Do Academic Settings Stifle Our Creativity? - Cog Blog by Indu Seeni

          Problem Solving is a skill that applies  to every person, as it is a necessary day-to-day skill. Throughout our lives, we are faced with complex situations that leave us at a standstill. The pipe could burst in the bathroom. We can get in a car accident. We don’t know an answer to a test. In each of these situations, we may not know what to do, as we may have never gotten into that exact crisis or faced that exact problem before. How do we then proceed?

            From a young age, our teachers and parents encourage us not to be discouraged when we are stumped by a novel situation. Rather, we must work through it. But do we know how? Many people complain that academic settings stifle our creativity and ability to problem solve as a result of an unnecessary focus on memorization. Furthermore, people complain that schools should encourage problem-based learning rather than a sheer accumulation of facts. In my opinion, these complaints have some truth, in that schools should be focusing on teaching students how to problem-solve rather than memorize. However, often even when that is the goal of classes, students can misunderstand a course’s intentions.

            School is not just about the academics and making our brains a storage house of information. Many of the classes that I have taken, organic chemistry for example, have no use for me as a person striving to enter a health profession. However, the class is a requirement for all medical schools. Why? Is it simply to make our lives as students miserable? Probably not. Organic chemistry frequently requires a holistic understanding of material. Solving an organic chemistry problem mandates many things.  It requires creativity and that we come into the habit of thinking outside of the box. It requires that we practice and practice in order for our minds to recognize patterns. It requires that we apply bits of information we learned in different contexts to piece together the solution to a novel problem.

            In order to become adept at problem-solving, often we must merely overcome mindsets and one-tracked thinking. As discussed in class, functional fixedness, or looking at objects as only having the use that they were intended to have, is inhibiting. Being an effective problem-solver requires that we have an open-mind. We must be able to think of a variety of potential solutions, rather than zoning in on a singular one. It is only when we evaluate several possibilities that we can ultimately come across the ideal solution. It is rare to discover the best solution immediately, especially when it is the only solution thought of.

            In the academic setting at Bonas, I believe that students are encouraged to take a problem-solving approach to school. At Bonas, students are all required to take CLAR courses, many of which have a philosophical basis. In these classes, we are not only required to learn material, but be able to apply various schools of thoughts to contemporary situations that challenge us. Classes such as these also encourage us to think of situations in the past and see how those issues can still be relevant in modern society, despite the drastic changes that have occurred over the centuries. Learning such as this encourage students to develop a problem-solving skill involving analogous situations. With this skill, individuals are able to solve a problem by comparing it to a different but conceptually similar problem they encountered before. 

            Overall, I believe that academic settings do not necessarily stifle our creativity. Though we are encouraged to learn material, the ultimate goal is train our minds to be adapting and creative. Classes are not meant to make us memorize but develop problem-solving skills. In Orgo, we have to practice problems in order to develop a mindset that can relate a variety of problems we encountered before. In philosophical classes, we must be able to inquire into and analyze a situation thoroughly. Schools should not focus on teaching students solutions to textbook problems, to which there is only one solution; instead, schools should prepare students for the real world, in which we will be faced with novel situations, and utilize our problem-solving skills to find the resolution.