This class might be different from what you are used to. It might be very unfamiliar, strange even. But here’s the deal: traditional educational approaches make you worse at creativity. Students who do well in traditional academia – with its predetermined outcomes and quizzes and exams – tend to be less creative overall. That’s what the research shows (there is a lot of this kind of research). You may find that surprising (if you like school) or not (if you hate school). But there’s no doubt that most of the approaches of contemporary, mainstream, western education reduce our creative capacities. Sure, those mainstream approaches teach us to become very skilled at figuring out what the teacher wants and handing it right back. The teacher downloads a bunch of content into your mind, then you upload it into the essay or the exam. That’s a skill for sure, and it typically leads to good grades.

But creativity is different. Creativity has to come from you – from your engagement with your inner life, your emotions, your imagination. Creativity is a deep well of images, memories, words, symbols, ideas, and many other things that float around inside of you. Writing is how we get it out, into the world. But that process has to start with you, not the instructor.

So, in this class, you will be asked to do things that shift the focus away from the instructor and toward you: what do you think, feel, and imagine? What stories do you want to tell? What is the best path inward for you? What does your creativity look like? How might you share it?

What’s true of those who are temperamentally suited to creative pursuits is also true of everyone else: creativity is a set of skills. We tend to embrace those skills most fully as children and then lose them as adults. Yet we can always learn (or re-learn) and deepen those skills. In this course, we focus on these creative skills as the foundation for our experiences with one another. And we itemize them as features of an integrative and holistic learning environment:

  • Emotional safety: a person-centered environment, with emphasis on belonging, being seen, and encouragement for safe exploration (which includes things like making mistakes, trying again, and reversing course)
  • Trust: a focus on healthy relationships, authenticity, consistency, congruence, and dependable and ethical action (for instructors as well as learners)
  • Self-awareness: encouragement of insight, personal knowledge, open pathways, comfort with discomfort, and connecting self to others
  • Empathy: an emotionally safe community, with safe feelings and processes, an emphasis on positive change, and encouragement of emotional openness

The learning environment in this class is designed to implement the principles outlined above. In turn, methods of evaluation, grading, and assessment follow the same principles. Here are the specific evaluation criteria that are used for each project (they are the same for each project)::

  • Taking personal responsibility for the motivation and self-awareness required for meaningful learning
  • Challenging oneself, especially with the discomfort of encountering new things
  • Developing and sustaining a positive, growth-oriented mindset
  • Encouraging belonging, trust, and emotional safety for everyone in the learning environment
  • Caring for people (via empathy) and caring for oneself (via self-reflection and self-regulation)
  • Examining and revising personal values and beliefs as the result of new learning
  • Suspending judgment and evaluation in situations involving process and flow
  • Approaching creativity as a set of skills with many dimensions and a long learning curve
  • Engaging in the reciprocal process of appropriate feedback
  • Showing up and doing the work

There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct their activities in the learning process.