Too many parents, teachers, and school administrators falsely think that by putting children in high achieving programs science programs, music lessons for hours per week for year after year, or preparing them for AP or SAT exams from the time they are 12 years old to get them into the most prestigious colleges, will create masters of creativity.
Adam Grant, in his article, How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off, points out the errors of that strategy while explaining a WISE way to allow creativity to rise up within a child. For example, he points out that if you,
“Consider the nation’s most prestigious award for scientifically gifted high school students, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, called the Super Bowl of science by one American president. From its inception in 1942 until 1994, the search recognized more than 2000 precocious teenagers as finalists. But just 1 percent ended up making the National Academy of Sciences, and just eight have won Nobel Prizes.”
Originality does not come from practice, practice, and practice or following a long list of rules.
“What holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original…. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.” “They focus their energy on consuming existing scientific knowledge, not producing new insights.”
What does lead to a more creative child and adult?
Grant tells us that two important factors are “developing one’s own ethical code” and “finding joy in work”. Children who grew up to be more creative adults were able to figure out their own values and discover their true interests.
Studies showed that children whose parents and teachers allowed them to respond to follow their intrinsic motivations, interests, and “enthusiasm in a skill” were most likely to develop into creators, not followers.
“What motivates people to practice a skill for thousands of hours? The most reliable answer is passion — discovered through natural curiosity or nurtured through early enjoyable experiences with an activity or many activities.”
Bottom line? Grant tells parents, “If you want your children to bring original ideas into the world, you need to let them pursue their passions, not yours.”
I would argue that school leaders must do the same.
Do enough high schools allow their students to create “individualized real-world experiences (WISE projects), exploring their passions outside the traditional classroom”? Do enough enable their seniors of all ability levels to design an individualized, passion-driven project such as internships, independent research, self-improvement, community service or cultural, artistic and performance-based activities so that students can discover in themselves and in one another skills, strengths and talents they had not realized were present?
That, by far is the WISE choice.