And the People Were(n’t) Singing

And the People Were(n’t) Singing

Has anybody read “The Creativity Crisis,” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in this week’s issue of Newsweek? It’s pretty scary-crazy stuff. It reports that American childhood creativity, as measured by the Paul Torrance, CQ tests, has been steadily declining since 1990. The article defines creativity as the ability to combine divergent thinking (generating lots of unique ideas) with convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best results), and says that kids who score high creativity indexes on the Torrance test consistently went on to become creatively successful adults: entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, software developers, etc.

The article suggests that a solution to this decline in creativity is to develop problem-based learning in schools, as opposed to drilling facts. This problem-based learning would get students thinking creatively in subjects beyond the arts, such as in the sciences and in engineering. This way students work together to determine the source of an issue, brainstorm ideas, then eliminate ideas to find a single, practical solution. This process trains them in both divergent and convergent thinking, “training” them to think creatively.

With the dominant trends in American education being “standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing,” the article got me thinking about grammar-school-level, children’s music education. What is the best course of action to engage children in art? From what I understand, there are four schools of children’s music education: Kodály, Orff, Dalcroze, and Suzuki. If I remember my grammar school music classes correctly, I think I was trained in the “ta-ta-ti-ti-ta,” hand-motion-movable-do-solfege school of Kodály (my teacher also employed a ferret hand puppet named Coco who taught us how to sing “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Not sure what school that falls under, but it meant my class grew up with a healthy appreciation for The Band). As part of my KTRU live broadcast series of the Shepherd Symphony Orchestra, a recent interview of mine with Head of the Young Children’s Division of the Michael P. Hammond Preparatory Program at Shepherd, Rachel Buchman, morphed from a 10-minute segment into an hour long conversation about Dalcroze. Other than that, my knowledge of Orff and Suzuki are limited to what Wikipedia tells me.

I don’t feel comfortable forming opinions about things I have limited knowledge about, but I’m genuinely interested in learning more. So I’m curious: what do you think is the solution to the American “Creativity Crisis”?

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6 thoughts on “And the People Were(n’t) Singing

  1. philmusic

    What is the best course of action to engage children in art?

    Thanks for bringing this up Joelle. Us folks in the children’s education biz are facing a lot of challenges these days. These include:


    The no child left behind law is killing arts education. How? By law the arts are not mandated only increasing test scores. So we are being sacrificed to the false premise that less art means more time for study – means higher test scores. See here Phil’s other blog an here Phil’s other other blog

    The disconnect between those who formulate education policy and and those who must implement it. Right now the move is to marginalize educationalists and move to business models (this persists even though business almost did our country in). I’m afraid mostly for union busting.

    Financial and political. As education now is the biggest item in state budgets, as welfare once was, we now see the search for the unremoveble “bad teacher” as the new “welfare Cadillac.” In addition money starved districts have to deal with self interested donors with axes to grind. Sad to say that the Gates foundation in particular does not support the arts. Others are strictly anti union and anti teacher. Finding good arts teachers and keeping them is not done on the cheep especially when they are out of the loop of test score productivity raises.

    Besides the above the answer to your question is simple; a caring, trained, professional arts teacher in the classroom doing their job.

    Dr. Phil Fried Phil’s page

  2. rtanaka

    Oh, I’m glad you brought this up because this is definitely an article that stuck with me after I read it.

    The solution is pretty clear, at least to me — less emphasis on standardized testing, more emphasis on project based curricula and other types of “hands-on” classes, and train the student toward developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, rather than the rote memorization of facts. I think the article itself implied that these were the things that were slowly being phased out of our schooling system, hence the “crisis”.

    Easier said than done, though. There’s a certain demographic of elitists who would actually prefer to have dumbed-down schools because a stupid population is also an easily controlled one. These are the same sorts of people who crashed our economic system and cause the oil leak in the Gulf due to their inability to see the picture in the long-term. Solutions to problems are often very obvious, but implimentation is a whole nother bag.

  3. rskendrick

    Great post!
    I think more arts education is part of the solution. But it also comes down to parents turning of the ‘boob-tube’ and the video games and encouraging their kids to get outside and play… have ’em get out and play in areas that foster creativity – like the woods. The creativity we develop as children playing, really helps as we go about solving problems as adults.

    I work in the business world, and have seen first hand the problems that come from the lack of a creative education. Anytime someone asks for ideas how to solve a problem, I usually can think of several, and I keep waiting for others to chime in, but they don’t. That creativity we use to solve problems composing has all sorts of applications outside of the actual writing of music.

    I’ve written extensively about this issue in my blog Understanding the Stakes

    Keep up the great work!

  4. mclaren

    Ever read the magazine Stone Soup?

    It’s nothing but poetry from kids under 12. Great stuff. Around 12, they start to tank and after 14 or 15, they’ve gone downhill. The creativity has been beaten out of ’em.

    Stop hammering the creativity out of kids, and they’ll be creative.

    Same deal on this forum. Every time I’ve mentioned some musically unusual I or someone else has done, ten bystanders rush out of the shower to explain (A) it’s worthless; (B) someone else did something vaguely like it in 1960 (but never carried that particular approach to its logical conclusion, by the way), so don’t bother; (C) it’s impractical; (D) it’s not a good career move, so stop doing it; (E) performers will rebel, so do something more performer-friendly.

  5. robin109

    I actually have no problem with standardized testing. I believe many teachers teach the test because they themselves lack creativity. Just because the government does not mandate arts education, does not mean in can not find its way into the classroom. I agree that creativity does seem to be in decline. I think it stems not only from schools but into the home. If you happen to have a bright creative child, don’t expect any help from the school on that either. My son has an IQ of 142 and school is really baby-sitting for him. I think the greatest advocate for music is musicians. We won’t win every battle but we can bring up lots of research about what we do. I have never believed the battle that “one must memorize” or one must be “creative” I memorize all the pieces that I perform and I create with them too. Change is best brought about be people not politicians. Fight for your children and others. Let us not forget the role good parenting plays in creativity. Video games, computers and electronic babysitters zap creativity a lot of the time. It is a problem of society. The change will be brought about one school at a time. One parent at a time. The beauty of the pendulum is that it will swing back.

  6. philmusic

    “.. I think the greatest advocate for music is musicians….”

    Robin, in the case of Saint Paul Public Schools, a highly rated district, the advice of musicians, musical experts, and their research, was ignored in the gutting of the elementrary music programs.

    Principals lose their jobs if test scores don’t improve. So the arts are being sacrificed for a mistaken short term gain.

    Phil’s page


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