Creativity, within reason

In working with staff members lately, I am realizing the relationship between creativity and constraint, and the recent spate of articles discussing this point has given me some more insight into why this relationship produces the most compelling work. I pulled this in from T.S. Eliot via Blogspotting:

When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its outmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”

Eliot uses an exacting phrase here when he equates creative freedom with sprawl. It is a rare student that can perform task without boundaries or scaffolding, and I am sure that we have all had that issue in our own work as adults and professionals. I am finding that the more I work with teachers, it is much easier to take something that is familiar and they have had success with before and re-work it. Where before the boundaries were rigid, read/write technologies and applications are making it malleable and teachers are seeing their previous lessons have richer outcomes and higher levels of student ownership. We are being careful not to throw technology at them for the sake of using it, but rather only as a pedagogical tool.

It’s a pull v. push issue, where our creativity must exist within the confines of a fixed framework. Marissa Ann Mayer, of Google fame, began her recent article in Business Week, Creativity Loves Constraints with this fantastic statement:

” … When people think about creativity, they think about artistic work — unbridled, unguided effort that leads to beautiful effect. But if you look deeper, you’ll find that some of the most inspiring art forms, such as haikus, sonatas, and religious paintings, are fraught with constraints. They are beautiful because creativity triumphed over the “rules.” Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome. Creativity thrives best when constrained. But constraints must be balanced with a healthy disregard for the impossible. Too many curbs can lead to pessimism and despair. Disregarding the bounds of what we know or accept gives rise to ideas that are non-obvious, unconventional, or unexplored. The creativity realized in this balance between constraint and disregard for the impossible is fueled by passion and leads to revolutionary change …”

The classrooms of today, at times eerily similar to classrooms of twenty, thirty, and some would say one-hundred years ago, are fraught with limiting elements: parent pressures, individualized education programs, state standards and standardized testing, and, in reality, the physical four walls of the classroom. And yet, we continually push those boundaries, and read about others who are creating some fantastic projects like Clay Burell in Seoul, and Karl Fisch in Colorado. As hard as we may push against those confinements, the more useful we will find the struggle and thus the result.

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