In his Commentary “Creativity: The Path to Economic Recovery” (May 13, 2009), David Burns logically argues against emphasizing STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) at the expense of the arts in schools, asking, “If the business world is seeking creative thinking as the means to provide a competitive edge in the global economy, shouldn’t we plant the seeds of creativity in our education system?”
But if we are serious about cultivating creativity in young people, perhaps another level of creativity is required. Consider the example of Thomas Edison, who received only three months of formal classroom instruction, but as an adult held more than 1,000 patents. The implication is that forced institutionalization in schools until adolescence may not be in every child’s interest.
To encourage creativity—and to encourage children to grow up—perhaps we need to re-examine a century-long trend of ever-lengthening years of regimentation with same-age peers and isolation from work. Does compulsory school attendance encourage creativity? Would the nation be less creative without laws that keep today’s potential Edisons sitting in classrooms?
A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 2009 edition of Education Week as Does Compulsory School Encourage Creativity?