No dark sarcasm in the classroom

The Frontal Cortex reports on an interesting study that found that the personality characteristics teachers define as creative are the same ones that make their pupils least likeable in the classroom.

Eric Barker recently referred me to this interesting study, which looked at how elementary school teachers perceived creativity in their students. While the teachers said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they actually didn’t. In fact, when they were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures – the list included everything from “individualistic” to “risk-seeking” to “accepting of authority” – the traits mostly closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their “least favorite” students. As the researchers note, “Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity.”

This shouldn’t be too surprising: Would you really want a little Picasso in your class? How about a baby Gertrude Stein? Or a teenage Eminem? The point is that the classroom isn’t designed for impulsive expression – that’s called talking out of turn. Instead, it’s all about obeying group dynamics and exerting focused attention. Those are important life skills, of course, but decades of psychological research suggest that such skills have little to do with creativity.

This is a classic example of the conflict where an institution that imposes strict group standards of behaviour claims to promote individuality and self-expression.

A lovely study published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology demonstrated how people who don’t go along with a task for justifiable moral reasons are typically rejected by the group, even when the individuals in the group might otherwise agree with their moral stand.

In other words, we like rebels as long as they are not bothering us.

Link to Frontal Cortex on ‘Classroom Creativity’.

3 thoughts on “No dark sarcasm in the classroom”

  1. I’d like to hear what teachers have to say about this. Many years ago I worked in daycare looking after five-year-olds, and while I appreciated the low-key, good-natured kids, I found that the challenging, often difficult ones (often boys) were the ones I engaged with the most and ultimately was the most fond of. To be sure this must have been a product of my personality as well as of theirs. So I think the like/dislike, creative/noncreative dichotomies might be too simplistic to have any real value.

  2. As one of the disruptive kids in class, I can’t say whether or not I was especially creative, but I can echo Jeff’s comments by saying that, from my student side of the situation, the teachers I most preferred were those that treated me more like a grad student and less like a “sit nice and pay attention” school marm. I dimly recall a parade of those latter types, but I’ll tell you, 40 years later, I remember the name, face and specific episodes of every last one of those who took interest in my unusualness.

  3. I think the point is that us disruptive types were in the wrong class. There is/was also a problem as the class hadn’t been devised and probably never will be.

    ‘School’ is a construct of the industrial ‘revolution’ and was designed to

    /keep young people occupied while parents worked.
    /produce more ‘skilled’ workers for the system.

    Creative non word based education doesn’t exist yet despite the demand and us ‘creatives’ who struggle with word based learning will continue to suffer.

    We like rebels as long as they are not bothering us.

    We like creative thinkers as long as they are not bothering us.

    Come he revolution…..



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