The False Dichotomy Between Facts And Creativity

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Another excerpt from the very important new article on the science of learning by Henry Roediger and Mary Pyc (my first post about it is here):

“Professors in schools of education and teachers often worry about creativity in students, a laudable goal. The techniques we advocate show improvements in basic learning and retention of concepts and facts, and some people have criticized this approach as emphasizing ‘rote learning’ or ‘pure memorization’ rather than creative synthesis. Shouldn’t education be about fostering a sense of wonder, discovery, and creativity in children?

The answer to the question is yes, of course, but we would argue that a strong knowledge base is a prerequisite to being creative in a particular domain. A student is unlikely to make creative discoveries in any subject without a comprehensive set of facts and concepts at his or her command. There is no necessary conflict in learning concepts and facts and in thinking creatively; the two are symbiotic.

As Robert Sternberg and Elena Grigorenko have commented, ‘Teachers need to put behind them the false dichotomy between “teaching for thinking” and “teaching for facts,” or between emphases on thinking or emphases on memory. Thinking always requires memory and the knowledge base that is accessed through the use of memory . . . One cannot apply what one knows in a practical manner if one does not know anything to apply.’”

It’s time to retire this false dichotomy!

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5 Responses to “The False Dichotomy Between Facts And Creativity”

  1. This is actually in congruence with Blooms(revised) taxonomy-remember before you understand,once you understand you can apply, once you apply you can evaluate and once you are in a position to evaluate you can be creative

    Norbert Boruett

  2. Just clarified something for me: we can argue all we want about content vs context but student engagement must trump both of them. I have always believed that if a student CARES about something, they will wade through whatever they must to understand and apply it. I may think Bloom is upside down, but all the while we are arguing the point, we could have figured out how to engage the students, and then the argument is far less critical.

  3. janine says:

    Many people I know claim they aren’t “creative” because they think it means being a J.K. Rowling or a George Lucas or a Picasso, but I say creativity is about synthesising information information that exists to provide a novel outcome.

  4. Ideas_Factory says:

    Hmm. Do students really need a background of “facts” or “skills” to be creative? When pupils are asked to write a story, those who have read stories or get stories read to them know immediately what a story should look like. They have a massive advantage over those with fewer literacy-related skills. But it’s not that they know more facts.
    Sometimes, though, the greatest creativity comes from not knowing. A fresh look.

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