from the Opal Museum Charter School - an exemplary wonder-based school

"We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit."
-e.e. cummings

Would that e.e. cummings were our nation's Education Czar. Granted, it will take more than Superman or a playful poet to make a difference in our schools and colleges. But the mounting national dialogue on creativity and education suggests we might be primed to do just that. Are we?

Following President Obama's call for innovation in business and education, I proposed 6 concrete wonder-based actions that involve everything from hiring to autonomy.

Todd Karshadan - a contributor to - also posted a thoughtful piece about creativity and education at his blog Curious?. He offers three specific proposals, among them the need to encourage autonomy and the need to recognize that human beings - whether children or adults - need periods of renewal to refuel their cognition for optimal learning.

Here, I'd like to elaborate on Karshadan's ideas and make three observations about culture, colleges, and uncertainty.

1. Innovation only sticks if it's part of a culture that values innovation. Businesses are hindered by the same contradictions as schools between what leaders say about creativity and innovation versus what actually happens. For instance, we've heard plenty about IBM's survey of how CEOs say the #1 resource they seek in new employees is creativity. But a study still in press in February and to be published by The Journal of Social Psychology suggests that people who propose creative ideas often are perceived as having lower leadership potential than those who do not.

The same dilemma often applies to schools: An administrator might say she wants more innovative thinking, but the existing culture typically prevails over innovative ideas such as giving students more autonomy. My experience, too, has been that innovative teachers often are viewed as threats by their colleagues unless a campus's whole culture explicitly values innovative practices such as those Karshadan proposes.

Design thinking can address campus systems. Some consulting firms such as IDEO have had continued success in working deliberately with teams of educators to integrate elements of discovery and innovation into their campus culture and curriculum. Design thinking engages everybody. Its emphasis on possibilities, smart design, and teamwork were all the buzz at the Tedx Conference for educators and parents and anyone engaged with education. You can get a glimpse and download IDEO's Design Thinking for Educators handbook here.

Creativity and innovation ultimately have to be embraced as part of campus culture. It must become systemic - without becoming routinized - in order to prevail. It begins with leadership and right hiring of hybrid thinkers, for instance.

2. What about curiosity and wonder for colleges? Anya Kamenetz's book on the DIY U addresses higher education. Otherwise, dialogue about education and creativity often overlooks "higher" ed.(I might be wrong, readers. If so, please correct me with links to resources.)

Similar systemic problems occur at the college level. We know that creative individuals thrive on uncertainty, that scientific break-throughs and reality-challenging art are born from individuals and teams given constantly to wonder and curiosity.

Yet, many college classrooms remain set up for the professor to dispense discipline-based information with some critical thinking possibly mixed in, and many graduate programs are designed to train students to perpetuate the methodologies of the discipline. How can colleges develop field-driven and discipline-specific mastery in a culture that aims to develop not creative thinkers but creative human beings?

Creativity is less about thinking creatively than it is about being and becoming creative.

3. Case in point: uncertainty and "productive stupidity." I especially appreciated Karshadan's comments about teachers needing to model uncertainty. This attribute is essential to long-term and 'higher' learning and is antithetical to our test-driven culture of certainty.

I've interviewed a microbiologist at The University of Virginia who advocates PhD programs to encourage in their students "productive stupidity" - that capacity to push one's self to the edge of what one thinks one knows. 

Can administrators and educators - as well as students and parents and consultants and experts - really create a whole new system, a whole new culture whose very institutional roots shun what it later celebrates - innovation? Do we need to step back and retrain and re-educate, in a wholly radical and discomforting way, otherwise well-intending and eager educational leaders and educators?

The dialogue does give me hope.

Now let's see actions from the White House to the school board to the dean's office to the kitchen table.

Drop In: I don't have the answers here, but Karshadan continues what is a vital and engaging dialogue about education and creativity. I hope you'll continue it here and on Todd's blog with your comments, questions, and resources.

See you in the woods,

Twitter: JeffreyDavis108
The Journey from the Center to the Page (Penguin 2004; Monkfish 2008)
Tracking Wonder/A Hut of Questions
Where It All Begins: Writing, Yoga, Wonder at UNM's Taos Summer Writer's Conference

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