Homeschooling and Creativity
February 24, 2012 7 Comments
I don’t have a strong opinion on Dana Goldstein’s controversial Slate column that argues homeschooling violates progressive values. So many different factors are important during childhood (family income, social skills, health, peer group, etc.) that I think education decisions need to be judged on a case by case basis. There doesn’t seem to be much value in blanket statements about what type of educational setting is good or bad for a large diverse population of people. (For example, if putting your kid into public school stunts his development and ability to contribute to society, that’s not a positive progressive outcome.)
That said, one area where homeschooling could potentially have a big impact is a child’s creativity. In an excerpt from his new book, Jonah Lehrer discusses how forcing humans together leads to creative sparks.
The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right—enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways—the group dynamic will take care of itself. All these errant discussions add up. In fact, they may even be the most essential part of the creative process. Although such conversations will occasionally be unpleasant—not everyone is always in the mood for small talk or criticism—that doesn’t mean that they can be avoided. The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks.
Having more classmates means more interactions and more opportunities for creativity. Lehrer does point out that creativity doesn’t always magically result from group formation. There must also be diversity of opinions, debate, and criticism.
A new study led by psychologist Simone Ritter digs even deeper into the basis of creativity. While past research has linked creativity with unusual or unexpected experiences, Ritter’s team found that these “diversifying experiences” don’t merely increase performance on various creativity assessments, they also increase cognitive flexibility.
In the first experiment, participants experienced complex unusual and unexpected events happening in a virtual reality. In the second experiment, participants were confronted with schema-violations. In both experiments, comparisons with various control groups showed that a diversifying experience—defined as the active (but not vicarious) involvement in an unusual event—increased cognitive flexibility more than active (or vicarious) involvement in normal experiences. Our findings bridge several lines of research and shed light on a basic cognitive mechanism responsible for creativity.
However likely it seems, there is still no guarantee that a generic public school will provide more of these “diversifying experiences.” We’ve all experienced the daily monotony and routine that allows our massive education system to remain stable.
Homeschooling could also do a lot to promote creativity. Some homeschooled children might take weekly field trips to museums, concerts, or legislative sessions. And let’s not forget about the archetype of a loner child who spends all day playing Dungeons & Dragons with his anthropomorphized stuffed animals. It’s possible that extreme loneliness could enhance creativity.
In the end, I don’t think one can conclusively say whether or not homeschooling is good or bad for creativity. (And it would be poor form for me to do so given my above screed against blanket statements on educational choices.) However, if it was my decision, I would want my kid’s brain out there colliding with as many other brains as possible.
Ritter, S., Damian, R., Simonton, D., van Baaren, R., Strick, M., Derks, J., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2012). Diversifying Experiences Enhance Cognitive Flexibility Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.02.009