Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Creativity that knows no boundaries

This post is not suitable for those with delicate sensibilities. I just love today's Calvin & Hobbes cartoon! Just in case you have trouble reading/opening it, Calvin is collecting his ear wax to make a candle and, when his mother expresses disgust, he suggests crayons as an alternative. While I fully understand Calvin's mother's reaction, to me this cartoon typifies the gradual way in which adults impose limits on creativity.

We all know that "kids say the darndest things", but how do we handle it when they do? At least Calvin's mother didn't have to share this moment with the general public! I remember as clear as if it were yesterday, one of my sons (please tell me he doesn't read this blog) standing on a chair in Macdonalds (other heart attack factories are available ;-)) and announcing very loudly "I made a fart!". It was one of those parenting moments that happens to us all - we know it's going to happen and yet we're still completely floored when it does. Sadly, our attempts at gentle, mature, wise handling of situation were completely ruined by the fact that we were weeping with laughter and utterly unable to get the words out. Yeah. That was going to discourage him from doing that again. That was going to instill an understanding of propriety. Sure. Right.

When I was studying teaching methodology at college, we looked at this very subject and one of our text books (I would love to reference it properly, but can't for the life of me remember anything about it - it was over 20 years ago, after all!) contained an anecdote related by a school inspector:

He was visiting a class of 5 year old children who were engaged in a project of drawing their homes. Most of the kids drew the usual box with a red roof, smoking chimney and cottage windows. One child had drawn a series of connected boxes that seemed to make no sense at all until she explained that it was an aerial view of the house with the roof removed (a budding architect?). "There's my room, there's the baby's room, there's Mommy and Daddy's room, and there's the bathroom with Mommy on the toilet." The teacher blushed. "I don't think so," she laughed nervously and tried to persuade the child that the picture represented something else altogether. After a while the child, showing remarkable insight, realised that the teacher was uncomfortable and sought to put her at her ease, "Oh it's alright," she said, "the door's closed!" The inspector experienced regret that the teacher had focused on propriety and her own sensibilities, rather than the child's display of cognitive ability, creativity, imagination, perspective and the rest of a long list of skills.

When I was a student, I taught drama part-time to pay the bills. My youngest group was 5-6 themselves. Some of the anecdotes these little ones related and the improvs they did were very revealing of details I'm sure their parents would far rather have kept private. I was only 19, so I'm sure I blew it repeatedly, but today's cartoon reminds me that children's imaginations are not restricted by what is "proper", and both teachers and parents need to handle the situation gently to ensure that, as they come to terms with acceptability, they do not experience a sense of condemnation of their efforts and, by extension, themselves.

And are we so very different, we adults, with our maturity and perspective? We pour our hearts and souls into some or other effort which the client then proceeds to rip to shreds. Do we not feel those criticisms as if they were of ourselves? No? Just me then!


Harold Jarche said...

I can relate to many of your thoughts here:

A colleague, who worked with me in a military headquarters, once told me that there is no greater urge known to mankind than to change someone else's draft ;-)

I think that we (a minority so far) are beginning to realise that creativity is more important than mastery of any subject matter. As we prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that have yet to be invented, creativity will become a key survival tool in the future economy.

If you haven't read Dan Pink's, "A whole new mind", I would strongly recommend it.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip, Harold, I have ordered the book on your recommendation.