Thursday, May 22, 2008

Arts Education Debate Needs to Rise to Creative Education Debate

[30 April 2008 - Applied Imagination - By Steven Dahlberg] Ann Hulbert (in the New York Times Magazine, "Drawing Lessons," 27 April 2008) raised some pertinent issues about the role of arts in improving education. It's valid for researchers, policy makers, administrators and teachers to ask about HOW the arts might boost creativity and other academic skills.
[27 April 2008 - New York Times Magazine] ... As Obama’s appeal to the achievement-boosting effects of the arts only goes to show, it’s hard to buck the narrow No Child Left Behind ethos he laments. If the arts can be celebrated as catalysts for improved performance in other subjects -- the subjects that are tested and therefore respected -- the hope is they won’t get treated as expendable frills. So advocates celebrate the arts’ score-enhancing influence across the school spectrum. Huckabee often invoked higher SATs as a reason to teach the arts. Obama cites sober social-science research on the poor city neighborhoods he knows best. “Studies in Chicago have demonstrated,” his arts statement reads, “that test scores improved faster for students enrolled in low-income schools that link arts across the curriculum than scores for students in schools lacking such programs.” There’s just one problem with this ostensibly hardheaded defense of arts education. The studies invoked as proof that involvement in band — or dance or sculpture — spurs higher academic performance actually show nothing of the sort. To the consternation of arts proponents wedded to this way of arguing, the instrumental logic has been challenged by a team of investigators affiliated with Harvard’s Project Zero, an education research group with a focus on the arts. An emphasis on the arts’ utility in the quest to reach math and reading benchmarks may seem politically smart, but the science it rests on turns out to be shaky. In a scrupulous review of 50 years of research into the academic impact of studying the arts, Ellen Winner, a Boston College professor of psychology, and Lois Hetland, who teaches at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, searched mostly in vain for evidence of a causal influence on school success. More
However, this article missed two important aspects of the creative education debate: how teachers can deliberately teach for more creative thinking in any and all disciplines – not just in the arts – and how teachers can more creatively teach any topic. These two educational goals are not limited to arts classrooms. Yet most research and programs in arts education – as well as in arts and aging, and arts and business – seem to assume that we can merely offer arts programming and then sit back to observe whether or not creativity or problem solving or academic skills have improved. We are missing great opportunities to use not only the teaching of arts, but all subjects, to intentionally improve students' creative thinking capacities.

The article suggested that teachers of visual arts were eliciting certain cognitive "dispositions" in their students: persistence in tackling problems, observational acuity, expressive clarity, reflective capacity to question and judge, ability to envision alternative possibilities and openness to exploration. Exploring these dispositions is not a new field of inquiry. Indeed, researchers have been studying these creative attitudes and behaviors for more than 60 years, and developing specific processes, tools and methodologies for deliberating enhancing such creative "dispositions" in both children and adults.

In 1950, the American Psychological Association President J. P. Guilford pointed out the appalling lack of research in psychology and education about how people develop and use their creative thinking abilities. This launched an explosion of research about what the creative thinking process is and how it works; what mindsets and behaviors creative persons demonstrate and whether people can develop these capacities; what kinds of environments enhance and hinder creativity; and what makes something creative or not.

Educational psychologists such as the late E. Paul Torrance (University of Georgia) began answering these important questions during the past 60 years. Robert Sternberg (Tufts University), Teresa Amabile (Harvard University) and Min Basadur (McMaster University) are among many researchers across diverse fields throughout the world who continue exploring how people can purposefully tap into and apply more of their inherent creativity.

Creativity is a habit of mind that allows us to see and think in new ways; to make new connections between seemingly unrelated things. The applied creative thinking process can help people identify challenges and problems, come up with new ideas and solutions, and produce creative ways of implementing those solutions. These are among the most important skills for competing in the global “new economy” and for solving social challenges. Yet, nearly everyone in education, business and government agrees in poll after poll that there are not enough people learning these skills in school and possessing these skills in the workplace.

