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I recently read an article about an experimental education program that involves creative approaches to learning. It wasn't about just thinking up new ways to learn, it was about actually, literally using creativity as a way to learn things that most people might consider completely unrelated. Like using art to teach math. It was fascinating.
It is a fact that we are all either left-brain or right-brain dominant. The left-brain people tend to be better at math and math-related things and the right-brain people are usually better with language and tasks related to art and other creative endeavors. The real super geniuses are those who can can use both sides with equal acuity, like Leonardo Da Vinci or Archimedes. The point of the program described in the article was to attempt to teach left-brain tasks using right-brain strengths and visa versa.
One of the methods was particularly successful. They took very young school children and had them assign colors of their choice to numbers. Apparently, this is something we all tend to do either consciously or subconsciously, so it was not a stretch. If you think about it, you can probably associate numbers with colors pretty easily. Think about a number between 0 and 9 and just give it the first color that comes to mind. When they did it with young children they were able to make the association very quickly, which lends itself to the theory that they were doing it subconsciously already. Once the colors were assigned to the numbers it amazed the researchers how much more comfortable and connected the children became. By assigning colors to numbers it changed the whole dynamic of learning math.
This revelation didn't surprise me at all. First of all, all human beings, even the seriously right-brained ones, are constantly performing complex mathematical equations in their heads and are utterly unaware of it all the time. Whether you are trying to put a basketball in a net, skipping rope, applying force to an object, jumping over a creek, pouring a liquid into something, or throwing a pebble at a tree, you are performing the computations necessary to make it happen, or at least, your brain is without you even realizing it. That means that everyone, to one degree or another, has a brain wired for math. It's kind of like asking your computer to perform a task for you. You may have no idea how it is happening, but it obviously is because you can see the results.
Conversely, it could be said that the most human of human traits is the ability to create; no matter what form that creation takes. Art is, in any form, is definitely one of the things that defines our humanity. Because of this, it is reasonable to assume that we are also wired to be creative. There are people who would argue with this statement, particularly those who believe that they are utterly without any creative ability whatsoever, but I beg to differ. Creativity has a wide and diverse definition and if you think you are not creative it is because you either don't recognize some of what you do as creativity or you have yet to discover your creative niche. I truly believe this. One of the problems is that we don't assign enough value to creativity culturally. When a society values creativity to a high degree the level of creativity produced by that society increases exponentially. In the Golden Age of Classical Ancient Greece, creativity was considered as important and vital as any other kind of skill. As a consequence, they were a culture that produced a volume of art, science, philosophy, architecture, and literature that became the benchmark for western civilization. During other periods when creativity was highly valued, like the Renaissance and the Age of Reason, the advances in science and mathematics were as prodigious as the productivity in art and literature, all of which were vital to the evolution of mankind.
The creative impulse is a powerful thing, and although it can be squelched and devalued, which it often is, it cannot be ignored. It concerns me sometimes that what passes for creativity in the world is nothing more than craft, and craft done poorly, as evidenced of most of the things you see on television and in the movies. I fear that we put much more value on it than it deserves. It is, after all, more of a business than anything else and therefore, about money more than value.
Don't yell at your kid for drawing something on a wall, just give me the wonderful tools to draw on something more appropriately. I used to tape paper to the wall and let mine do murals. Encourage children to be creative and apply that creativity to the challenges of left-brain tasks. They might create something unique and beautiful. They might grow up and discover some creative ways to deal with some of our most pressing problems.
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