Creativity constrained by the core curriculum

Katherine Taylor

Do schools kill creativity? Ken Robinson, TED talks lecturer, international educational adviser and author of “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,” argues that they do.

His ultimate point is that “creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.” He points to how schools all over the world champion languages and mathematics far above drama and the arts. “As children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up,” Robinson said. “And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.” After childhood, studies become more focused on rigid academics and on the less creative side of the brain. Robinson’s analysis can easily be extended to the higher education system. And if it is true, it seems to offer an explanation as to why some of today’s most talented billionaires and geniuses, such as Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, all dropped out of college. Their universities did not offer opportunities to cultivate their creativity, fundamentally innovative ideas and new ways of thinking.

It’s easy to see how that statement is true at UT. Because of various restrictions, it’s almost impossible for students to take classes outside of their respective colleges unless they are required by the University’s core curriculum. It is even difficult for students to take classes outside of their majors but in their colleges because of restricted classes or rigid degree plans.

The current focus on four-year graduation rates does not make it seem likely that these opportunities will expand anytime soon. While an expedient path to graduation is a worthy goal for the University, we have to make sure that students are graduating with improved creative skills in addition to academic skills.

But how can students nurture their creative sides when they are forced to take so many classes to satisfy the core curriculum requirements? In this way, students neither have the opportunity nor the time to take classes they simply find interesting.

What about the pre-med student who comes to college to discover a great passion and talent for music? How would he or she have time to pursue that?

Lynne was diagnosed in the 1930s with a learning disorder because her school found her inability to sit still and learn disruptive to other students. Perhaps she had what we would now diagnose as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Lynne eventually went to choreograph some of the best known musicals in the world, such as “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” Her school was not encouraging her to pursue her talents.

What if students come to UT unaware of potentially great, creative talents they have? How would they go about finding them? To avoid squandering creative potential and to continue to foster more of it, the University should adopt an open curriculum such as those at Amherst College and Brown University. Both schools have no required coursework outside of specific majors. If that solution sounds too impractical, UT should at least make registration for courses in different colleges more flexible and incorporate more ways for students to make use of all the resources this campus has to offer.