The imagination is not merely the domain of arts classrooms and artists. It is a fundamental human urge that taps into our capacity to create and our desire to express ourselves. It's time to move the dialogue about arts education to one about creative education and look for new ways of using ALL students' imagination and creative thinking to engage them in what's most meaningful to them in ALL classrooms.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

For a Sharp Brain, Stimulation

[13 May 2008 - New York Times] AMERICANS may worry about heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but they downright dread Alzheimer’s disease, a recent survey found. For good reason. One in eight adults over 65 is affected by the disease. Those who are spared know they may end up with the burden of caring for a parent or a spouse who is affected. Even though the number of older adults with dementias is rising rapidly, only a few drugs that have been approved to treat symptoms are on the market, and they slow down the disease but do not cure it. Researchers, however, are more optimistic than ever about the potential of the aging brain, because recent evidence has challenged long-held beliefs by demonstrating that the brain can grow new nerve cells. "For a long time, we held the assumption that we’re born with all the nerve cells we’re ever going to have, and that the brain is not capable of generating new ones — that once these cells die we’re unable to replace them," said Molly V. Wagster, chief of the Neuropsychology of Aging branch of the National Institute on Aging. "Those assumptions have been challenged and put by the wayside." ... "Another thing that’s important as people get older is to maintain flexible attitudes and be willing to try new things," said K. Warner Schaie, who in 1956 started the Seattle Longitudinal Study, which follows the psychological development of participants through adulthood. "You have to expect things will shift over time and won’t be the same as when you were young. Those who manage to roll with the punches, and enjoy change rather than fighting it, tend to do well." More

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Folding your arms can help your brain

[6 May 2008 -] The mere act of folding your arms increases perseverance and activates an unconscious desire to succeed, new research shows. University students randomly assigned to sit with their arms crossed spent more time on an impossible-to-solve anagram, or word scramble, in one experiment, and came up with more correct solutions to solvable anagrams in another than those told to sit with their hands on their thighs. The study is the first to show that arm crossing affects people's thinking without them being consciously aware of it. Normally, it's thought that it's a psychological state that leads to a body movement. The study suggests it goes both ways, that a body movement also can trigger a psychological state. More

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Innovation in Global Industries: U.S. Firms Competing in a New World

[6 May 2008 - The National Academies Press] The debate over offshoring of production, transfer of technological capabilities, and potential loss of U.S. competitiveness is a long-running one. Prevailing thinking is that the world is flat that is, innovative capacity is spreading uniformly; as new centers of manufacturing emerge, research and development and new product development follow. Innovation in Global Industries challenges this thinking. The book, a collection of individually authored studies, examines in detail structural changes in the innovation process in 10 service as well as manufacturing industries: personal computers; semiconductors; flat-panel displays; software; lighting; biotechnology; pharmaceuticals; financial services; logistics; and venture capital. There is no doubt that overall there has been an acceleration in global sourcing of innovation and an emergence of new locations of research capacity and advanced technical skills, but the patterns are highly variable. Many industries and some firms in nearly all industries retain leading-edge capacity in the United States. However, the book concludes that is no reason for complacency about the future outlook. Innovation deserves more emphasis in firm performance measures and more sustained support in public policy. Innovation in Global Industries will be of special interest to business people and government policy makers as well as professors, students, and other researchers of economics, management, international affairs, and political science. More

Friday, May 02, 2008

Hip Hop Artist and Activist to Speak at Windham High School on May 8; Willimantic Screening of Documentary Film About His Life on May 21

Willimantic, Conn., May 2, 2008 -- The Young Poets at Windham High School are hosting New York hip-hop artist Chris "Kazi" Rolle for two performances and motivational talks on Thursday, May 8, for the high school students. His theme: "If the whole world was listening, what would you have to say?"

This event is part of a month-long celebration of the Windham community's youth, called "Think and Be Heard: Celebrating Our Strengths and Creativity." This project is in collaboration with the International Centre for Creativity and Imagination and is designed to engage students in the community by engaging their creativity. A full schedule of community celebration events in May is available at

Kazi is also the subject of "The Hip Hop Project" documentary film, which will be shown as part of the Willimantic Cinema Project at the Capitol Theater on Wednesday, May 21, at 7 p.m. The public is invited to this screening, which is presented by The Young Poets, the WindhamARTS
Collaborative, and the International Centre for Creativity and Imagination.

