Closing the Creativity Gap

April 29, 2009

Ross Danis, Program Director, Education


You may hear the mention of a number of “gaps” when people are talking about education: the achievement gap between various income groups and races; the gap in funding between school districts; and the gap between athletics and, say, the arts. Perhaps the most serious gap is between the skills of even the most successful, best educated students and the skills required to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing, and very challenging world – the creativity gap.

View the situation this way: our children are just as literate as they were 20 years ago, but the standards for being literate have changed. The stakes are higher. Today, children will enter, as adults, a world where the “creative class” will rule. In fact, creativity is right up there with the basics of mathematics and reading. UNESCO reports that almost 60% of all the jobs in the 21st century will depend on the capacity to be creative.

scantron-formWhat does this mean for schools? It means that being proficient on standardized tests is not enough to be successful. It means that focusing exclusively on raising test scores at the expense of other pursuits helps schools appear successful in the short run, but may be setting our children up for failure in the long run. Our children need pursuits such as extended arts residencies, interdisciplinary investigations, and inquiry-based student-driven learning activities that encourage right brain and communal thinking skills.

These creative learning experiences are happening but, disturbingly, mostly in private schools. The reason is that private schools have the flexibility to do what they know is necessary: to rewrite curriculum to focus on how to think, not just what to think, and to foster creativity in young people. Private schools are “off the grid” in terms of having to comply with the narrow definitions of literacy that are foisted upon traditional public schools through state and federal standards.

nj-youth-theatreSo, back to the gap. Yes, there is a gap between the performance of students in many urban districts and those in suburban districts. But what if the high performing suburban districts are not the standard of excellence in terms of preparing children for the future? As Sir Ken Robinson states, “Creativity now is as important in education as is literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” What if ALL public schools need to be re-imagined so they can foster the kinds of critical and creative thinking that will be required to be successful? The essence of our work here at Dodge is to foster creativity and develop sustainable communities. That is our response to closing the creativity gap.

It would help us to know if you think that such a gap exists. And, if you believe it does, how you think a foundation like Dodge can have the greatest impact on helping to prepare our youth for their future, not our past. Please leave us your comments.

Photo: New Jersey Youth Theatre