Enforcing Creativity

Over on Infinitefreetime, the blogger, who works in education, mentioned The Cardboard Challenge. At a casual glance, this looks really exciting and innovative.

via wikimedia commons Creative play of which the adults probably wouldn't approve.

via wikimedia commons
Creative play of which the adults probably wouldn’t approve.

The story of Caine, the original cardboard arcade boy, is wonderful. I agree, young Caine did make something amazing and it is wonderful that his very playful, human story of loneliness and creativity touched hearts and brought positive change to his life.

I also agree that every kid should have the chance to explore their own creativity, and that cardboard boxes and recyclables are a great way to make sculptural arts available at an affordable cost. Cardboard box play trotted out as a learning initiative, however, doesn’t impress me much.

What Caine did is not “made a fabulous arcade out of cardboard, imagination, and nonsense.” That’s what he did on the surface, yes, but in education, the surface rarely matters. Caine used the materials at hand spontaneously to create something meaningful to him. That’s real art.

If you look at the gallery and film, there’s a little bit of that in other kids’ examples, and a whole lot of “Caine made an arcade game, so we should make arcade games”. There’s also a lot of “We made a fort and goofed off in it!” Neither of these things are bad in any way, but they are not activities that foster creative imagination in the way that Caine’s circumstances helped him give birth to his own creative vision.

We’re afraid to let kids be bored or idle. We want them to use their time productively, to always be learning and and doing. We want to take things that kids love to do spontaneously and make them into “learning experiences” that “enrich”. It’s not possible to poach creativity or learning out of play in this way.

The magic of the cardboard only happens when kids are free to let their imaginations run without oversight or direction. If you want to nurture your kids’ creativity, stop colonizing childhood with adult metrics of success. Leave them alone with their own imagination. Let them play in their own way, with no eye on the balance sheet of what ancillary things they might learn. You can’t enforce creativity, but you can poison creative play. Please don’t.

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