Optimizing College for the Creative Mind: Knowing the Difference Between WHAT to Know, and HOW to think.

Over the last year, I’ve met four young men who recently dropped out of college. Rocky, Orion, Arik and James are all exceedingly bright, articulate, over-achieving well-read and well-bread guys who have multiple reasons for not graduating college within the four years directly after high school. But there is one major commonality between all four—they all say that the college classroom was not a an optimal environment for them to learn.

Rocky, Orion, Arik and James all think creatively. They tend to lean on their right brain and examine information in broad terms and think about big ideas rather than wallow in the specifics. They look for the outer edges of things, rather than being defined in tight boxes. Facts and figures are trivial to the inquisitive mind of a creative person.

In many a college classroom, the goal is to disseminate information from professor to student—installing facts and figures, formulas and philosophies into the brain for future use. Most of the information delivered in this type of classroom environment can also be found in books, and online. This classroom learning is similar to how we learn in elementary, middle and high school, and sadly, is becoming more and more of how many colleges and universities deliver an education to students. Students are told WHAT to know.

But given the right curriculum and educators, the college classroom can also teach students HOW to think—how to respond to conflicting ideas; how to mix rational and emotional thought; how to hone creative-thinking skills, and how to extract alternative theories and imagine alternative outcomes (as just a few examples).  

In looking back at my college experience, what was most valuable to me were the valuable lessons around HOW to think. I’ve used my thinking skills everyday since school. But, the facts, figures, formulas and philosophies—not so much. That is, of course, unless I’m playing Trivial Pursuit.

In listening to Rocky, Orion, Arik and James, I'm thinking they were caught in the wrong schools, with the wrong curriculum. If they had been learning more HOW to think, rather than WHAT to know, they might have been far more intellectually and creatively stimulated and stuck out school a bit longer. 

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