Deirdre Moore | March 2014

Are You Biased Against Creativity?

Recently a friend sent an article to me entitled, “Inside the Box: People don’t actually like creativity” by Jessica Olien.  It’s a fascinating article and led me to a research study published by the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations designed to assess people’s real feelings toward creativity.  Here’s the quote from the introduction to the study that caught my attention:

Similarly, research documents that teachers dislike students who exhibit curiosity and creative thinking even though teachers acknowledge creativity as an important educational goal (Dawson, D’Andrea, Affinito, & Westby, 1999; Runco, 1989; Westby & Dawson, 1995).

It made me wonder, “Could that be me?  With all my talk about creativity and innovative ideas and helping students to be divergent thinkers could I actually be biased against those very things?”

Think about yourself for a moment.  You are an educator with many things on you plate.  You have a limited amount of time to cover a great many topics in the course of a school year and it seems like things are constantly being added but rarely are any being taken away.  You design carefully crafted lesson plans for thoughtfully considered units which all have to fit into your given time frame.  You have clear objectives and you know exactly where this lesson needs to go and how much time you have to get your students there.

You begin one of these fabulous lessons and are trying to equip the students with what they will need to participate in a learning activity when Suzie Student raises her hand and asks a thoughtful question that shows amazing insight, curiosity and divergent thinking and also threatens to derail your whole lesson.  What is your gut reaction?  How do you feel about Suzie Student in that moment?  Are you excited about the fact that she is really thinking “outside the box”, are you secretly stressing in your mind about how you are going to handle this question and still stay on track or are you actually a little annoyed?

I remember back in middle school my teacher explaining to the class that the principal would be making a visit to our classroom.  After reminding the students to be on their best behavior, the teacher turned to me and warned, “And none of your pesky questions.”  What an impression that made on me!  I was astounded that a teacher would instruct me not to ask questions, pesky or otherwise.  Now that I am standing in her shoes, however, I can appreciate where she was coming from.

I am still astounded that she said it but I can empathize with her exasperation.  Students that constantly challenge your thinking and your well laid plans can be exhausting.  I loved reading “Calvin and Hobbes” for all Calvin’s innovative ideas and challenges made to conventional wisdom but I also remember thinking I probably wouldn’t want to be his teacher!

I started this article with a provocative quote from the study on bias against creativity so I will end with one as well.

If people hold an implicit bias against creativity, then we cannot assume that organizations, institutions or even scientific endeavors will desire and recognize creative ideas even when they explicitly state they want them….  In addition, our results suggest that if people have difficulty gaining acceptance for creative ideas especially when more practical and unoriginal options are readily available, the field of creativity may need to shift its current focus from identifying how to generate more creative ideas to identifying how to help innovative institutions recognize and accept creativity.

This certainly gives me pause to examine my own possible bias against students who demonstrate truly innovative thinking.  It also challenges me to consider how I might best be an advocate for creativity in our schools and in our classrooms to help children and adults alike truly embrace the uncertainty and challenges that new ideas and creativity generate.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.