The Best of Times. The Worst of Times (for Creativity).

Depending on who you listen to, 2013 has either been the worst year ever for creativity (Common Core!  Standardized tests!  Cuts to art and music programs!), or a revolutionary year for creativity (TED!  STEAM learning!  Makerspaces!).  Just today I read two blog posts with views that could lead an arts education advocate to either euphoria or despair.

In their post  Best of 2013: 7 Ways Imagination Ruled the World, GOOD celebrates wonderful examples of how creativity and innovation are being celebrated in communities and schools, from the one-day cultural and social media phenomenon of San Francisco’s Bat Kid, to the Global Cardboard Challenge that was inspired by the short film Caine’s Arcade, the story of an extraordinary young man with an imagination lit up by the search for a way to entertain himself while at his dad’s workplace all summer.  If you haven’t seen Caine’s Arcade, click on it below, and I dare you not to smile.

On the flip side, Slate’s essay  Inside the Box: People Don’t Actually Like Creativity argues that people like the products of creativity, valuing the work of art or the innovation that is the result of creative thinking, but that they don’t actually value creative people. The essay argues that people who think creatively are often dismissed by their co-workers, and most would much rather fit in than stand out for their creativity. It even cites a study that says that teachers tend to discriminate against their creative students.

Hmmm.  People don’t like or value creative people?  Makes me want to bury my head under the covers and give up the fight. Even teachers discriminate against their creative students? If people don’t value creativity among their peers and coworkers, why should we encourage it in schools?

Maybe it is because our world is biased against creative people that it is such a struggle to get people to value arts education in our schools.  But as arts education advocates, we don’t really have time to sit and dwell on all the ways the world is against us and our students. No doubt it is true, for some people, some of the time that people with out-of-the-box thinking are often labeled oddballs, or looked upon with suspicion, in school or in the workplace.  They always will be, just watch any John Hughes movie.  For every Ferris Bueller there will always be a Mr. Rooney, ready to crush the creative spirit.

But here is what I know that keeps me moving forward:  Caine’s Arcade has had over 4,000,000 views on YouTube, and this sweet little oddball of a boy encouraged kids all over the world to raid their parents’ recycling and make stuff.  Bat Kid electrified an entire city, and even President Obama joined in on the fun.  What was the whole Bat Kid thing but a day-long, site-specific improvisation that involved thousands of people who left their homes and offices to participate?  Watch a few flash mobs on YouTube (and there are a lot more than a few), and watch the looks of wonder on the faces of the unwitting people who just happened to be there at that moment.  People want this.  People want that feeling of wonder that is sparked by encountering truly creative people making things that fill us with joy and amazement and make us say “Wow. That is cool. How did anybody come up with that idea?”

As this year becomes 2014, I know arts education advocates like myself will keep pushing our agenda to keep the arts and creative learning in public schools, because even if there are people who don’t value creative minds, there are more of us who do, and those jaw-dropping moments of wonder and amazement at how astoundingly creative humans can be will become few and far between if we don’t continue to push for bands and choirs and art studios and school plays and Makerspaces in our schools.

Happy New Year!  May your year be filled with joy and wonder and creative experiences.

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