Fostering Creativity

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a friend quoting a pretty scathing summation of the professionalizing impact of grad school made by David Graeber and Stevphen Shukaitis in their introduction to Constituent Imaginations. I won’t quote it in its entirety, but it opens asserting,

Graduate school is not on the whole meant to foster creativity or encourage students to produce new ideas. For the most part, it’s designed to break students down, to foster insecurity and fear as a way of life, and ultimately to crush that sense of joy in learning and playing with ideas that moved most students to dedicate their lives to the academy to begin with. (2007: 16)

I read this passage right after I had given my students their first ‘pop writing assignment’ of the quarter.  I chose to administer pop writing assignments rather than pop quizzes because I don’t want them to memorize theories and concepts, I want them to think with them.  What better way to think than through writing? I aim for such assignments to foster creativity not crush it. With their notes and access to my power point lectures, I asked them to take an hour and answer this question in five hundred words:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.
― Karl Marx (1852) The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

 Needing to become what one is is a feature of modern living…
― Zygmunt Bauman (2000) Liquid Modernity

What terms, concepts and theories have we learned that help you understand these two quotes, their relationship to one another, and how they are relevant to contemporary youth experience? Please provide an example of how contemporary youth become who they are by making their own lives, but not under conditions of their own choosing.

Now the thing about creativity is that it surprises and delights. And that is what I experienced when I received an email from my student, Lorenzo Davis, right after reading Graeber and Shukaitis’s quote. He had sent me the picture he drew while working through his ideas for his essay. His essay hit on key ideas I had been teaching: master identities, the myth of meritocracy, and our actual ability to forge our individual paths.  But the picture, the picture is what surprised and delighted me. It reminded me why I went to graduate school and why teaching has been one of the best antidotes to the professionalizing process.  Lorenzo graciously agreed to share his picture.

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