From executive producers Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah, "The Hip Hop Project" is the compelling story of Kazi, a formerly homeless teenager who inspired a group of New York City teens to transform their life stories into powerful works of art, using hip hop as a vehicle for self
development and personal discovery.

In the film, Kazi challenges these young people to write music about real issues affecting their lives as they strive to overcome daunting obstacles to produce a collaborative album. In the film, Russell Simmons, hip hop mogul and long-time supporter of the project, partners with Bruce Willis to donate a recording studio to the Hip Hop Project. After four years of collaboration, the group produces a powerful and thought-provoking CD imbued with moving personal narratives and sharp social commentary. In contrast to all of the negative attention focused on hip hop and rap music, this is a story of hope, healing and the realization of dreams.

Inspired by Kazi's work, the filmmakers are donating 100 percent of the net profits from this film to Art Start and other nonprofit organizations working with young people.

The New York Times has said of "The Hip Hop Project": "[This] vibrant and soulful documentary, 'The Hip Hop Project,' sets its universal message to an inner-city beat. Named for the New York City youth program founded in 1999 by Chris Rolle, known as Kazi, a Bahamian orphan forced to grow up on the streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the movie follows his efforts to encourage at-risk teenagers to express themselves in verse rather than violence."

To view the movie trailer and for additional information about the film, visit

For more information, contact Steve Dahlberg, International Centre for Creativity and Imagination, at

# # #

Three years ago a group of Windham High School and Windham Academy students came together to share their voices and experiences through poetry. They have become a well-known group in the Willimantic area. The Young Poets began performing for the Curbstone Press-sponsored Poetry in the Park at the Julia de Burgos Park in Willimantic. Soon their open-mic poetry readings were a monthly event at Wrench in the Works. They opened the Freedom Writers Diary at the Movie Plex theater in Mansfield, and were guests on the Wayne Norman morning show at WILI. In March of 2006, they raised enough money to see Freedom Writers Founder Erin Gruwell and Maria Reyes at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford. Erin invited them to the VIP room where the Poets performed for Erin and guests. The Poets continue to perform in our community. The Young Poets take you on an up-close and personal journey through the darkness and the light of real life. These amazing, talented students will reel you in and you will never be able to look at the world -- and our community -- in quite the same way. They are always a work in progress, and you will see them change and grow over the course of the year. You can view individual poets' pages online, as well as check out their published book of poetry, "The Streets Hold No Secrets," online at

Steven Dahlberg heads the Willimantic-based International Centre for Creativity and Imagination, which is dedicated to applying creativity to improve the well-being of individuals, organizations and communities. The centre collaborates with artists, scientists, business people, educators and others to help people develop their creativity. Dahlberg authored the foreword to the book, "Education is Everybody's Business: A Wake-Up Call to Advocates of Educational Change."

Chris "Kazi" Rolle was abandoned as a baby, has endured abusive foster homes and institutions, and survived alone on the streets with no home or family to support him. Falling victim to the intense pressures of his surroundings, Kazi dropped out high school and began hustling and
selling drugs in the streets to survive. After a few short visits to numerous New York City penal institutions, Chris became determined to focus his energy in other areas.

In 1991, Chris discovered the Tomorrow's Future Theatre Company and began directing, writing and acting for and in urban theatrical productions that fused hip hop and drama to tell tales of everyday life in the inner city. His play, "A Brooklyn Story," earned him the 1994 New York Governor's Citation and Martin Luther King Jr. Award. In 1995, Chris received the CBS Fulfilling the Dream Award for both his play and for his work in schools and homeless shelters advocating education and drug abuse prevention.

Chris graduated from the New York City Public Repertory Company (an alternative arts high school) in 1996 having won the Playwrights Competition. Chris had been a student of the Media Works Project since 1994, and in 1997 he taught the project's curriculum to teenagers coming out of Rikers Island prison. In 1998 Chris led Art Start's anti-racism public service announcement project, which was featured in the Bravo documentary, "Fire, Risk and Rhythm."

