American Creativity Has Declined

…because we’re screwing up our kids.




As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity – by Dr. Peter Gray

If anything makes Americans stand tall internationally it is creativity.  “American ingenuity” is admired everywhere. We are not the richest country (at least not as measured by smallest percentage in poverty), nor the healthiest (far from it), nor the country whose kids score highest on standardized tests (despite our politicians’ misguided intentions to get us there), but we are the most inventive country.  We are the great innovators, specialists in figuring out new ways of doing things and new things to do. Perhaps this derives from our frontier beginnings, or from our unique form of democracy with its emphasis on individual freedom and respect for nonconformity.  In the business world as well as in academia and the arts and elsewhere, creativity is our number one asset.  In a recent IBM poll, 1,500 CEOs acknowledged this when they identified creativity as the best predictor of future success.[1]

It is sobering, therefore, to read Kyung Hee Kim’s recent research report documenting a continuous decline in creativity among American schoolchildren over the last two or three decades.[2]

Kim, who is a professor of education at the College of William and Mary, analyzed scores on a battery of measures of creativity—called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT)—collected from normative samples of schoolchildren in kindergarten through twelfth grade over several decades.  According to Kim’s analyses, the scores on these tests at all grade levels began to decline somewhere between 1984 and 1990 and have continued to decline ever since. The drops in scores are highly significant statistically and in some cases very large.  In Kim’s words, the data indicate that “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”

According to Kim’s research, all aspects of creativity have declined, but the biggest decline is in the measure called Creative Elaboration, which assesses the ability to take a particular idea and expand on it in an interesting and novel way. Between 1984 and 2008, the average Elaboration score on the TTCT, for every age group from kindergarten through 12th grade, fell by more than 1 standard deviation. Stated differently, this means that more than 85% of children in 2008 scored lower on this measure than did the average child in 1984.  Yikes.

You might wonder how creativity can be assessed.  By definition, any test with questions that have just one right answer or one correct pathway to solution is not a test of creativity.  The Torrance Tests were developed by E. Paul Torrance in the late 1950s, when he was an education professor at the University of Minnesota.  During the immediate post-Sputnik period, the U.S. government was concerned with identifying and fostering giftedness among American schoolchildren, so as to catch up with the Russians (whom we mistakenly thought were ahead of us in scientific innovation).

Read it all

We really hope you’ll read on because we have to admit that the above is where we stopped. Mainly because we just can’t wrap our heads around the notion that creativity can be assessed in a formal testing procedure. Especially when we’ve never seen a study that seemed to be able to even define what creativity is.

But be that as it may, hell yes we’re convinced that our kids aren’t as creative as we are. Because, you know, we’re really, really, really creative and nobody we’ve ever met, especially those #%$!ers who keep rejecting our work and/or giving us notes on how to supposedly improve it come even close to our unique creative bent.

There. We feel much better now. Thanks for the fish.

One thought on “American Creativity Has Declined”

  1. Kids aren’t lacking creativity–but adults are doing a great job of stifling it, making children conform to some ridiculous politician-developed standard, and devaluing individuality.

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