From Brains to Music: a Multi-Faceted Discussion of Creativity with Dr. Anthony Brandt
Dr. Anthony Brandt, is Professor of Composition and Theory at Rice University and is co-founder and artistic director of the contemporary music ensemble Musiqa. He has co-authored (with neuroscientist David Eagleman) a book titled: The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World. He has received numerous awards and recognitions and has been featured in TIME, Harvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal. In our interview, Dr. Brandt discussed his life as a musician and composer, his study of creativity, and his excitement for the future of creativity studies.
He uses his experiences as a musician and composer to highlight the important role that creativity plays in our lives, providing examples that illustrate multiple understandings of creativity. Dr. Brandt argues that the ability to select unexpected outcomes may be the “secret sauce” that has allowed humans to become the imaginative, creative species that we are. Further, an additional process occurs that helps explain creative acts and thinking. As Dr. Brandt said:
I am looking for a short story by Ursula Le Guin that I read many years ago growing up in India. The story has stayed with me but I cannot find it, despite many deep dives into the internet. I have posted on reddit, on the Ursula Le Guin fan page on FB and also reached out to the ASU librarians—but with no success. More details below…
As a part of our ongoing series on creativity we recently spoke with Dr. Peter Gray, professor of Psychology at Boston College. Dr. Gray’s interest in creativity emerges as a consequence of his background in evolutionary psychology and interest in how humans (and other mammals) learn. Learning, he argues, is a key evolutionary need that helps humans and other mammals survive and succeed in a complex and dynamic world. Dr. Gray sees an important role for curiosity, play and sociability—which he defines as natural drives or impulses that help children learn and direct their own learning. By playing together and being curious, children pick up language, learn and hone new skills, acquire knowledge, and gain confidence to be in the world by interacting directly with it. The drive to play is not unique to humans. As he said:
Children are playful. All young mammals are playful and that’s how they learn. They’re curious about the world. As soon as they come into the world, they’re looking around…They’re moving to get their hands on things, to explore things, to figure out what they can do with these things in the world out there. They’re especially interested in other people. They want to know, they’re watching and listening to other people and figuring out what it is that people in this world do.
As always, our conversation with Dr. Gray covered a wide range of topics such as curiosity and play as being natural paths to creative learning; the negative role of evaluation, high-performance culture and standardized testing on creativity; the relationship between creativity, play and mental health; and possible role of technology in enhancing creativity. Complete reference, and link to article below:
Written for my dear friend Sonya-Gunnings Moton, on her retirement from the College of Education at Michigan State University.
Dear Sonya, wishing you all the very best on your retirement. Just want to say how much I have valued having you as a friend and colleague during my stay at MSU. And yes, I totally need to pay you for all the cigarettes I bummed off you during the conversations we had in the “smoking” space in Erickson Hall. All worth it, because it led to one of the most amazing projects I have been part of—the MSU Urban-STEM project. These photos cannot capture just how transformative this project was: 125 teachers working in Chicago Public Schools working with the most awesome instructional and support team ever. We made it happen. A genuine, meaningful and transformative partnership at so many levels.
Sonya, it has been my privilege to have worked with you over the years. I have learned so much from you, your strength, moral clarity, passion and commitment to education. And most of all, you confirmed something I sort of knew already—that we can be ultra-serious about the work we do, but that does not mean that we need to take ourselves too seriously. You cut through the academic bullshit to focus on what was truly important. You reminded me everyday that one can laugh and have fun even while being passionate and totally committed to the work.
I miss your irreverence, laughter, passion and commitment. You made my world, and that of everyone else who came in touch with you, a better place. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. I am a better person for having known you. I wish you all the very best and I do hope our paths will cross in the near future.
How do you design for change in complex systems—like education?
Implementing large-scale changes within educational systems can be a challenging task. Doing so requires many actors, working at different organizational levels (and perhaps across organizations), to not only be unified in their overall goals and coordinated in their actions, but also have the freedom to respond to changing local circumstances and unanticipated issues. In this paper we argue that these efforts can be fruitfully seen as being an act of design that take place within a complex social system. We contextualize our argument in the five spaces for design in education framework and demonstrate how the differing perspectives of educational professionals can either work at cross-purposes or be aligned to a larger goal. A sensitivity to these five spaces and an understanding of their interconnected nature can provide us with tools and approaches to bring about significant, sustainable change in education.
Abstract: A core element of systems thinking is perspective taking. Perspectives help people distinguish between salient and irrelevant information, take particular types of actions, and make sense of the world. In this article, we consider what systems thinking and perspective taking means for designers in education. First, we present a framework, the five spaces for design in education, to illustrate design work in education. The framework presents five spaces for design: artifacts, processes, experiences, systems, and culture. We claim that most—if not all—educators participate in design work; however, the design spaces they work in vary. Consequently, educational designers often fail to consider the perspectives of those working in different spaces, resulting in failed reform efforts. We illustrate this concept through the technology integration attempts of the Los Angeles Unified School District. We argue more effective design in education occurs when designers both recognize their own design perspective and are aware of other perspectives.
“What knowledge is of most worth?” is a question asked over a 100 years ago by the English philosopher, Herbert Spencer. His unequivocal answer was—science.
This question (and his answer) resonates even today, though the context within which it is asked, and how we construct the answer, has changed dramatically. It is clear that science (or STEM) is key to addressing the multifaceted challenges we face: the environmental challenges of the Anthropocene; the economic pressures of machine learning and artificial intelligence; and the social challenges of an increasingly rapid pace of environmental, technological, and economic change.
