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Creativity Capital: We’re Destroying Billions of Dollars Worth!

By Shlomo Maital

money burning

   What is “capital”? For most people, capital is something tangible, like money, houses, or other assets. But for economists, capital is somewhat abstract – it is the summed present value of a stream of future benefits.  

   For instance, a bond pays interest for 10 years or 25 years, and its value is the summed p.v. of those interest payments plus the principal.

   People, too, comprise capital. When you improve your skills, the summed present value of the added income from those added skills is also capital and can be calculated – this is “human capital”.

     I believe there is a kind of capital that we are constantly destroying, rather than building as we should. It is “creativity capital”.

     Here is a small story. The daughter of a close friend drew a picture in elementary school. The teacher said that it was utter rubbish. Even though the young girl’s mother was a skilled artist, and even though she herself had talent – she never again drew a picture.   Perhaps the world lost an important artist; but more important, she herself lost an activity that could have given her enormous pleasure.

     This one case is creativity capital that was destroyed, because a stupid teacher was insensitive and failed to understand that her role is to encourage and empower, not destroy. How many other such cases are there? How many readers have encountered similar massive destruction of their creativity capital?

     How do we get schools to stop destroying massive amounts of creativity capital? What if we tried to put some numbers on ‘creativity capital’ and more important, investment in it (the additions to Creativity Capital)?   What if we tried to measure schools not by students’ scores on stupid mechanical tests, but by the extent to which their students excel in, say, the Torrance Creativity Test?  

     What if teachers’ job definition changed radically, from teaching test-taking skills to fostering ability to come up with wild ideas and then implement them?  

     But – how in the world can we make this happen?  We need creative ideas to create Creativity Capital.

If You Disrespect Teachers, You Disrespect Learning

By Shlomo Maital


  Once, long ago, becoming a school teacher was a worthy and socially respected goal.  Norman Rockwell’s wonderful portrait of “Happy Birthday, Miss Jones” was the cover of the Saturday Evening Post,  March 17, 1956 issue.  That was almost 60 years ago.   The reason Rockwell’s portrait is out-of-date is not the blackboard, now replaced by whiteboards – but the love shown by students for their teacher.  It’s largely gone. 

   A new study by the OECD, known as TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey) questioned over 100,000 lower secondary school teachers and 6,500 principals, from 34 countries. A Google search on “TALIS OECD” will bring you to it.

   Here are the main results: 

  • Society no longer values the work of teachers, in the perception of the teachers themselves. Only about 5 per cent of French and Swedish teachers said “society valued their work”. In the U.S., the proportion was only about one-third. This contrasts with 68 per cent in Singapore.   The head of the schools division at OECD, normally understated, said the results were ‘shocking’.    


    •      Why do Singaporean kids score so high on international tests in math, science and literacy? Smaller classes? Better methods? Sure … but also, because in Singapore, teachers are respected and valued, hence bright people choose teaching as a profession. Who wants to pick a profession that nobody values? Teaching then becomes a last-choice default, rather than a first-choice priority.
  • For a majority of surveyed countries, “few attract the most experienced teachers to the most challenging schools [more than 30 per cent of the students are from low socioeconomic backgrounds]”, said one of the study’s authors Julie Belanger. In other words, as a teacher gains seniority, he or she uses it to teach in a ‘desired’ school rather than in a tough one. That leaves the younger less experienced teachers to deal with the tougher schools. It should be the opposite.
  • Large numbers of teachers face imminent retirement; teachers’ average age is 43.  Teachers have an average of 16 years teaching experience.
  • 68% of all teachers are women, but 51% of principals are men.  Why??? What makes a man qualified to be principal, just because of his gender??? In our capitalist business-model approach to schools, where productivity is measured by test scores, teachers become trainers, rather than educators. No wonder we don’t respect them.   According to the TALIS study, 93% of teachers report “students should be allowed to think of solutions to a problem themselves before teachers show them the solution”.   Nearly half of all teachers report they frequently have their students work in small groups.     Do we truly value how teachers spur creativity in our kids, rather than how they train them to excel in tests?        If Norman Rockwell were to draw “Happy Birthday, Miss Jones” today – it would look a whole lot different. And a whole lot worse.   


  •    The TALIS study should ring alarm bells. Quality education is NOT principally about resources, budgets, or even class size. It is about teachers – finding motivated, creative people who choose education as a first choice, and who thrive because they are respected and valued.   If society were to highly value teaching, that alone would partly compensate for current low salaries.   But low respect, and low salaries, together are lethal.
  •    Despite the fact that society does not seem to value what they do, most teachers do love their jobs and would choose teaching again as a career, if they had to.

