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DAN SVEDARSKY: On creativity, raising children and NPR

CROOKSTON -- Like other listeners of National Public Radio, I've had the occasion to think new thoughts, tweak old ones and simply do new things thereafter after hearing stimulating interviews.

Dan Svedarsky
Dan Svedarsky

CROOKSTON -- Like other listeners of National Public Radio, I've had the occasion to think new thoughts, tweak old ones and simply do new things thereafter after hearing stimulating interviews.

Some years back, I heard Richard Florida, author of "The Rise of the Creative Class," interviewed on NPR. He spoke of the fundamental importance of creativity in entrepreneurship and problem solving.

He described a fellow with generous amounts of body hardware and art, who had just landed a lucrative job with a software company -- not someone you write off, but simply one who marches to the beat of a different drummer and is not bound by conventional thinking.

Just the kind of people we need to come up with solutions to challenges of the new world and an uncertain future.

In his book, Florida classifies cities by their "Creativity Index" according to size -- small, medium and large. Silicon Valley, Minneapolis, Seattle and Austin, Texas, fall into the latter category and are hotbeds of creativity and innovation (and economic prosperity) because that's where creative people like to live.

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Creative people seek environments that are open to personal differences and enjoy a mix of influences, including different kinds of music and food, Florida says.

Creative people want to socialize with people unlike themselves, trade views and spar over issues.

We may miss the boat in trying to attract innovation and economic development by simply building business incubators and expecting creative people to come. Instead, we also must make sure the location provides the amenities that creative people like when they are not working, Florida believes.

We had David and Yeda Arscott in the Crookston community for a short time. They epitomized the attributes of creative young people.

Yeda was trained as an architect and David as a hydrologist in Zurich, Switzerland. Along with being a first-rate scientist, David was an avid canoeist. When passing a former brewery along the Red Lake River in Crookston, they envisioned a microbrewery and theme restaurant overlooking the river.

Such a development could become a destination and draw people from afar, in contrast to a conventional restaurant, they believed.

Creative people look at the same thing as the rest of us and think different thoughts.

More recently, NPR interviewed Sir Ken Robinson, a celebrated British educator and creativity champion. In his 2006 TED talk (which is available on YouTube.com), he asks, "Do schools kill creativity?"

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We are all creative as young children, but we may miss opportunities to nourish creativity in struggling to teach the basics, teach to the test and meet parental and state demands, Robinson contends.

Often, creative children are the dreamers and do not learn in conventional ways. In his book, "The Element," Robinson relates a cute story about a 6-year-old girl who didn't pay much attention in most of her classes but liked her drawing class. One day, the teacher was fascinated by her focus and asked what she was drawing.

Without looking up, the little girl replied, "I'm drawing a picture of God." Surprised, the teacher replied, "But no one knows what God looks like."

The little girl said, "They will in a minute."

This reminded Robinson that children are remarkably confident in their own imaginations, and that we often lose that as we grow up.

Robinson goes on to describe Gillian Lynne as a young girl in the 1930s having a tough time fitting in -- daydreaming, fidgeting and generally being disruptive in regular school.

Then, she went to dance school. The world now knows her as one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time and the person who, along with Andrew Lloyd Weber, created "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera."

One size doesn't fit all.

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How do we nourish creativity? In times of fiscal constraints, creativity classes -- art, creative writing, music, dance -- often are the first to be dropped. We might, as a culture, start by acknowledging the critical importance of creativity in the total education of the student.

My wife and I raised three reasonably successful children without fully appreciating the value of creativity. They now have children of their own, and we have frequent discussions about creativity and the likes of Richard Florida and Sir Ken. Thanks, NPR.

Svedarsky is a wildlife biologist and director of the Center for Sustainability at the University of Minnesota- Crookston.

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