures social harmony and general happiness just as in the novel “A Brave New World?” Given these cultural conditions, I am not shocked that creativity is decreasing. TV, video games, and social media certainly play a part in this crisis, but what about these social elephants in the room? I see much to be concerned about.
My personal experience supports the idea of a “creativity crisis” in America. When I was 8 years old, my parents decided it would be a great experience to travel around the world. We made it as far as Peru. During that entire time, I received no formal schooling. “The world is your classroom,” so my father would say. And it was a great classroom. However, when I came back to the United States, I did not fit the typical profile of a 10 year old student. I was summarily labeled learning disabled because my reading skills were not equivalent to my peers. Thankfully, my father disagreed, and placed me in a free-thinking private school. Within a year, I was reading at a college level, and I have sustained a lifelong love affair with books. In the public school, I was a cylindrical peg that the teachers were attempting to put in a square hole. During the same period, my younger brother also went to public school. He talked about how he had traveled to South America. He said he had swum in the Amazon. He said he had a pet tortoise and monkey. He said his parents had been married at the ruins of Machu Picchu. When the school administrators heard of these stories, they decided my brother was pathologically delusional and called my parents. My father listened in silence as they rattled off a dictionary list of “fables” my brother had been telling other students. Then, in his best deadpan voice, my father said, “Yes, but all of that is true.”
Technology is a two-edged sword that can have both bad and good results. Technology has certainly effected the neurological development of each successive generation. Attention spans, concentration, and creativity are all endangered by smart phones, TVs, video games, and social media. There are some real dangers to having our identities and self-worth so heavily dependent on social media outcomes. One example is the phenomenon of people committing suicide as a result of cyber bullying. Narcissism is already taking a toll on our society. The horrendous torrent of taking “selfies” comes to mind. Being self-centered is insidious in that it decreases empathy among individuals. We are structuring our society to endanger creativity, and we need a wake call to reform our institutions, thinking, and culture to proactively answer this crisis. John Stuart Mill states that the very definition of a free society is one that protects eccentricity. It is the ideas that we collectively disagree with that need the most protection. It is absurd to argue that individuals need safety from “words” or “ideas” that may hurt someone’s feelings. Such safeguards are always at the expense of general liberty. Our current culture censures the marketplace of ideas at its own peril. There must be complete freedom of thought and expression.