A major focus in schools these days is innovation: making, designing, creating. In the latest iteration of Bloom's Taxonomy, "creating" is considered a higher-order skill. When students are able to take what they have learned and make something new based on their knowledge, then they're demonstrating creativity.
However, whenever I ask students to do something "creative," most scoff back with: "I'm not artistic/creative," or "I don't work that way," or "but I can't do that."
And who can blame these students? When we show students images of Renaissance art or the latest version of the Tesla, and we tell them, "This could be you someday," we put a high premium on creativity. These works become unattainable, and therefore, when students are asked to be creative, they already have limited themselves in their own boxes of self doubt.
The good people at Stanford's d.school and the consultants at IDEO would advocate for breaking out of these self-imposed obstacles through a process called "design thinking." Design thinking calls for creativity in its most nascent forms: to think big and broadly about any ideas that first come to mind; to prototype and test these ideas; to "fail forward" at each stage of the design process; and eventually, create something that reflects a process-based effort--whether it be establishing a business, creating efficient workflow systems, or designing a household object.
This process is a wonderful equalizer for the classroom because it emphasizes meeting people where they are and designing from there. If one has access to funding and classroom spaces and instructors who promote design thinking habits of mind, they're more likely to produce innovative thinkers/makers who are ready for the demands of the 21st Century.
And what if schools/teachers don't have that kind of access? Are there other ways to promote creativity in the midst of the Common Core wars, promoting STEM for girls, inviting mindful uses of technology, and addressing the injustices that dominate the psyches of the underrepresented?
When I'm looking for answers to these big questions, I think about Schoolhouse Rock.
When I was a child, Schoolhouse Rock was all the rage: mini videos that taught important life lessons nestled in between Saturday morning cartoons. Between segments of Superfriends, I learned about how a bill becomes a law (politics), how not to drown my food in too much dressing (healthy eating), and the power of conjunctions (communication). There was a dandy little ditty to accompany each lesson--just to make it more memorable. Anyone who has seen these videos will start snapping their fingers and tapping their toes to those catchy tunes, and most likely, call up the lyrics like a familiar friend.
"Conjunction Junction," in particular, is the video I think of the most.
This video introduced language that most of today's grammar teachers call "FANBOYS" (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so): the words that serve as connection points in a sentence. The one conjunction that intrigues me most, the one that serves as the secret to creativity--in an access-for-all sort of way--is the word "and."
"And" is the word of possibility. It's a link that makes all things equal, and allows all ideas to have the same merit. Walt Whitman used "and" repeatedly in Leaves of Grass, as he catalogued the richness of America's diverse landscapes, ideologies, inhabitants. Tina Fey talks about "and" in her chapter, "The Rules of Improvisation" from her memoir, Bossypants. One exercise involves participants building upon one another's ideas using "yes, and..." to keep the improvisation connected in one continuous flow. And anyone who has engaged in nonviolent communication techniques relies upon the word "and" to allow for disagreements in a respectful manner. Whereas the word "but" denotes obstacles, "and" dismantles those obstacles in favor of a level playing field.
And what better way to invite creativity than to access the power of language?
As a connecting word, "and" could make for more inclusive--and creative--classroom spaces. During brainstorming sessions, students could use "and" to list all their ideas (no matter how out there) for a class project. Students who typically begin sentences with, "I'm not creative..." could follow up with "and I am going to try to do something new" instead of putting up barriers before they even begin. When disagreements arise, students can use "and" to acknowledge their peers' viewpoints without striking them down.
Deceptively simple, the word "and" invites the same skills as one engaged in an act of the imagination: to think differently about the familiar, to be inventive with words, to be resourceful about connecting ideas. And in an era that's all about innovation, "and" can be the great equalizer that allows everyone an entry point into the creative process.