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Creative Inquiry 101: Are Students Prepared for Complexity?

Last month, I attended the S.T.E.P. (Shifting the Education Paradigm) Forward: Closing the Gap that Matters Conference, co-hosted by Cary Academy students. I had the chance to participate in several engaging sessions, but the one entitled, “Education for Innovation”, led by Dr. Keith Sawyer, from the UNC School of Education particularly peaked my interest. The conversation stemmed around creativity and the learning sciences. This resonated with me because I am currently taking a course on Creative Inquiry in my PhD program. Dr. Sawyer led a discussion of how creativity is one of the most important qualities in our society, especially in education and business.

My own research has revealed the importance of creativity. Our archaic rationalizations of who is creative, what is creative, and when creativity can take place don’t hold up in a time of rapid change and complexity. Creativity is inherent in each and every one of us, but social constructs and societal norms cause some to repress their creative capacities. Creativity is not limited to the arts or a lone genius. In Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life, Dr. Shelley Carson writes,

“If you have planted a garden, arranged the furniture in you living room or office, deviated from a recipe, driven a new route to the shopping mall, or figured out how to calm a crying child, you’ve demonstrated your creativity.”

Education has changed and continues to change but there are paradigms in place that we have become accustomed to, which are outdated. The overall system of education in the US is still based in the industrial revolution, where memorization and the ability to follow explicit directions were foundational. Schools of that time were responsible for producing citizens prepared for an industrial-authoritative work world. In other words, once students graduated from school, they were equipped to thrive in an industrial factory setting of assembly lines, specialization, repetition, and following the commands of an authority figure.[1] This is obviously no longer the reality faced by today’s graduates, but the system remains largely in place in our schools.

A paradigm shift must take place in our schools. If the educational system of the past was responsible for producing citizens prepared for industrialism, then the current and future educational systems must prepare citizens to confront an age of rapidly expanding information and technology. Today’s students live in a world that has always been complex and interrelated, and due to globalization, technology, and the rapid dissemination of information, will continue to become even more complex than we can imagine. Creativity is needed more than ever, to not only problem solve, but to also problem find. This is not to deny all aspects of the industrial model of education, since the creative inquirer must use lower-level thinking skills, such as rote memorization, to build on higher-level thinking, which is vital in creative inquiry.[2] We just can no longer accept stopping short of that high level.

Creative individuals are better equipped to interact with ambiguity because they continuously experiment with the world and are open to new possibilities and points of view.[3] But this might also cause one to wonder how these creative individuals maintain a sense of stability in a complex world. Creative inquirers can be (and to be successful may NEED to be) grounded in their own belief systems, while also constantly expanding their perspective through collaboration, experimentation, and dialogue. Today’s students need to be able to think outside the box, beyond what their teachers are relaying. Their train of thought may occasionally run off track, but it is from these missteps and failures that we have the most to learn. Teachers should challenge students to think more critically and not simply regurgitate what others think and believe.

This creative development has to start early.[4] Critical thinking and creativity are then repeatedly expected in higher education, where there is often an assumption that these students will enter into professional or academic careers where creativity and critical thinking are crucial, in comparison to blue-collar workers who may not need a traditional degree. This is not to say creativity and critical thinking are not essential in blue-collar careers or that blue-collar workers do not ever have traditional higher educational degrees. Since creative inquiry may not have been a vital part of the K-12 curriculum over the past several decades, this may be another reason why young adults, educated in these types of environments, are uncertain about how to live in a world that is not so dualistic, repetitive, and simple. According to Dr. Alfonso Montuori, one of the faculty members in my doctoral program, young adults of the current generation are very uncertain about their aspirations, livelihood, and future, based in large part on the state of domestic and global affairs.[5] Creativity entails imagination, critical thinking, collaboration, and it teaches one to unlearn, to be humble, and to sustain dialogue with those from diverse backgrounds. Are you inspiring the creativity in your students?

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela

-Adrian Mack, Director of Partnership Development

[1] Montuori, A. & Donnelly, G. (2013). Creative inquiry and scholarship: Applications and implications in a doctoral degree, World Futures: The Journal of Global Education, 69:1, 1-19.

[2] Montuori, A. (2008). The joy of inquiry. Journal of Transformative Education, 6(1), 8-27.

[3] Montuori, A. (2006). The quest for a new education: From oppositional identities to creative Inquiry. ReVision, 28(3), 4-20.

[4] Morin, E. (1997). The reform of thought, transdisciplinarity, and the reform of the university. 23-32.

[5] Montuori, A. (2011). Beyond postnormal times: The future of creativity and the creativity of the future. Futures: The Journal of Policy, Planning, and Future Studies, 43:2, 221-227.

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The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning expands and supports high quality teaching and effective, supportive leadership. QTL Processes bring together technology, teamwork, student data and research-based instruction to create more engaging lesson design for greater student achievement.

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