Creativity as an Emergent Property of Complex Educational System

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The importance of creativity in education has been discussed often in the literature. While there remains no agreed-upon definition of creativity, the psychological literature points to traits of a creative person. These include the ability to think outside the box, make connections between seemingly disparate ideas, and question norms. The literature provides several examples of classroom experiments to help foster creativity in the classroom. In science and mathematics, we can start by getting students to recognize mathematics and the sciences as being creative endeavors. While these attempts are noteworthy, they are not necessarily aligned with instructional practices. In this article, we propose that to promote creative thinking in our classrooms, we need to see our educational system as a complex system or a network of connections between different disciplines. The 20th century notion that school and college education is rooted in discipline-based reductionism and that learning leads to specialization caters to a few, leaving a large number of students to fail out of the system. The American liberal arts educational model prides itself on giving students a holistic perspective by exposing them to various disciplines. However, merely exposing students to different ideas without having them realize the deep, underlying connections is like expecting interesting dynamics in a collection of disconnected nodes. We propose that the education system is a complex system composed of various nodes, representing different disciplines with the edges representing the flow of unifying ideas between them. Connections between the nodes allow for flow in these paths, resulting in greater opportunity for creativity, which is an emergent property of such a network. The abstract notions discussed above are illustrated by deliberate attempts (ambitious though small) made at the authors’ institution to build an educational experience focused on creativity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
JournalNortheast Journal of Complex Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019


  • Complexity
  • Creativity
  • Emergence


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