Picture this: you’re 22 years old, recently graduated with an undergraduate degree from a university that you would have sold an arm or a leg to get into four years ago. In high school, you spent your afternoons making passable grades (primarily excelling in the Arts and English), creating art and pocketing a sketchbook with you wherever you went. As a recent college grad, you now have the “world at your fingertips” according to last week’s graduation speaker and until you figure out your “next step,” you also have a one-way ticket to the guest room in the basement of your parents’ new downsized home (which you’ve featured a doleful sketch of in your pocket-sized sketchbook that is now tattered and ripping from countless teachers confiscating it over the years only for you to repossess “at the end of class”).
Perhaps by this point, you have stopped using the right side of your brain all together because growing up, your teachers only tended to the left side of your brain, the “academic” side of your brain. Your right side has almost always been neglected except for those rare moments in college when you got the chance to illustrate something on the board, or draw out a picture of the velociraptor you were trying to study for geology sophomore year. Why is this? Why is it that colleges are not educating students in creativity the way they educate and enforce mathematics and science? Why is it that in third grade (and into college), you were taught that you are not “smart” because you could not complete 60 multiplication problems in one minute.
However, when asked to draw a picture of your dream from the night before and explain it to the class, you had all 23 of your classmates, including your third grade teacher, lured into the palm of your hand, awaiting the next detailed adventure that your dream conducted. Why is it that I can name a handful of recent high school graduates who have chosen “business” as their major despite their natural-born abilities to excel in the studio and performing arts? Is it because someone along the line laughed when they said they want to be an “artist” or a “performer” when the grow up? Or is it because their parents and teachers scoffed at the idea of spending more money on a college education than the average artist even makes in a year?
I argue that our concept of “academic ability” in American higher education is a skewed one and ought to be reconstituted to foster a greater need for the rare (and often suppressed) capacity to be creative. Perhaps the “creative” thinkers would excel rather than being forced into a field outside of their skill set only because it is “stable” and “useful.” The ability to cultivate original ideas that have value and progressive potential is largely replaced in higher education by the need to understand data and numbers or navigate code and technology. After all, when it comes to creative and emotional intelligence, technology can only go so far.