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Critical thinking is critical to America’s progress

“The Creativity Crisis,” an article published recently in Newsweek magazine [July 19, 2010 edition], was an amazing and exciting surprise. First, because I passionately believe creative thinking is critically needed to deal with the myriad problems in our society. Second, because it recognizes the work of E. Paul Torrance, Ph.D., who developed this pioneering work at the University of Minnesota some 50 years ago.

Torrance was the mentor and colleague of my dear friend, Berenice “Bee” Bleedorn, Ph.D. I took a class in creative problem solving from Bee at Metro State University some years ago that was life changing. I learned that everyone is creative, including me!

Bee is now 98 years old and is an unstoppable advocate of teaching creativity and higher level, systemic thinking. She says, and I agree, that it will change the world.

Bee is deeply grateful to Torrance, and has been anguishing that he and his work do not get the attention they deserve.

The Newsweek article fulfilled that dream for her. It was a huge joy to read the article to her and share in her excitement.

The major point made in the article is that the teaching of creative thinking needs to be woven into the curriculum of the American education system at every level. It’s not a frill, and goes way beyond a lesson or two in drawing or music. Creative thinking is critical to America’s progress.

The Creativity Force is Bee’s website, where much of her work is posted. Click here for information and resources on creativity on my website.

Phyllis Stenerson, of Minneapolis, focuses on values in politics and public policy through research, writing and activism at

Quotations on creativity

“The source of America’s prosperity has never been merely how ably we accumulate wealth, but how well we educate our people. …What’s at stake is nothing less than the American Dream. … I’m calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity …” President Barack Obama at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, March 10, 2009, Washington Post, March 10, 2009 [Full text of article here]

“The genius of the future will be the creative mind adapting itself to the shape of things to come…The skills of creative thinking must be recognized as human kind’s most important adaptability skills. Such skills must become basic to the curriculum of schools, homes, businesses and other agencies.” E. Paul Torrance

“Paradoxical thinking is a prerequisite for a society and world steeped in a diversity of cultures, religions and ideologies if we ever hope to achieve a more sane and peaceful world. If complex thinking were taught, practiced and modeled during the process of education everywhere, the people of the world would understand more and fight less.” Berenice Bleedorn

“Creative qualities of independence of thought, risk taking, tolerance for ambiguity, curiosity and sensitivity mark the creative individualists who have been said to be ‘the conscience of the crowd.’ ” Berenice Bleedorn

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/02/2010 - 06:58 am.

    How would you like to have 50% of your pay tied to how much your 16 year old, hormone-laden students study the 23 hours a day and weekends they are not in your class?

    Over the past 30 years, standardized testing has been stressed more and more. Over the past 30 years, student performance has steadily decreased, at least for the “average” students. Now, some students go all the way through high school, thinking learning is just memorizing facts and terms teachers know will be on some standardized test. And that leaves students with no reasoning abilities, no critical thinking skills, and a sense of entitlement in that you need to tell them exactly what’s on the test, not ask them to put concepts together, because none of their other teachers do/did that.

    And all any politician can come up with for their brand-new, better, improved idea is that we need to stress standardized tests more. They are useful as a tool, but just A tool, not the tool. All that gets you is teaching to the test, and a bunch of robotic, incapable of thinking on their own students as a result.

  2. Submitted by Stephan Flister on 08/02/2010 - 08:25 am.

    Consider an alternate universe where for the last 40 years or so there has been a concerted effort to destroy public education.

    How would that world be different from the one we live in?

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/02/2010 - 08:46 am.

    Richard, I’m not sure when you went to school, but standardized testing was the norm up until the 1980’s.

    I’ve seen the bleeding edge methods and have been left unimpressed. As an example, I was involved with the district’s efforts to “diversify” Capital Hill Magnet school in SP. The story was, in short, because there were not enough minorities of the “right color” attending CHM (too many Asians, not enough blacks), the District decided the entrance exam must be biased.

    Enter Dr. June Maker and her “Discover Project”, which was based upon a theory of “Multiple Intelligences”.

    I won’t go into details, you can google it if you’re interested, but suffice it to say that while the District succeeded in filling CHM’s classrooms with kids of “the right color”, the academic record of the school tanked.

    I’m all for being creative, but at the end of the day if a student cannot read, he cannot read; if a student cannot add, subtract, multiply numbers, he cannot do math.

    I’ve always thought that if a test was crafted to measure mastery of the basics, any method of teaching would result in “teaching to the test”.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/02/2010 - 10:57 am.

    There is a danger in creative thinking and creative problem solving and that danger is precisely why the “Chamber of Commerce” types have been trying, since the election of Ronald Reagan (and probably before), to stamp it out.

    Creative problem solving always leads to solutions which threaten the status quo and thereby, the ability of those whose wealth depends on their exploitation of the previous generation’s solutions, to continue to do so.

    In our current society, where money equals free speech and power it is well within the ability of our banking and business classes to prevent progress in any and all areas within the US (unless they can control it and gather all the benefits of it). In protecting their own status quo, of course, they are ensuring that all such progress occurs in other parts of the world to the effect that the US is already becoming an economic and scientific backwater.

    They, themselves, are not creative, nor forward thinking enough to look beyond trying to protect themselves and their own, and have successfully promulgated that same, “I, me, mine” attitude throughout society to the extent that it’s unlikely anything can prevent their own fortunes from being seriously compromised or completely lost. Of course the rest of us will go down first.

    When Jesus said, “Those who seek [only] to save [their own] lives will lose them.” it wasn’t a new, personal, moral command he was issuing. It was a simple re-statement of what happens when we do what we’ve been led to do since Reagan announced, “morning in America” while leading us to charge toward the darkest of nights: each seeking after only our own and, thereby, ensuring the destruction of all that we hold dear.

  5. Submitted by Grace Rousseau on 08/04/2010 - 09:41 am.

    For an interesting juxtaposition, given their apparent success, look over the recommendations for the Minneapolis College Prep Charter that were proposed to the school board at the July 27th meeting.

    We are going to improve students chances of success in college by extra Reading and Math classes in 9th grade, a strict system of merits and demerits…. skills and behavior boot camps.

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