The Sobering Creative Decline in American Children

Spend a few hours around a child and it quickly takes you back to the carefree days of innocence. Oh, to be young again! No bills to pay, no responsibilities, no planning for the (immediate or long-term) future. What I’d give to play house, make mud pies, and spend hours with my imagination without care! Well, okay, I do that last part a bit now as a writer, but you get the idea. Children still play with dolls. They still color and draw. Imaginary friends remain their fellow troublemakers. Research as of 2012 suggests, however, that in the past decades there is a creative decline in American children, and the reasons will not astound you.

“A Girl Studying” by mokra

A Creative Decline

According to research by Kyung Hee Kim, professor of education at the College of William and Mary, over the past two to three decades American children have experienced a decline in creativity. Kim measured this decline with the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), a test developed by E. Paul Torrance in the late 1950s as a response to the United States government’s desire to identify gifted American children for scientific innovation. The most frequent used of these tests basically uses marks on paper to measure a student’s creative response to stimuli. Don’t snub your nose at it yet: the test has show a significant correlation between childhood results and adult creative achievement. In fact, the TTCT has proven the best predictor of lifetime achievement than any IQ test or school grade.

By administering the TTCT to American schoolchildren of all ages between 1984 and 2008, Kim recognized a 85% decline between 1984 and 2008 just in the measure of Creative Elaboration, or the ability to expand on an idea in a novel way. The decline began between 1984 and 1990 and has continued. According to Kim:

…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.

Kindergarten through third-grade children showed the most significant decline in creative thinking, which is worrying for our future.

A Worrying Trend

As a country that prides itself on innovation, where will that leave America if this trend continues? When looking for freelance writing positions myself, the most important quality requirement for applicants is creativity. I’m part of that generation that experienced a decline; I graduated high school in 2006. Creativity, especially written, has always been a part of who I am, and I cannot imagine having a hard time thinking outside of the box; however, it is apparent that many of my peers and the younger generations fall into that category. Can I say that it doesn’t surprise me?

Testing and Memorization versus Thinking and Creating

Children are being taught to pass standardized tests instead of really learning. They’re memorizing information to pass a test instead of learning the importance of using it. I say this with a clear memory of my school years where in some classes we spent a whole semester copying notes or copying out of a book (because, of course, we didn’t have enough) instead of being taught. On a different note, many kids are sitting in front of the television or playing on a tablet instead of playing outside and using their imagination like we used to. Not to mention how many hate to read unless its Facebook or Twitter. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this applies to all children because there have been some awesome, brilliant kids doing absolutely amazing things, but I think too may are, in fact, being left behind. As an undergraduate student a few years ago, I was amazed at how some students couldn’t write a proper essay or didn’t know simple grammar rules. Where will that lead us in the future?

“Child Colouring a Book” by Alesia17

What Should We Do?

As someone who would be lost without the creative part of myself, it saddens me to think that as a country we are not fostering creativity in our children. Creativity leads to innovation. It leads to open thought and expression. It’s what drives the world forward. I don’t have children, but for those who do, please do one thing: support your child’s creative process and thinking the best you can. Don’t let government-mandated testing and teaching stamp it out. Get them to write! Help them find what they do love to read. Encourage music and painting. Indulge them in scientific interest and knowledge. Research shows they’ll be more successful for it. Success: isn’t that what we want for our kids?

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