The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Friday, March 27, 2009

How education can foster creativity

We cannot change what nature gives students in terms of basic intelligence. However, we can use methods of education that nurture the abilities and habits of mind known to foster creativity and productivity such as:

- Objective reasoning skills, not just in science and math, but all domains of knowledge, including such areas as art, history, and literature.

- Connecting information and ideas from one domain of knowledge to another (the way highly creative people do) by:

  • Studying works that are cross-domain, such as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, a work of moral philosophy that founded the study of economics
  • Raising awareness of cross-disciplinary connections by pointing out the relationships between material from different domains, for example, how the development of banking influenced the development of art during the Renaissance in Florence.

- Modeling careful observation of the facts and encouraging student's careful, first-hand observations 

- Modeling enthusiasm and curiosity in what is being studied and encouraging student's questions

- Modeling the search for the relationship of any idea to the facts on which it rests, for example in discussing climate change, ask students to think about questions such as "is climate change bad or good? On what facts and ideas are you determining that it is good or bad?" 

- Studying works infused with deep questions about meaning and purpose, which connects knowledge to living by:

  • Always asking what any given fact or idea means to human life
  • Asking of any knowledge: to whom is this information valuable and how will it be used?

- Presenting a broad array of information, ancient and modern, as Matthew Arnold put it, "the best that has been thought or said," in the works of the classics and extraordinary works of contemporary times. 

Through these works, students wrestle with timeless ideas, useful in any era or place. They engage their minds with those of the best thinkers in civilization, and with ideas that are extremely influential even today. The classics include works from philosophy to economics, mathematics to literature, history to science and are often cross-disciplinary within themselves. Simultaneously, the skill of their authors serves as examples of the highest in creative thinking.

Properly schooled to think deeply about these works, a person economically recognizes the patterns, trends, and influences of these ideas everywhere in our culture, from art to business, from job trends to medical discoveries. 

Studying the classics, students can come to an appreciation for the creative individuals who made our great civilization possible. Further, reflecting on concepts that we take for granted will raise students’ analytic thinking skills. 

One small example: Did you know that there was a time when people were confused about how something could be one thing now and another thing in the future? How could something be an acorn now and yet the very same thing is an oak tree later? They could not figure out how that worked. I’m sure you all take for granted the idea that something can actually be one thing yet potentially another—like a baby is potentially an adult human.

However, it took the genius of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle to resolve this problem with the identification of the concepts of “actual” and “potential.” Try to imagine our world without these ideas—it would be hard enough to think about the growth of a plant, how could we think about science and technology or civilizations? 



RJO said...

Raising awareness of cross-disciplinary connections by pointing out the relationships between material from different domains

That's one of my favorite topics and tasks. I call it "teaching with-out the curriculum" and have written quite a few mini-essays to illustrate the practice:

For a simple and playful example see "Every college needs an auspex."

Marsha Familaro Enright said...

Thanks for the link to your essays. The world as curriculum!