“Every child is an artist, the trick is to stay one as you grow up.” - Pablo Picasso
I went to a public school in Florida. When I was in 3rd grade, I was pulled out of class. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t really care—I was bored in school. I was taken to a strange room, and given some kind of test that involved solving puzzles and riddles. I must have done okay, because from that point on, once a week, I got to leave my regular boring class and go to a special class where the teacher was super fun and all we did was play games, solve riddles, and make stuff. I later learned I’d been labelled as 'gifted' by the Florida public school system.
As a 'gifted' student, I was put into a special curriculum track designed to foster my creativity. I was introduced to programs like Future Problem Solvers (FPS) where teams of kids are taught creative thinking skills. These programs, along with all the art classes I could take, helped me survive public school with a creative mind somewhat intact.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. As an adult, I continue to use creative thinking skills every day as a filmmaker and digital strategist.
Last April, I made a short film called “Caine’s Arcade” about a creative 9-year-old boy who built a cardboard arcade in his dad’s East LA auto parts shop. The film went viral, raised a $228,000 scholarship fund for Caine, and inspired a global movement of cardboard creativity in kids around the world.
When I first met Caine, I’d ask him what he wanted to be when he was older, and Caine would say he wanted to join the SWAT team. After the film came out, Caine started to talk about being an engineer or a game designer. Nothing against Caine joining the SWAT team, it was just cool to see Caine also realize he could have a career based on his creativity and passion for building. Caine has started to see himself as the 'gifted' kid that he is.
Regarding the idea of a 'gifted' label—if you have yet to see Salman Khan's TED Talk about the Khan Academy—it’s a must-see. For me, one of the most profound insights was some data the Khan Academy uncovered revealing that students traditionally considered ‘slow’ in proficiencies like math were often just temporarily behind students identified as ‘gifted.’ In a traditional school system, the ‘slow’ kids get left behind and never catch up to the ‘gifted’ kids. However, given a tool like the Khan Academy that allows kids to learn at their own pace, these ‘slow’ students consistently catch up (and often surpass) the 'gifted' students.
It's likely something similar happens with fostering creativity. Kids like me who get labeled as ‘gifted’ have our creativity fostered. Meanwhile, other kids get left behind.
I met Caine by chance on the last day of summer. Had I visited his dad’s shop one day later, I would have missed him. Instead, Caine's creativity was celebrated and a global community rallied together to support his future. But how many kids like Caine are being missed, both inside and outside of schools?
Creativity is an essential skill for the future economy and challenges. Unfortunately, as Sir Ken Robinson points out in the most viral TED Talk ever, schools too often kill creativity when they should be doing the opposite. We know that creative thinking can be taught; governments in Japan and China are already making systemic changes to their education system to put the fostering of creativity and innovation front and center. But it’s not just schools that need to change, communities have a role to play as well.
My Wish for the Future is for a world that celebrates creativity as a core social value and works collectively to foster the talents of every child.
To this end, we recently launched the Imagination Foundation with the goal of fostering creativity in kids like Caine everywhere. The Imagination Foundation will leverage a global community to find more inspiring stories (like Caine’s Arcade), to convert these stories into creative curriculum and challenges (like our first annual Global Cardboard Challenge), and to develop dedicated spaces for creative making and play in neighborhoods and classrooms worldwide. If you would like to be a part of this effort, please join us at imagination.is/join.
And please share your thoughts on fostering creativity in classrooms and communities in the comments. What do you think is working? Who is getting left behind? Did your creativity survive public school? What's your story?
Box photo via Shutterstock