Kids’ Creativity Is Declining: Is NCLB Responsible?

By Shlomo  Maital   

         toy truck

     Can you test for creativity and measure it, like IQ, in individuals – especially kids?  Dr. E. Paul Torrance developed the TTCT, Torrance Tests for Creative Thinking, in 1957.  It is a fairly simple 90-minute set of tasks, extended in 1966.  His tests have five activities: ask-and-guess, product improvement, unusual uses, unusual questions and ‘just suppose’.   One task gives children a toy fire truck and asks them how they would improve it.   One of his subjects, in 1958, found 25 different ways!   Torrance used his TTCT to show that you CAN teach creativity.

    Recently,  strong evidence was found to support the premise that IQ and creativity are almost unrelated.  Back in 1958, Prof. Torrance tested the creativity of a group of 400 Minneapolis children.  In the 55 years since then, Torrance and his colleague Garnet Millar tracked the children, recording their patents, businesses, research papers, grants, books, art exhibits, software programs, ad campaigns – virtually everything.   In turns out that Torrance’s creativity index predicted the children’s creative accomplishments as adults incredibly accurately.    The correlation between lifetime creative accomplishment and childhood creativity is more than three times higher than the correlation between accomplishment and childhood IQ.   

    What’s even more interesting, and worrisome, is this:  According to the “Flynn effect”, named after New Zealand Prof. James Flynn, with each generation, IQ goes up by 10 points.  With creativity, a reverse trend was identified.  American creativity scores are falling, according to researcher Kyung Hee Kim.  “The decrease is very significant,” Kim says.  He notes it is the scores of younger children in America, from kindergarten to sixth grade, for whom the decline is most serious.    

     In 2000, just after he was elected (or in fact, lost the election and then stole it thanks to Florida’s Republican State Supreme Court),  George Bush pushed through the NCLB No Child Left Behind Act.   While NCLB focuses on measuring and improving conventional learning skills,  creativity is suffering.  One wonders whether rule-based education, in which teachers teach kids to pass tests,  is actually hurting break-the-rules creativity, even in innately creative young children.  If this is so, there is cause for concern.  America needs engineers who know how to make things others invent – but it also needs those who know how to invent things others will make.  Surely we can figure out how to teach both, without ruining either.

    Sources:  Torrance, E. Paul. (1972). “Teaching for creativity”.  Journal of Creative Behavior, 6, 114-143.  And:  The Creativity Crisis, July 10, 2010,   Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman,  The Daily Beast (Newsweek).