It is also clear that addressing these challenges goes beyond any particular STEM discipline and in fact beyond just the STEM disciplines. Beyond knowledge of STEM, our students will need to demonstrate creativity and ingenuity as well as the ability to work collaboratively. As importantly they will need to understand the broader social and the ethical context and implications of their work.
Existing STEM courses and degree programs are, for the most part, unprepared to meet these challenges. They are largely organized around and operate within traditional disciplinary boundaries—even though we know that the most pressing problems require crossing STEM disciplines and even integrating beyond STEM into other domains of knowledge.
Approximately 50 experts, from across the nation, will collaboratively engage in an iterative set of facilitated design-based exercises to both better understand current and future contexts and needs, but also to reimagine possibilities for the future.
The STEM Futures work is based on a framework for 21st century learning developed by Kereluik, Mishra, Fanhoe, & Terry (2013). This framework breaks down the 21st century knowledge into three key components: Foundational Knowledge, Meta Knowledge, & Humanistic Knowledge (see diagram below).
A succinct description of the project and its goals can be found in this video below starring the PI’s of the project (Ariel Anbar and Punya Mishra).
We have had a few regulars on the Silver Lining for Learning show. And one of them is Priyank Sharma who consistently joins us despite it being around 2 or 3 AM in in New Delhi when the show runs here in the US.
Priyank and I spoke on the 22nd of June about a range of different topics – and the video is embedded below. More information about Priyank, his writings and a sort of spinoff show he is part of can be found below the video. Enjoy.
Priyank recently completed his MPhil from the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) and is starting his doctoral program soon. He came to education, in a somewhat roundabout way – similar to my journey. He has degrees in engineering (from the National Institutes of Technology, NIT), social work (from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, TISS) and counseling (from the National Center for Educational Research and Training, NCERT). from (recently completed his MPhil in Educational Policy & Planning.
Priyank also writes about education and other related matters on his facebook page: A Random Educator
Also, Priyank and a few of his like-minded colleagues have also started their own version of SLL called, available as a Youtube channel: Approaching the New Normal
The economist and thinker Andrew Scott once said something that blew me away. He said that:
The 20th century created the idea of teenagers and retirement.
I had never considered that the idea of teenagers and retirement was a 20th century idea. These seemed to be constructs that had been with us forever.
Through most of human history, people were born, did stuff to survive and thrive, and kept at it, for the most part, till they died. As this article on the history of teenagers says:
Humans have been turning 13 for tens of thousands of years, but only recently did it occur to anybody that the bridge between childhood and adulthood deserved its own name.
The article goes on to say that
The teenager emerged in the middle of the 20th century thanks to the confluence of three trends in education, economics, and technology. High schools gave young people a place to build a separate culture outside the watchful eye of family. Rapid growth gave them income, either earned or taken from their parents. Cars (and, later, another mobile technology) gave them independence.
Similarly, this article on the history of retirement points out that the first models of retirement emerged in 1889 in Germany, before spreading out over the world.
Work until you die — or until you can’t work anymore.
Until the late 19th century, that was the old-age plan for the bulk of the world’s workers.
Only in 1889 did German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduce modern pensions. Bismarck wasn’t really motivated by compassion for the plight of the working class. He wanted to preempt a growing socialist movement in Germany before it grew any more powerful.
Think about this for a second.
Teenagers and retirement – two things that seem so obvious and normal today, are relatively recent creations. Born out of technological, political and economic transformations that have created the world we live in today.
Andrew followed this statement by asking
What new life stages will we create now?
The trends and changes that fueled the 20th century continue today, just in different directions. These changes in technology and work (whether AI or automation) will change how we live, learn and prosper in unanticipated ways.
The quote also made me ask myself: what else do I assume to be “normal” when in reality it is anything but?
This is particularly true today, in these COVID hit times when we often speak of the “new normal.”
That of course assumes that what we had before was normal.
But in our heart of hearts we know that the systems that were disrupted by COVID19 were not perfect—far from it. If COVID19 has taught us anything it is that there are deep, unjust inequities in our systems, and that the impact of the pandemic does not fall equally on everyone. The virus does not discriminate but our systems do and that has significant negative consequences for the most disadvantaged.
The virus did not cause these inequities. It just revealed to us the hollowness of much of what we took to be normal.
And COVID19 is not the last of the disruptions we are facing. There are many more coming our way.
But maybe the COVID19 crisis is a wake-up call.
And maybe, just maybe, there is an opportunity here for us to ask why we have the systems we do and how we can create systems that are just, equitable, humane and sustainable.
That, if anything, that is at the heart of the learning futures and principled innovation work we do.
Just FYI: TechTrends is a peer-reviewed, double-blind, Springer journal. It has a 2019 impact factor of 1.538, H-index=33 (Scimago), and a 2019 Scopus CiteScore of 2.3. As a journal of the Association for Educational Communications & Technology,TechTrends has a wide readership in educational technology.
Giri is a good friend and we connect at multiple levels. We both went to the same undergraduate institution (BITS Pilani) though our paths did not cross then. We got to know each other better as we worked together on a partnership between APU and Michigan State University.
APU and the foundation of which it is a part (Azim Premji Foundation) are amazing organizations working across India in the areas of education and development. The foundation has engaged with state governments across India around issues such as teacher education, school leadership development, assessment, curricular development, institutional development and administrative reform.
Giri and I also connect over a shared love for cricket and he has written a couple of books on the subject. A couple of articles that are mentioned in the conversation are about the rise of data analytics (think Moneyball) in cricket. More here and here.