Do you think you’re creative?”
Ask this question of a group of second-graders, and about 95 percent of them will answer “Yes.” Three years later, when the kids are in fifth grade, that proportion will drop to 50 percent—and by the time they’re seniors in high school, it’s down to 5 percent.
Author Jonah Lehrer recently discussed the implications of these sobering statistics for education in his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. In a talk and question-and-answer session he participated in at the Commonwealth Club in Palo Alto, California, last month, Lehrer talked about why children lose their playful sense of creativity as they get older, and how we can help them hang on to it.
Lehrer began by quoting Picasso: “Every child is born an artist. The problems begin once we start to grow up.” Actually, Lehrer noted, the problems begin in a very specific time frame: the years covering third, fourth, and fifth grade. It’s during this period, he says, that many kids “conclude that they are not creative, and this is in large part because they start to realize that that their drawing is not quite as pretty as they would like, that they can put the brush in the wrong place, that their short stories don’t live up to their expectations—so they become self-conscious and self-aware, and then they shut themselves down.” Parents and teachers must intervene during this crucial window to ensure that children’s creativity doesn’t wither.
One such intervention: “We have to expand our notion of what productivity means,” said Lehrer. “Right now we are grooming our kids to think in a very particular way, which assumes that the right way to be thinking is to be attentive, to stare straight ahead—which is why we diagnose 20 percent of kids in many classrooms as having attention deficit disorders, when the research is actually more complicated.”