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Does Formal Education Kill Student Creativity?
Formal education stifles student creativity, having changed little in the last 150 years. Teachers focus too much on factual questions, ignore creative student answers, and focus on knowledge consumption.
There is a lot of discussion in popular culture and educational literature about the impact of formal education on creativity. Specifically, there are studies that show that student creativity actually declines for every year students are in formal schooling. Here are some possible reasons that explain why formal education inhibits student creativity.
US educational system was designed to produce factory workers
States enacted compulsory education laws starting in Massachusetts in 1852 and spread throughout the country until, in 1917, Mississippi became the last state to enact compulsory education laws. The American educational system encourages conformity, compliance with authority, and basic problem recognition and solving skills (e.g. critical thinking) - the skills necessary to become an industrial factory worker. Unfortunately, most public school systems have done little to adapt to the current global economy based on information, creativity, and innovation.
Teachers ask factual rather than knowledge application questions
When was the war of 1812? How many years did the Hundred Years War last? While most teachers don't ask dumb factual questions, they go through questions and answers that focus exclusively on factual matters. While a certain level of factual knowledge is useful to promote the civic process in a democracy such as ours, facts are not as important as they once were as students can always look them up. After all, since it is doubtful that students would ever be asked these questions in a job interview, why ask them in school?
Instead, teachers should be asking questions that require students to apply knowledge to different situations. Questions that require applied-knowledge mimic the real world and force students to extend knowledge to situations where the answers may be difficult and unclear, and thus, require creative thought. The ability to apply knowledge to solve difficult problems is the essence of creativity, which can be developed over time.
Teaching emphasizes knowledge consumption rather than product creation
I've been in the working world for over fifteen years now, and it is a rare occasion indeed where my boss hands me a document, saying "point out all the errors in this document". Rather, the assignment is always to create something - a policy, presentation, or email - that someone else will use.
In the classroom, teachers focus way too much time on critiquing existing knowledge (e.g., critical thinking) rather than creating products that demonstrate or apply knowledge. In the working world, employers need employees who can create products, services, and experiences that are valuable to consumers. It is far too easy to point out the problems why something won't work, but it takes actual creativity to figure out how to make things work.
Teachers inadvertently discourage creative student responses
Occasionally, teachers will ask great questions that invokes thoughtful, perhaps even creative responses from their students. Yet how does a typical teacher respond?
"Interesting response, Johnny. I am going to put that one in the parking lot. We will discuss that as soon as we finish the current material."
Of course, that discussion never actually happens as the curriculum tomorrow is just as packed as today's, and Johnny learns that conformity, not creativity, is valued by authority figures. Sooner or later, Johnny "gets with the program", and his attitude becomes jaded rather than positive.