Monday, August 29, 2011

Creativity Counts More than Education

When I was probably in second or third grade, I started wondering about intelligence.   It may have been because my age group was randomly chosen to serve as the national base for intelligence tests.  Every two years, we took the tests – along with thousands of school kids nationwide – and our scores then served as comparisons for everyone else.

Naturally, we all learned about I.Q.s and the like.

At the same time, I knew my twin brother and younger brother were very smart, but I wondered if their intelligence reflected natural gifts or a better memory.  I couldn’t do anything if they were born smarter, but I could work on my memory.  For many years, that’s what I did. I forced myself each night to remember what happened during the day.  Over time, I strengthened my memory.  Today, I can remember much more of my youth – and books I read – than my twin brother.  I don’t know if that makes me smarter, but it has opened insights into intelligence and learning.

Along the way, I realized that Americans aren’t interested in knowledge.  They never have been.  Instead, Americans prize native intelligence, the ability to succeed without having one’s mind packed with facts.  As Paul Simon noted in his song Kodachrome:

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school,
It's a wonder
I can think at all …

Our past heroes are individuals like Abraham Lincoln, who became president despite only an estimated 12 months of formal education; Daniel Boone, who rarely went to school and taught himself to read;  or inventor Thomas Edison, who dropped out of school at age 7.  These days, we admire college dropouts like Bill Gates, David Geffen, Richard Branson and so many others.  College professors are seen as living in isolation from the real world and are often targets of comedians and cartoons.

Such thinking is reflected in modern approaches to education.  Political leaders today shun education ideas offered by college graduates who actually studied education to dictate how students should learn.  They have formalized standard tests to make sure that students have “learned.”

The students may have facts, but that isn’t important.  What really matters is creativity, the ability to use any knowledge to develop new ideas and take a different path – as noted in poet Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Lincoln, Gates and the others did not succeed because they were saturated with knowledge.  Rather, they achieved because they were capable of putting whatever knowledge they could obtain to its optimum use.  My brothers didn’t know more than me: they simply had the capacity to use what they knew in a different way than I could.

That can’t be tested in a conventional IQ exam, which today is no longer considered valid anyway because of, among other reasons, cultural bias.  That can only be encouraged through creative programs, allowing children to flex those mental muscles.  Those who lack that ability can then be directed into areas where their intelligence leads them.  This is not a “one size fits all” model of education we have now, but rather an approach that recognizes that all of us are different in how we learn and what we need to know.

Top schools that teach medicine, engineering and other specialized fields have begun to recognize the need to expand the minds of their students by adding coursework in unrelated fields.  They need students who know their field, but can think, too.  We all do. 

Author Isaac Azimov once considered this issue in a science fiction story about a young man shunted away from his classmates.  The lad was depressed, thinking he has failed.  Instead, he has been selected because he thinks creatively.  Education, Azimov wrote, had become so straight-laced that society was in danger of becoming victimized by its rigid approach.  Society needs people who can move beyond the narrow confines of any subject to develop new concepts.

IQ tests may help pinpoint such children, but they must be allowed to be creative.  Our current education system does exactly the opposite.  Reality is reflected in the dismal figures.  A 2008 study found that nearly 50 percent of all public high school students in this country’s 50 largest cities do not graduate.  The report states that “some 1.2 million public high school students drop out every year.”

Some will be successful anyway.  Most will not.  Stifled and confused, they will join so many before them.  There’s no way to save all students, but we can certainly do a better job than we are doing now.  People who simply learn facts cannot help society continue to flourish.  Facts stifle growth. 

We must change education to reflect how people think and encourage them to do so.   It’s simply the intelligent thing to do.

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion, religious history and current events.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  Many of his essays are posted at

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