“What do you mean by you have plans of becoming a dancer after your final exam?!”
My uncle Kofi exclaimed with his crooked glasses on his nose and a stoic look on his face as he stared intently at his son, my cousin.
Generally, the creativity of children in Africa is overly controlled. Parents are constantly telling them what to do and how to do it. I believe this often leaves these children feeling like their originality is a mistake and any exploration is a waste of time. A typical scenario occurs when a mother warns her child not to loiter or touch items in the stalls in front of a supermarket they have entered. Woe betides the child if he or she does the opposite of this instruction.
Another way creativity is stifled in children happens under ‘ unneeded surveillance’, African parents ‘police’ their children by hovering over or watching keenly when the children are at play. Obviously, no one likes to be watched intently especially while playing, children inclusive. This act causes the creative urge in children to dwindle.
Interestingly, this doesn’t stop after they grow. This same trait from most parents transforms into questions and conversations on the job and maybe future their child should have.
“You need to get a white-collar job. A job that pays well.”,
Two out of five parents will tell their wards who recently completed tertiary institutions. I won’t describe this statement as a cardinal rule, however, failure to obey the above statement merits some form of shunning from family and friends of the family. Every time friends of your parents come home to visit, your folks use this as an opportunity to go on and on about the path you have decided to take. Uncles and Aunties, both far and near, consistently call to give you advice on how to run your life and which career path will fit you best.
The above paragraph reminds me of a story about a young African girl who happened to be the best female pianist in an affluent school but was forced to quit music. This disheartening event occurred during an ‘open day’ where parents are allowed to come to classrooms to review their wards books. Her mum advised that she quit music against her will and concentrate more on her books because her grades had dropped. No one knew or understood that playing the piano was this girl’s mojo because she had silently been battling with an inferiority complex. Returning to only her books made her coil in again.
Everyone wants to be creative, yet many of us are too fearful to pursue our most creative ideas. Why? Our fearful reaction is not a matter of choice — it’s often a knee-jerk reaction that can be attributed to our biology.
I recently read an interesting book called “creative confidence” where the author, David wrote about a ‘clay horse’ story which is also a factor that beheads creativity at a young age. In the book, the author’s, best friend in third grade, Brian, had a different experience with creativity. One day, David and Brian were in art class, sitting at a table with half a dozen classmates. Brian was working on a sculpture, a horse out of clay that the teacher kept under the sink. Suddenly one of the girls saw what he was making, leaned over, and said to him, “That’s terrible. That doesn’t look anything like a horse.’ Brian’s shoulders sank. Dejected, he wadded up the clay horse and threw it back in the bin. David never saw Brian attempt a creative project again.
How often does something like that happen when growing up as an African?
Let’s face it!
Apart from parents, peers can also be discouraging and that undermines our creative ability.
Growing up, teachers, parents and peers continuously downplayed the power of my creativity. I would employ the use of an illustration which will strike a chord or two in the hearts of African individuals: a child being beaten by his parents because he dismantled toys bought for him. Of course, I understand poverty may be a factor to why an affluent family will forgive their children for this, while the former will reprimand their kids. However, these actions smother the child’s inquisitive nature to be creative and adventurous. Beyond this, the child grows up to be timid in decision-making for fear of “being beaten”.
What Should Change?
In my opinion, African parents should support their children when they come up with something creative. They should encourage them to find ways to express their creativity. This could include allowing their children to help decide which route to take, learning new skills, or sorting leaves by shape and colour which gives them the opportunity to exercise their creative minds and build thinking skills.
“If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.” —Jean Piaget
Reference: The Authors | Creative Confidence by Tom & David Kelley
Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? | TED Talk – TED Talks