Creativity and the Curriculum

For the last four years or so, we have been making a great effort to emphasize some of Wesleyan’s traditional strengths. For example, Wes students are known as having intense political concerns, and we have tried to find ways of making the curriculum more responsive to those interests. The Civic Engagement Certificate and many of the activities of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the Center for Community Partnerships are helping our students find ways to make a difference in the public sphere. Provost Rob Rosenthal often speaks of the “engaged university,” and we are making progress in linking engagement with educational content.

Wesleyan students also are known for great creativity. Whether in Film Studies or Biology, the study of religion or the practice of artistic performance, Wesleyan students are innovative and productive. Nowhere is that more apparent than in musical performance. On Saturday night Jubilee was inspiring an audience in the Crowell Concert Hall, while in Memorial Chapel Aaron Peisner ’12 led a terrific chorus as part of his senior thesis work. Aaron had prepared choral music that spanned four centuries and several languages. The singers joined together in a labor of affection, intelligence and joy.

I’ve wanted to make sure that our curriculum is responsive to this energy from the student body. Last year I asked Charles Salas, Director of Strategic Initiatives, to think about how we should pursue the objective in Wesleyan 2020 of spurring creativity and innovation across the university.  He decided to focus on the disciplines represented in our curriculum.  The term “creativity,” of course, can be vague.  One department’s view can be quite different from another’s, so Charles met with a number of programs and asked them what creativity meant in their worlds and how they felt that they enhanced the creative capacities of their students. I hope many of you will read the full report, which gives a great sense of the discussions. Here’s the final paragraph, which gives a taste of what he found:

As for the discussions, I was struck by two things in particular.
(1) Regardless of how resistant faculty were to the subject of creativity in the beginning, it wasn’t long before that resistance dissipated. Faculty often remarked in the end that the discussions had been less predictable and more enjoyable than anticipated. It’s my estimation that faculty, in talking about their experiences in the classroom, found themselves in touch with their own passion for learning—itself a crucial if indirect contributor to student creativity. By modeling a passion for learning in the classroom, Wesleyan faculty spark the desire for such passion in their students—a desire that is necessary if students are to make use of the opportunity to develop their own creative capacities. And (2), many departments observed in passing that they viewed their seniors as more creative than their first and second-year students—observations indicative of the enhancement (purposeful or not) of student creativity across the curriculum.


One thought on “Creativity and the Curriculum

  1. A footnote on the excerpt above from Charles Salas’s report: this passage, removed from its context, inadvertently gives the impression that faculty were somehow resistant to “the subject of creativity,” full stop. But this is not the case, and it is not what Charles meant. In this passage, he is summarizing his experience after he asked to meet with individual department and programs to hear their faculty discuss the scope for student creativity in their respective curricula. His requested focus on just this one aspect of the several capacities we hope to engage in our teaching was typically somewhat awkward to address at first, which may account for the initial “resistance” to discussing the subject that Charles perceived. For example, several departments, including mine, wanted to make the point that, within given concentrations of study, creativity is something that arises from the intellectual discipline imparted by the study: you can’t “think outside the box” if you don’t even know what “the box” is. This may explain the second phenomenon Charles notes in the passage excerpted from his larger report, which effectively conveys such nuances.

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