Is it on the list of things you look for in a primary school? And how will you know if it's really there, when every school brochure lists 'nurturing your child's creativity' as one of their selling points?
But we're ahead of ourselves - what do we mean by 'creativity'?
The dictionary gives this definition for creativity:
The ability to make or bring into existence something new.
That sounds like what I had in mind. But it's not how the word is used in Hong Kong. Here, if you sign your child up for a 'creative' after-school class (there's plenty of them!), they can expect to spend an hour dancing, drawing, or playing a musical instrument. If you look at what happens in a typical class though, the emphasis is on imitation, not creation.
Or how about the website of the government's new 'CreateHK', organisation, with the mission to 'drive the development of the creative economy in Hong Kong'. The options down the left side of the page spell out what they mean by a 'creative economy': 'Film services', 'Design', and 'Digital Entertainment'. That is, grown-ups' versions of the kids' dancing, drawing and music.
Does this mean you can only be creative (bring into existence something new) if you're involved with the arts? What about all the other fields people work in? Do we want companies filled with people who will do no more than they are told (imitators), or those who see the bigger goal and look for better ways to get there (creators).
I hope our daughters will grow up in that second group. That's the creativity I hope they'll find. But can a school teach it? Or at least create an environment that gives it a better chance?
If you'll bear with me, I'd like to turn to the man from the Ministry of Silly Walks for an explanation that makes most sense to me. John Cleese is talking to his shrink, Robyn Skynner, about the purpose of laughter.
Robin Well to explain that I need to tell you first about the two different ways in which we all relate to the world. Basically we function in two modes: 'open', and 'closed'.
John Explain, please. What's the 'open' mode?
Robin That's the mode we're in when we open ourselves up to the world, take in new information, and let it change our internal maps to make them more comprehensive and accurate; so that they reflect better how the world really is, and how we can work to get what we want from it.
John And the 'closed'?
Robin We move into the 'closed' mode when some action has to be taken. We give our attention to achieving some particular goal. So temporarily we narrow our focus and stop taking in all the information around us.
John Yes. If you're attacking a machine-gun nest, you shouldn't make a particular effort to enjoy the scenery.
Robin Right. Or even to see the funny side of what you're doing. So although the 'open' mode sounds rather attractive when I describe it ...
John ... because it conveys greater awareness, greater open-mindedness, greater relaxation, and more humorous and philosophical approach and so on ...
Robin ... we need the closed mode too, on every occasion we need to act.
John So, to be really effective we need to be able to alternate between the two modes. Well ... how do we switch between the two modes?
So to me it seems the creativity I'm looking for needs the ability to switch between the open and closed modes as easily as possible. Later, Robin talks about this. He views the open -> closed switch as something that happens automatically – when there's something concrete to be done, we switch into the closed mode to get on with it. BUT, the move from closed -> open is much harder. Once we're working in the closed mode, we're on automatic pilot, and it's very difficult to switch gears and change back to the open mode.
Reminiscing on my school days, we had three types of teacher.
I certainly enjoyed the third type of class best, and it was closest to the school environment I'm looking for. The mention of the joke is important too. Back to Robin again: he believed the most widely available tool that helps us make the switch from the closed mode to open is ... laughter! A good joke is enough of us to jolt us out of the closed mode, and back to the open.
So to come back to the question, of how to look for a school that fosters this type of creativity. I haven't ever seen a school that talks about promoting the switch between open and closed modes, but here are a couple of questions, based on the ideas above:
I've started writing this several times, and given up after struggling to get my thoughts straight. I hope this is clear enough, but let me know if it doesn't make sense, or you have a different view. I'd also be interested to hear any other tips for identifying whether a school fosters the type of creativity I'm interested in.