In 1999, Chris created Art Start's Hip-Hop Project, an award winning after-school program that connects New York City teens to music industry professionals to write, produce and market their own compilation album on youth issues. The program has attracted the likes of music industry mogul Russell Simmons and mega movie star Bruce Willis, who donated heavily to the success of the program. In 2000, Chris was featured in "People Who Are Using Their Lives" on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Chris' inspiring life story and ground-breaking program is also the focus of a feature-length documentary film, "The Hip Hop Project."

Chris founded Momentum, a hip-hop music label that prides it self in development, education and empowerment of its artists. Chris is co-founder of A.P.EX., a non-profit organization that hosts monthly college preparation workshops that assist inner-city high school students prepare for all aspects of college life, including financial aid and scholarships, admissions and personal development, and culminates in a week-long tour of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Chris also travels nationally to serve as an expert panelist on foster care, male holistic development, relationship issues, entrepreneurship and hip hop community activism and education. Chris is currently a New York City resident.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Art vs. Craft

[1 May 2008 - CEO for Cities] If everyone is creative, does creativity have any value? And who would you want on a desert island: an artist or a craftsman?
Rupert Christiansen, writing in the Telegraph, says that creativity has become the Holy Grail of life today. "Businesses hold creative-thinking seminars, universities teach creative writing, ministers makes speeches puffing our "creative industries". Even the splodges and squiggles that children daub in primary school are deemed creative. "One could even say that the idea of creativity has become thoroughly debased; very few of us are creators in the pure sense of using our imaginations to make something significantly new, let alone useful." And then he comes down hard on those who value creativity over craftsmanship. "As a society, we have arrived at a false valuation of the creative artist...We should be investing more respect and money in the acquisition of ordinary skills and practical crafts that would allow us to take more control of our own lives. 'The hand is the window to the mind,"'said the philosopher Kant, and the same relationship should be acknowledged as the hub of creativity, too." More

Creativity and Madness ... Quieting the Demons and Giving Art a Voice

On the topic of creativity, madness and mental illness, Tuesday's New York Times reviews two new books on this topic, including one by Marya Hornbacher, the author of the well-received book Wasted:
[29 April 2008 - New York Times] For scientists trying to parse the mystery of brain and mind, [Marya Hornbacher] is one more case of the possible link between mental illness and artistic creativity. With all our scans and neurotransmitters, we are not much closer to figuring out that relationship than was Lord Byron, who announced that poets are “all crazy” and left it at that. But effective drugs make the question more urgent now: would Virginia Woolf, medicated, have survived to write her final masterpiece, or would she have spent her extra years happily shopping? ... As for the central question of whether treating the illness impairs the creativity, Ms. Hornbacher weighs in firmly on the side of her meds, imperfect though they may be. “For me, the first sign of oncoming madness is that I’m unable to write.” Depression silences her; mania may flood her mind with glittering words, but they scatter before she can get them down. Only the prosaic morning meds (21 pills, at last count) will let her trap the words on the page. More

Memory Training Shown to Turn Up Brainpower

[29 April 2008 - New York Times] A new study has found that it may be possible to train people to be more intelligent, increasing the brainpower they had at birth. Until now, it had been widely assumed that the kind of mental ability that allows us to solve new problems without having any relevant previous experience -- what psychologists call fluid intelligence -- is innate and cannot be taught (though people can raise their grades on tests of it by practicing). But in the new study, researchers describe a method for improving this skill, along with experiments to prove it works. ... The results, published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were striking. Although the control groups also made gains, presumably because they had practice with the fluid intelligence tests, improvement in the trained groups was substantially greater. Moreover, the longer they trained, the higher their scores were. All performers, from the weakest to the strongest, showed significant improvement. More

No National Innovation Strategy, No National Energy Strategy

[30 April 2008 - New York Times - "Dumb as We Wanna Be" - Thomas Friedman] We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy then you want to raise taxes on the things you want to discourage -- gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars -- and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage -- new, renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite. Are you sitting down? Few Americans know it, but for almost a year now, Congress has been bickering over whether and how to renew the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy. The bickering has been so poisonous that when Congress passed the 2007 energy bill last December, it failed to extend any stimulus for wind and solar energy production. Oil and gas kept all their credits, but those for wind and solar have been left to expire this December. I am not making this up. At a time when we should be throwing everything into clean power innovation, we are squabbling over pennies. More