Saturday, April 28, 2007

Creativity and Freedom

I recently read this article by Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, which highlights the importance of freedom for creativity in America and China. Friedman sees the freedom of thought that the governmental and social systems of the United States fosters, as being the element that enables the creativity that Einstein harnessed to challenge the status quo. While China may be on its way to surpassing the US the technology market, Friedman posits that they will ultimately hit a ceiling on innovation because of the restrictions that China's authoritarian government places on its people.

While China may be held back by its political system, the science and math education in the US may be a similar hindrance to our innovative capabilities. Einstein's creativity and imagination, which made it possible for him to conceive of his special theory of relativity, resulted from the beauty that he found in the world of science and math. This sense of beauty, Friedman says, is seriously lacking in the math and science education of kids in the US today. He says that we must understand science and math as beautiful, just as we see music and art as beautiful if we are to foster creative genius. (I don't really do the article justice, so check it out.)

Friedman's thoughts were echoed in an forum on education that I just read. The prompt for discussion was based of a Chinese teacher's observation of American education. While he saw that children in the US were exposed to practical problem solving in their studies, they were seriously behind the Chinese in basic computation skills. The Chinese teacher defended his country's system of education by saying that, "knowledge acquisition is the basis for creativity". A particular response to this prompt from a teacher in the US really resonated with the Friedman article. It is posted below.

"Several summers ago, a group of visiting Asian educators showed up at a Gifted Education/Talent Development Conference with briefcases full of articles on creativity. At every break between sessions, they followed up with questions to the professors about how to specifically create an atmosphere of originality in the classroom. They had brought highlighted pages of articles on the subject and were earnestly desiring to do everything possible to take back this skill for creativity to their classrooms. At the end of the two-week conference, the professor in charge privately asked the group from Asia if they wouldn’t mind explaining their interest. The leader of the group said, and I paraphrase, “Our countries in Asia outperform American students on every type of test in school. Our students, for example, are highly skilled and quick in computational mathematics; they do better in every measurement of math ability. Yet, this does not seem to translate into creative productive output. Look at the Nobel prizes by country. Why doesn’t Asia have the most Nobel prizes if standardized tests are the best indicators of all needed skills? Something is missing in our tests. Our countries lag far behind the US, and we cannot say that the awards have been unfairly granted. The goal we have for our students is not high test performance inside the school—our objective is for our adults to engage in field-changing creative productivity after their education is complete. That is what our country needs. We believe this can only happen if we include creativity in the classroom.”

Countries with the Most Nobel Prize Winners
Rank Country Number of Laureates
1 United States 270
2 United Kingdom 101
3 Germany 76
4 France 49
5 Sweden 30
6 Switzerland 22
7 Netherlands 15
8 USSR 14
8 Italy 14
10 Denmark 13
11 Japan 12
12 Austria 11
13 Canada 10
14 Spain 6
14 Australia 6
16 Ireland 5
16 Israel 5
16 Poland 5
16 South Africa 5
16 Argentina 5
21 India 4


My Chinese students who are in their 20’s are very reticent at first in American-style classes. They tell me they have never been asked by a teacher before what their opinion was, for example, or the best way to solve a problem. They have never even had the experience of “brainstorming” for ideas before, much less of having experienced other methods of enhancing creativity. While these Chinese students are doing well in the BA/MA programs in straight mathematics skills classes, such as in most Accounting courses, they tend to flounder in more sophisticated MBA courses with such test questions as “Hypothesize….and support your hypothesis with examples….” This is quite different from the test questions they are used to in China with the math problem laid out for them where they then can find the one right answer. When we brainstorm in my class about the necessary ingredients for success, the Chinese students have told me that they feel they have above average intelligence, a good education, and that they are willing to work hard, but that they feel they “aren’t very creative.” My experience has been that with support and scaffolding, they can learn to be more creative. "

Chômeur Pudding

This was another interesting recipe I made recently that is dairy, soy, and wheat free. Is is French Canadian and reminds me a lot of waffles. It is unlike any "pudding" I have ever had. It is very easy to make and can be tweaked back to its "original" form if you search for the traditional recipe online.

Mixing bowl
Large glass baking dish

For the cake:
-2 cups oatmeal or barley flour (or mixture of the two)
-¾ cup sugar
-1 cup rice milk (or any kind of milk or juice)
-4 tablespoons canola oil
-½ teaspoon salt
-2 tablespoons baking powder (use less if using wheat flour)

For the syrup:

-2 cups brown sugar
-2 cups water
-1 teaspoon oatmeal flour

For the syrup: Mix dry ingredients first in a large glass baking dish and then mix in the water.

For the cake: Mix dry ingredients first in a mixing bowl. Then, add the rice milk and oil, mixing gently. Divide the dough into even 6 portions and put them in the syrup already prepared in a large glass baking dish. Bake at 375 F for 30-40 minutes.
Makes 10-12

Wacky Cake

Wow! It's been a really long time since we've put stuff up here; we are starting in on our last set of midterms this week and the last time we posted was finals of last quarter! None of us are very good at keeping up with this type of thing, so we've been thinking of different kinds of posts we could do in place of or in addition to long, narrative ones.

Since 2/3's of our household has allergies and we are constantly having to come up with ways to tweak recipes to fit our needs, and also since we enjoy cooking, we thought we could post recipes that we have enjoyed and that can be eaten by many people who have allergies. Tonight, for our Lord's Day dessert, I made Wacky Cake. Apparently, the story is that Wacky Cake was created during WWII when supplies were scarce and they used crazy things like vinegar in desserts. It requires neither dairy nor egg products, and can be mixed right in the cake pan!! This cake ends up being pretty cheap and easy to make. You can choose what type of frosting you want to make, but I made a chocolate-orange frosting.

Click here for the recipe for the cake.

Here is the recipe for the dairy free frosting I made:

Chocolate Orange Frosting
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 Tbs cocoa powder
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • grated rind of 1 orange
  • pinch of salt

Add yolk to sugar, mix well; add the rest.