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How Do We Teach Creativity, Innovation, and Critical Thinking?

By Dr. Everett Corum
Director of Humanities, Philosophy, Religion, and World Languages Programs at American Public University

When my son was in fourth grade, his mother and I attended a regularly-scheduled parent-teacher conference, and when we arrived his teacher had a genuine grin on her face. She could hardly wait to show us a picture he had drawn of a bat hanging from a telephone line above a town that looked like the one we lived in at the time. There were a few stores, a railroad track, a deer crossing a road just outside of town and there in the center, up-close, a bat hanging from a telephone line. The three of us were impressed by the “point-of-view” of the picture, which was pretty well-drawn for a fourth grader.

The sad fact of the matter is that education tends to teach such creativity out of children, so that by the time we are adult students, many of us tend to think that we are neither creative nor innovative. How many “standardized” tests do we subject students to over the course of their academic careers? And how frequently do we encourage young people to engage in the Arts and Humanities, in performances and artistic expression?

Here at the American Public University, we are creating a new concentration, “Critical Thinking for Personal and Professional Life,” within the Philosophy program. It will include the courses: Critical Thinking, Logic, Ethics, Decision Making, and Creativity and Innovation.

[Learn more about an online B.A. in Philosophy.]

So how do we teach creativity, innovation and critical thinking? Why aren’t we all Leonardo da Vinci’s–good at everything? Part of the reason is because we operate in our daily lives on strongly held unspoken assumptions which we never bother to question. We also do not usually look for connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. I once tuned into the first episode of a television program about the development of technology, in which the speaker said, “Over the next 16 programs I am going to show you how the fertilization of the Nile valley led directly to the creation of the atomic bomb.” I was hooked and waited impatiently for each week’s episode. And we sometimes give up too quickly when we should be more persistent. After failing to invent the light bulb after thousands of attempts, Thomas Edison allegedly observed, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

When I asked my son what prompted him to make the drawing of the bat, he simply replied that he wondered how things would look to a bat hanging from a telephone line. All of us should maintain that sense of wonder because it will help us be innovative, creative, and critical thinkers.


About the Author:

Dr. Corum, Director of Humanities, Philosophy, Religion, and World Languages Programs, has been with APUS for nine years. He holds a Ph.D. in Theatre and Media Arts from the University of Kansas and a Distance Teaching and Learning Certificate from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and is a member of the Foundation for Critical Thinking.


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