Do We Need Divergent Thinking?

While I have been away from home and the kids, I have had time to do some research on education. My curiosity was piqued when I found out that many of the top higher learning institutions in the U.S. are using a blended learning software to make lessons and lectures accessible to students anytime and anywhere.  This means that students have a whole lot of flexibility when it comes to learning. It sounded a little bit like homeschooling to me – at least delivery wise, where the learning is made more suitable to a student’s needs.

As I researched further, I chanced upon a lecture given by educator, Ken Robinson. In case you are wondering who in the world this guy is, he is “an author, speaker, and international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education, and arts bodies. He was Director of The Arts in Schools Project (1985–89), Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick (1989–2001), and was knighted in 2003 for services to education.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Anyway, his talk was fascinating. He threw out concepts like, “Why in the world do people still believe the best way to educate children is to segregate them by age?” Children, according to him, have different strengths and abilities often beyond their age group but they are forced to learn subjects according to the pace of their class.

Another thing he pointed out is that divergent thinking is an ability that people lose as they go through the educational system. Divergent thinking is the ability to conceptualize multiple ways of arriving at a solution (just think of the word, creativity). People with the capacity for divergent thinking may not necessarily have high IQ, but they are highly creative. Which just supports the fact that IQ is no longer the only standard for intelligence.

For example, if a person was asked, “how many ways can you use a paper clip?” A person who is good at divergent thinking might come up with oh, 200 ways of to use a paper clip! Hmm…this sounds a lot like the way children think when they find a crazy number of ways to use toilet paper, or boxes, or a favorite toy.

In fact, children are the best at divergent thinking! According to a study that Robinson presented, children ages 3 to 5 scored 98% for divergent thinking. Sadly, the percentage dropped significantly. By ages 8 to 10, they scored 32%; by ages 13 to 15, they scored 10%; and by ages 25+, a dismal 2%. What do these results say? As children move through school levels their ability to think creatively decreases. The most likely reason is they tend to follow more conventional thought processes as taught in schools. And by adults, taking the most logical route to solve a problem is the norm, and exploring multiple scenarios or ways is not. This is probably why organizations often need to schedule brainstorming sessions which can take hours!

Do we even need divergent thinking? First, I believe that the greatest minds in history were divergent thinkers. They invented and discovered new ways of doing things and persevered to see their ideas become reality. They didn’t think like everybody else. (Steve Jobs is a case in point). Thanks to divergent thinkers’ willingness to dream, take risks, think outside of the box, and persist in the pursuit of their ideas, they have changed the world. Okay, so there is such as a thing as divergent thinking gone bad. Let it be said that if divergent thinking does not ultimately serve the common good or fail to bring glory to God then there is no value in it.

Second, organizations and corporations need divergent thinkers who can brainstorm and propose unconventional ways to solve real life issues and problems. For example, if a company needs to find ways to cut costs and have exhausted all known logical means but have not been able to solve their problem, they will need to apply some divergent thinking.

Third, divergent thinking is a gift from God that should not be robbed from children. God has given each child the inherent capacity to imagine, invent, dream and believe in impossibilities. I see this in my own kids. One of my sons loves marbles. He can play with them all day. Marbles are not just round, shiny objects to him. They are pocket treasures, bouncy sound makers, things that can fit into small holes or other odd containers, they can be hidden in different locations around our house, they can be rolled in many directions, they are math manipulatives, tools for making craters in Playdough, and sometimes, they are company under his pillow at night. I don’t tell him how to play with marbles. He creates these options on his own. I hope marbles will never just be marbles to him.

So how do we help preserve this divergent thinking in our children? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Allow your children to ask questions. Encourage them to make inquiries and find the answers.
  2. Give them time to reflect and think. Children don’t need to be constantly entertained or amused.
  3. Involve them in brainstorming for family projects or activities.
  4. Have open sharing of ideas without criticizing them. (This will also give you insight into what’s going on inside their hearts.)
  5. Ask them questions that don’t always have obvious answers.
  6. Let them keep a journal where they can chronicle their thoughts and draw their ideas.
  7. Do art frequently.
  8. Encourage them to learn a musical instrument. “Researchers from Vanderbilt University found that musicians are more adept at utilizing both hemispheres of the brain and more likely to use divergent thinking in their thought processes.” (Thank you again, Wikipedia)

As a last thought, divergent thinking is most productive when it leads a person to contribute to greater good and when it glorifies God. Wisdom should always trump any kind of thinking. God exercised creativity when he made the universe, but his creativity was full of wisdom. The Bible says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)

If you are concerned about your children losing the joys of creativity because of schooling, then why not consider homeschooling? Homeschooling gives lets children exercise divergent thinking, but allows you to guide their creativity with the wisdom of God’s word.

3 thoughts on “Do We Need Divergent Thinking?

  1. hi, joy. i am a new mother of a two-year old boy. i learned about homeschooling at ccf and am seriously considering it for my child. i actually started playing educational games with my son two months ago and was really surprised when he started counting by himself. it was going well until recently, when he started to become violent towards other people – even his lolos and lolas. it deeply troubled me that i decided to stop giving him ‘lessons’ because i want to focus more on values and his relationship with God. what is the value of being smart when your heart is not with God? i would like to ask you, if it’s okay, how would you handle children who have the tendency to become aggressive and violent? i tried spanking, but it just got worse. thanks so much. your blog is very educational and i like reading stories about your children. it reminds me that i am not alone and that i need to keep at it. 🙂

    1. Hi Maui! Is your son’s aggression intentional, like he really tries to hurt others? Or is it because he is reacting to circumstances around him or copying someone?
      If you have house help, you might want to check and see if anyone of them might be aggressive toward him or temperamental toward him. Also, if he watches a lot of tv and the shows portray violence (even cartoons) or plays computer games, these could also be causes.
      We had to spank our one son for hitting his siblings some time ago. He would get frustrated with them over toys and that was his way of expressing his irritation but we told him that it was wrong and when he did it again, we spanked him for it. He learned to control his temper and his hitting and did not get confused with being spanked for it.
      You might want to investigate what could be causing the aggression in your son, especially since it kind of happened suddenly. Maybe you can even ask him, Did anyone do that to you? Did somebody teach you that?

      1. Hi, Joy! Thanks for replying. I’m actually reading on materials that might help me with disciplining my son. It’s causing so much stress, and to tell you honestly, a lot of embarrassment especially when we are in public places. My son is a bit late with his verbal communications skills, so he can’t communicate to tell me if somebody is hurting him when we’re at work. But it’s good that you mentioned that. I think we do need to investigate…He does watch a lot of TV, but only Disney Junior. He is suuuper active (he can be totally awake at 3:00 am). I notice that he becomes really angry when he doesn’t get his way. That when he would throw tantrums or hurt other people.

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