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They Can Teach, Too: Tapping the Creative Power of Children
 

Background

Adults' fascination with the free spiritedness of children is part of the human experience. Many of the superannuated among us wistfully reflect on the whimsical nature of youth, and the untethered thoughts with which we once luxuriated. The childishness of children has advantages, although too often it is dismissed rather than cultivated.

In our earliest years, we are not expected to know much and certainly are not expected to contribute to discussions, useful thought, nor, least of all, society. As we accumulate experience and advance in our education, all that changes. Over time, we are methodically instructed to shuck our more random natures in favor of a more orderly, channeled approach which follows societally accepted norms of thought and work product. The goal of education is often to transfer structured information or a thought process to the student. Success is achieved when the student both assimilates the desired quota of facts and adopts the desired format for analyzing or utilizing them. However, under the guise of learning how to do things the right way, we are implicitly taught not to break through the barriers into the Unknown Universe of Creative and Intuitive Thought.

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While the usual learning process may be a big step toward workforce or college preparation, it is a big step backward away from instinct and innovation. While we wouldn't benefit much from a society dedicated entirely to spontaneous whim at the expense of practiced logic, both have value. Many a person has become so informed that they, in effect, imprison themselves in mental cages. When the mouse becomes familiar enough with the route through the maze to the cheese, it will choose the correct path readily and regularly instead of exploring new avenues. So too, humans will stick with what they know, partly because they know that it will yield cheese, partly because it is the path of least resistance, and partly because it is easier than imagining where else to go.

Prior to being fitted with the bridle of accepted logic and social structure, children have the luxury of jumping on arrows that shoot off in myriad directions. Many of the arrows have the potential to amount to something.

Ideas / Solutions

Ideally, society would benefit by coupling the innovative instinctual arrows of children with the acquired logic and information of trained adults. The natural idea for future progress is to bring the two groups together on projects where creative problem solving is at a premium.

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Professionals who strive to experiment with innovative arrows often find it difficult to find them. Whether designing computer software, pharmaceutical cures, social policy, or kitchen appliances, the engineers, scientists and other creators who are engaged in such activities often seek new ideas. Although these highly skilled professionals may find themselves harnessed by their own knowledge, they are usually willing to receive a new good idea from any source. By assembling teams of bright, creative children together with highly trained professional technicians, there may be an ample supply of both innovative instincts and the functional expertise to separate the wheat from the chaff, adapt fresh ideas into practical options, and develop them into maximal use.

Government is a good place to start. Legislative efforts to boost student attendance and graduation rates, and improve educational curriculum, would directly benefit from the creativity of those served by the system. Few adults could claim to be as insightful on these matters as children are. The team process that is initiated for these issues could be replicated for dilemmas over policies to strengthen communities, racial and ethnic harmony, job creation, environmental protection, energy self-sufficiency, and so forth.

The same processes could be applied to scientific research, business opportunities, and many other areas that benefit greatly by "disruptive technologies" and other paradigm-shifting concepts. Kids are much less attached to existing paradigms, partly because their knowledge structure is not yet based on them, and partly because they just don't care about them. In some cases, a project may be entirely based on a youthful idea.

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Certainly there are limits. The development of a new neurosurgical technique might require too much neurosurgical background to make the input of children useful. But even in highly technical situations, a designer working on a long-term project may simply "hit a wall", and need a fresh idea to hurdle it. By presenting a circumstance, with only the basic facts, to a couple of young children, new perspectives might bounce back of a type that would never have been conceivable to an expert technician. If the perspective is not useful in itself, but inspires the technician toward other avenues which, in turn, eventually bear fruit, then the exercise was more than worthwhile.

In essence, rather than pry open an expert's mind in hopes of allowing new ideas to seep in, we can simply go to the source. A great resource awaits, in the form of the ideas that the fertile mind of a child offers forth.

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