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The Creativity Problem

George David Clark’s recent post, “The Patience Problem,” and my own classroom experiences got me thinking about not just the energy crisis in the classroom at this time of year but, more specifically, the creativity crisis. As Clark says, students are loaded down more and more with work and other responsibilities. As a consequence, their creativity is stifled.

I recently watched a YouTube video of John Cleese talking about creativity. In it, he says space and time, among other things, are crucial elements for people to come up with original ideas. People who intend to be creative need to create an “oasis” by “setting boundaries of space and time,” he says. It has to be a quiet space with enough time to let the worries of life, which will inevitably overtake quiet thinking, slip away after a while. He also says that the most creative people stick with problems or questions longer and usually don’t take the easiest or first solution they can think of.

Students need patience for everything, and they need space and time if they want to be creative. But, as Clark points out, they have deadlines too. Eventually, they have to turn things in and get grades, at least in the typical higher-education machine. And at a two-year college like mine, it’s not just crowded dorms and looming schoolwork that make an oasis of space and time difficult, but also jobs, families, commutes, and other such life factors. What I’m saying is, it’s hard. But it’s not impossible.

So in order to be an effective instructor, I need to acknowledge that sometimes less is more. Perhaps a day of writing instead of the typical lecture and discussion. Perhaps playing a relevant game in class. When it was warmer, we took walks (then wrote about them) or we went outside to observe the goings-on around us (then wrote about them). I admit we do less of this come November, when weather’s cooler and when I have my deadlines too. Perhaps the lesson here is that I need to work harder to create my own oasis of space and time so I can come up with more creative ways to make my students more creative.

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