Should We Teach Kids to Break the Rules?

By Shlomo  Maital     

Library Lion

    In Michelle Knudsen’s book for children, “Library Lion”, 2006, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes,  the head librarian Miss Merriweather and Mr. McBee  kick Library Lion out of the library, because he roared.   And in the library, the rule is, you have to keep silent.  They come to realize that by sticking to the formal rules, McBee and Merriweather have made a mistake.  

  Sometimes, to do a good thing, you have to break the rules.  An Israeli theater group has now made a musical out of this story. 

    Here is a short passage:  One day a lion came to the library. He walked right past the circulation desk and up into the stacks.  Mr. McBee ran down the hall to the head librarian’s office.  “Miss Merriweather!” he called.  “No running”, said Miss Merriweather, without looking up.  “But there’s a lion!” said Mr. McBee. “In the library!”    “Is he breaking any rules?” asked Miss Merriweather. She was very particular about rule breaking.  “Well, no,” said Mr. McBee. “Not really”.   “Then leave him be.”

      As parents and teachers, we teach our kids to become ‘socialized’, which means, to learn the rules of civilized behavior in society.  Every society socializes its kids.  Without that, we would have a crumbling society of sociopaths. 

    The question is,   if creativity and innovation are about breaking the rules, can we teach kids to follow some rules and break others?  And can they learn to know the difference?    Can we raise good kids, well behaved, who at the same time rebel against rules, unwritten ones, and create wonderful new inventions?   Can you be totally socialized, and extremely creative? 

     Perhaps “Library Lion” is a wonderful start at grappling with these tough questions.  It is clear that doing so is long overdue.   A lot of parenting, and a great deal of schooling, are one-sidedly focused on teaching the rules, and not on when they might be, and should be, broken.   

Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone!

Are We Ruining Our Kids’ Imagination – in Kindergarten??!!

By Shlomo  Maital  

           kindergarten math

A Kindergarten Math Work Sheet

    My wife, a school psychologist specializing in early childhood, drew my attention to some disturbing research, that confirms my earlier blogs about the worrisome decline in creativity among children, due to rigid test-based schooling. 

     In their book  Crisis in the Kindergarten:  Why Children Need to Play in School, (Alliance for Childhood, College Park MD., 2009)  Edward Miller and Joan Almon report on research  argues that:

      “the traditional kindergarten classroom that most adults remember from childhood—with plenty of space and time for unstructured play and discovery, art and music, practicing social skills, and learning to enjoy learning—has largely disappeared. Among the findings of the latest research,  … is that, on a typical school day, kindergartners spend four to six times as much time in literacy and numeracy instruction and taking tests or preparing to take them (about two to three hours per day) as in free play or “choice time” (30 minutes or less).

     What are the poor kids doing?  Filling out work sheets like the one shown above (“counting backward”).   No Child Left Behind has now polluted our kindergartens, after ruining elementary and secondary schools with its ‘study-to-take-tests’ approach.

     Why is this happening?  Well, of course, because kids who start learning stuff early do better later, right?


“Most troubling in this hijacking of kindergarten is that there is no evidence that a heavy emphasis on teacher-led instruction and scripted curricula yields long-term benefits for children. In particular, low-income children who need support to succeed in school are not showing significant long-term gains.”

    There is no benefit from eliminating unstructured play in kindergartens. But there is huge damage.   Take away kids’ unstructured play and you remove their daily opportunities to dream, to imagine, to play-act, and in general, to create worls where anything is possible.  This is proven.

     It’s bad enough when we do this in elementary school.  But in kindergarten???? In a society that pays lip service to innovation, why are we ruining our kids’ imaginations, at the age when creativity is at its peak? 

   The above research is about American kindergartens; but I have a hunch the trend is spreading elsewhere, too.  In Asia, where competition to get in to elite colleges is fierce, I understand that preparations for this can begin as early as kindergarten. 

     Let’s recall Pink Floyd’s song The Wall: “Teacher leave them kids alone. Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!”    It starts in kindergarten.

     If you have small children or grandchildren in kindergarten, hang around some time and see what they do.  Check out whether your kids are allowed to be kids, or whether they become miniature college students.  You do have the choice – you can pick nurseries and kindergartens that get it.  It’s your responsibility. 


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital