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Why We Need a Universal Language for Creativity in Classrooms

We need a common definition that everyone can work towards.


When we speak of the education crisis in the United States, there's one fallacy: We refer to it as ONE singular crisis or problem when in reality, it's a set of issues that in the end combine into one wicked problem. How do we solve such a big problem systematically, one bite at a time? First and foremost, there's a need for one common language that everyone involved can agree on and refer to. I've seen this firsthand through my work with No Right Brain Left Behind, an effort to organize the creative industries around solving the creativity crisis in education.

Every year, NRBLB holds a design challenge where the best and the brightest in the creative industries dream up ideas that we turn into actions. The problems we'll face in the next hundred years will be radically different from the last 100. The reality is schools are preparing children for the 21st century with a 19th century model. Creativity and innovation in classrooms is directly related to the ability to cope with issues never before seen or encountered. The progress of the global marketplace and our culture's ability to endure is also directly related to our ability to break through conventional thinking. Creativity lies at the core of all that. It is also missing where needed most—in classrooms.


If we are to solve for creativity in education, we need a common language that defines what creativity in education means—a set of common values, subjects, and metrics that we can all agree on. See, creativity is inherently a very broad and vague concept—it's hard to measure. You know when you see it but you can't define it. Some people feel it is arts, painting, and dance, while others see it as cultivating risk taking, empathy, and design thinking.

It might feel a bit mechanical—or rigid—to try and define creativity, but the tech industry provides an example of why it's so critical to do this. Since the early 1980s, the tech industry has molded itself to be the most efficient and well oiled industries on the planet. From ideation to product, visionary companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google have perfected the art of taking a concept from its womb, prototyping, testing, refining, and taking it public. A fundamental strength was that all parties involved had universal languages to refer to. Think about code: the ability of hardware and software to speak to one another, by rules and standards agreed upon, where old ideas could be built upon on and improved by new originators—that dialogue has shaped the trajectory of the industry. Speaking the same coding languages was, and still is, at the base of efficiency and progress.

NRBLB has three areas of focus that have to be a part of any definition of creativity. Entrepreneurship is a key part since the future entrepreneur is not a business man or woman. She is a change-maker. We need to foster generations who understand the value and impact of social entrepreneurship and have the tools and courage to make change happen in their communities. Creativity is at the core of starting any worthy entrepreneurial endeavor.

Communication is the second piece since it's the umbrella of visual and performing art, and the written word. We need to find concepts where creative communication not only enhances creative scores, but can enhance science, technology, engineering, and math results as well. We need to find ways to work together with current STEM efforts, both in curriculum, metrics, and testing.

The last component is media literacy. Responsible and ethical consumption and production of media, applications, and understanding of the media landscape is directly related to radical thinking in the 21st century. Learning the ropes around computer coding—which merges the media arts and technology—will eventually become as important as math and literacy.

Ultimately, at whatever definition we arrive, change needs to be scalable. NRBLB's model is based on taking the best ideas that come out of the challenge, implementing them in classrooms, and then scaling them nationally and globally.

As NRBLB prepares for the next creativity challenge, we're looking for input from you to help us refine this definition. What are we missing? Solving the creativity crisis can only happen through radical collaboration and shared value—an idea is only as good as the muscle behind it. You are that muscle.

Bright light bulb image from Shutterstock

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