The Creativity Crisis

In 1968, George Land conducted a research study to test the creativity of 1,600 children (3-5) who were enrolled in a Head Start program. This was the same creativity test he devised for NASA to help select innovative engineers and scientists. The test had subjects look at a problem and come up with new, different, innovative ideas. The responses were used to assess a person’s creative capability. In George Land and Beth Jarman’s book Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today (2000), the authors researched children’s creative capacity throughout childhood. Over time, children became less and less creative:

  • Creativity scores amongst 5-year old’s: 98%
  • Creativity scores amongst 10-year old’s: 30%
  • Creativity scores amongst 15-year old’s: 12%
  • Given to 280,000 adults (average age of 31): 2%
  • According to Land, we can be at 98 percent, if we want to be.

After analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults, researcher Kyung Hee Kim (College of William & Mary) discovered creativity results have been steadily declining, just like IQ scores, since 1990. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is most serious. Dr. Kim states that “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant.”

Kyung Hee Kim analyzed creativity scores (TTCT) collected from schoolchildren in K-12th grade for two decades. The scores at all grade levels started declining from 1984-1990 and have continued to decline ever since. The decreases are massive and significant, because every aspect of creativity has fallen. The largest drop is in Creative Elaboration: the ability to take an idea and expand on it in an interesting and novel way.

  • Between 1984 and 2008, the Elaboration TTCT score from K-12th grade fell by more than 1 standard deviation.
  • More than 85% of children in 2008 scored lower on this measure than did the average child in 1984.

High-stakes testing has caused the creativity crisis in the U.S. During the 1990s, US politicians pushed test-taking skills to emulate the success of Asian students. High-stakes testing costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year, but the real cost is much higher. Highly selective university and graduate school admissions rely on high-stakes tests such as the ACT and the SAT. Testing companies reap the vast financial benefits: $18.5 billion (2017).

  1. Killed curiosities and passions
  2. Narrowed visions
  3. Lowered expectations
  4. Stifled risk-taking
  5. Destroyed collaboration
  6. Narrowed minds
  7. Killed deep thought and imagination
  8. Forced conformity
  9. Solidified hierarchy

“America has an increasingly limited number of individuals who are capable of finding and implementing solutions to problems our nation faces today. Children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” Dr. Kyung Hee Kim.

While the potential consequences are sweeping, the necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the number one leadership competency of the future. In reanalyzing Torrance’s data, Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University summarized that the correlation of lifetime creative accomplishment to childhood creativity was more than three times stronger than the correlation of lifetime creative accomplishment to childhood IQ. Children who conceived more inventive and original ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers.


Why are creativity scores falling?

One culprit is the number of hours children spend in front of the TV and playing videogames, instead of engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools, where there is no concerted effort to nurture the imagination or ingenuity of students. In early childhood, distinct types of free play are associated with high creativity. Students who spend more time in role-play (acting out characters) have higher measures of creativity, because voicing someone else’s point of view helps them develop their ability to analyze situations from different perspectives. Pretend play is a safe place to work through thoughts and emotions. In middle childhood, kids sometimes create imaginary worlds (paracosm). Kids revisit these thoughts repeatedly, sometimes for months, and even create languages spoken there.

This type of fun and free play peaks at age nine or ten and is a very strong sign of future creativity. A Michigan State University study of MacArthur “genius award” winners found a remarkably high rate of paracosm creation in their childhoods. Another example is playing a musical instrument when younger. There’s a mounting body of evidence that shows that many of the most successful and brilliant adults studied music at some point in their lives. Music does not necessarily have some magical ability to make people smarter. Rather, it gives the brain an opportunity to practice abstract and creative thoughts. Creativity is not easy; it takes practice.

To properly prepare children for the continuing global challenges, our schools and educational systems must help students achieve their full potential. It is our belief that all children have unique talents, but unfortunately these gifts are often squandered, underutilized, or simply dismissed because they are not recognized or nurtured at an early age. Our schools stigmatize mistakes, criticize individualism, and censure independent thinking. Creativity has been deemed a disruption in the classroom instead of an opportunity for growth.

Students must be provided the opportunities to participate in creative programs and workshops where their thoughts and ideas have a place to grow and flourish. However, most schools today are academically inadequate, with “dumbed-down” curricula. Instead of nurturing future leaders, our educational system is fostering mindless complacency. Meanwhile, parents are in search of cultural enrichment and educational opportunities for their children: something engaging, enlightening, and inspirational. The statistics speak for themselves, and the situation is getting worse.

Carl Brigham, the inventor of the SAT, conceived the test for the military and disowned it five years later. The SAT creates a shadow curriculum that furthers the goals of neither educators nor students. It was supposed to measure intelligence and verify students’ high school GPAs. It has failed to accomplish this and is irrelevant, because it has nothing to do with what children learn in high school and does not predict how individuals will transition into a career. Yet students who do not test well or who are not strong at the kind of reasoning the SAT assesses often compromise on their collegiate futures, all because we have accepted that intelligence can be measured by a single test score.

“Education is the system that is stifling the talents and abilities of students while killing their motivation to learn.
Schools are draining people of their creative possibilities and producing a workforce that’s conditioned
to prioritize conformity over creativity.” – Sir Ken Robinson

Our entire educational system is predicated on a questionable hierarchy that places conformity above creativity, and the consequences are that many talented, brilliant, and imaginative students never discover their gifts and therefore fail to realize their true potential. For children to be successful in the classroom and beyond, they must learn the skills that foster innovation, independence, leadership, and critical thinking.

  • Deutsche Bank CEO predicts that half of its 97,000 employees will be replaced by robots.
  • Separate research shows that accountants have a 95% chance of losing their jobs to automation in the future.
  • 67% feel that they lack the necessary skills and resources to succeed creatively.
  • One survey revealed that 39% of jobs in the legal sector could be automated in 10 years.
  • However, work that requires a high degree of imagination, creative analysis, and strategic thinking is harder to automate.

  • Creativity will drive the U.S. economy (US News).
  • Surveyed CEOs stated that the most valued employee skill is creativity.
  • The Creative Industries have faster job growth and slower job loss than other sectors.
  • Artists have higher levels of education when compared to the U.S. work force as a whole.
  • 78% of people believe that expressing creativity makes a real difference in their jobs.
  • From 1998 and 2015, the arts and culture sector’s GDP contribution grew by 40%.
  • Artists and creative companies added a combined total of $50 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015.