Giving Some Love To Creativity Against The Juggernaut Of Academic Intelligence
26th May 2018I feel like creativity has been cut a raw deal in the past decade or so, with its perceived value against academic intelligence seemingly in constant decline. This trend concerns me a lot, and I think it must be highlighted and addressed so a new, more beneficial, direction can be established. Academia and the education sector is where the issue is most prevalent and at its most damaging, with schools and universities implementing increasingly memory and fact based systems for teaching instead of encouraging creative problem solving and critical independent thought. Through identification of the reasons for the gradual societal dismissal of creativity and exploration of some of the problems this causes, I hope to highlight the value and importance of creativity in our rapidly changing world and suggest some solutions to bring its reputation back in line with academic intelligence.
The principal reason, I think, behind the shift in attitudes is the rise in the perceived importance of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Due to the incredible success of various technology companies and the growth of the technology sector, there has been what feels like a universal push to encourage children to study STEM subjects. This encouragement comes from all sides, the media, governments, universities and companies, so its no surprise that impressionable young people feel pressured to pick one of the subjects up, even if it's not their passion. It is also reasonable to suggest some sources of encouragement have their own interests at heart, instead of those of young people. Governments recognise the economic benefits of international technology companies basing themselves in their country, and therefore want to create a large pool of potential employees to attract the organisations. Also, it is logical for these organisations to encourage the study of skills relevant to their company. By now we all know the power that large companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple possess and sometimes exploit without us knowing, and I have no doubt they could influence the attitudes of young people to their benefit with relative ease.
What I believe to be the other principal cause of the decline in creativity's value relates to the qualification systems and consequent teaching methods outlined by governments. As grades become increasingly important in the ever more competitive working world, the necessity for accurate, universal reflection of a student's ability is becoming more and more crucial to employers. Whereas academic intelligence can be easily quantified and uniformly tested across different ages, languages and levels, creativity cannot. This is causing its importance in education to be forgotten. The growing significance of grades coupled with the intensifying efficiency demands and targets placed on teachers is forcing them to pursue the wrong outcomes. Instead of teaching to aid independent thought and creativity in solving problems, they have to quickly spoon feed information to students to be memorised for upcoming exams. Unfortunately, these misplaced ideals have become the norm and accepted goal of education. It is a sad state of affairs, since I am sure that most teachers choose the career to inspire and develop the next generation, not to pursue rigorous annual targets.
With issues such as climate change and population growth coming to a head in the next 50 years or so, one could argue creative solutions are required more now than ever before. My generation has a responsibility and challenge to develop responses to these matters, and I worry the declining pursuit of creativity as a skill will harm the quality of said responses. Instead, a large number of education systems and institutions are creating fantastic employees who will be capable of carrying out instructions efficiently and with minimal fuss. As valuable as a skilled labour force is, diversification in education will surely lead to more innovative thinking.
Due to the universal push to study STEM subjects one could be forgiven for thinking it's the only option to be successful or work in the technology sector. The overblown importance of these subjects is damaging because it encourages students to pick their studies from a very narrow net. Of course, STEM subjects are interesting, exciting and necessary in society, however so are many other areas of study. Denigration of other subjects by redistributing funding away from them and towards STEM is not very helpful in creating a level platform from which young people can make informed, non-biased decisions about their education. Furthermore, many people end up working outside their area of study anyway, hence we should encourage exploration of a wide range of options to allow young people to find their calling. In a recent TED Talk called "Why Tech Needs The Humanities", the speaker highlighted the value of a wide range of backgrounds in imagining creative solutions. After describing to a bartender how his team of engineers weren't capable of solving a software problem for a client, the bartender offered to try and help. Since they had nothing to lose, they sent him in, and miraculously he solved the problem. How could a bartender who dropped out of Penn State University whilst studying philosophy solve a software problem? Simple, he rephrased the question. Creativity is as an all encompassing, boundary crossing skill, which is what makes it so valuable when combined with the specificity and focused nature of academic intelligence. It is crucial that we become a generation with a wealth of backgrounds that are capable of imagining creative solutions through linking previously unconnected ideas, and that won't happen with academic intelligence alone.
Another harmful effect of the decline in creativity is the expectations it establishes in students after leaving the education system. Many academically intelligent students go through early life achieving accolade after accolade, high grade after high grade. This understandably leaves them with an expectation that this trend of success at regular intervals will continue. However, these expectations are misplaced due to the different demands and reward systems present in work compared with education. Whereas education demands academic intelligence and good memory almost exclusively, I think it can be argued that in the majority of job sectors creative thinking is more valuable and can lead to more success. Also, with checkpoints in the form of exams coming thick and fast from a young age, my generation is impatient to have our progress documented and ability highlighted. In contrast, work environments tend to have longer return times on investment of effort and often highlight errors more than progress. This mismatch in demand and reward systems can leave young people feeling disillusioned and unsatisfied, with the lack of appreciation of creativity in society and the education sector being a key culprit.
Right now I am at a loss as to how the problem of the diminishing reputation of creativity can be reversed at an institutional level, since it would require significant reforms in education and a societal change of attitude. However, this doesn't mean we can't make a difference on a personal level to the people we associate with. If you know someone who is currently studying or assessing their options in education, encourage them to explore every avenue thoroughly before making a decision. Remind them their own passions and opinions are justified and should be the most important signifier in their choice. Underlying, nefarious reasoning can hide in some encouragement, so obtaining advice from trusted sources and looking inside yourself will provide the most honest and pure answers.
Sure, academic intelligence is important in developing a knowledge net from which we can pull information. However, creativity is what drives us forward as a species, leading to innovation as well as remarkable, joyous use of all that knowledge. What's the point of knowing all the colours if we're not able to paint... There is value in every single subject; the world is beautifully diverse, and that I for one want that diversification to continue. Whether it's in dancing or banking, geology or coding, illustrating or translating, the world needs you and your wonderful, unique creativity.