National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2001


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 2:2, Fall/Winter 2001. Copyright © 2001 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


Many people in our society manage adequately all their lives without ever flexing a creative muscle. Yet, most of us involved in Honors education expect and want more for our students. We know that those who resist using creativity in their lives and work will be unlikely to push beyond the traditional boundaries of scholastic analysis. Further, we reason that, by operating beyond such boundaries, our students may someday find a cure for cancer, recognize signs marking sentient life on other planets, or move people to leave hatred of differences behind. We realize that such dreams are possible only if we agree that “the purpose of education should be understanding rather than simply knowing; its focus should be on the active process of learning and creating rather than the passive acquisition of facts” (Root-Bernstein 316). Like most Honors educators, I am concerned with how best to involve my students in the rich possibilities available to those who can successfully engage both critical and creative modes of thought. As a former undergraduate poetry major who turned to the highly traditional field of medieval studies in graduate school, I am constantly aware of the extent to which creative expression has served me as both a springboard and a sanctuary for fresh or prolonged reflection on my own research and teaching. Such a background taught me the personal and professional value of integrating critical and creative faculties into my own work. However, my current teaching experience in an interdisciplinary Honors program has taught me that many academic environments so strongly encourage students to compartmentalize and prioritize their learning that the educational advantages of artistic creation are frequently ignored or even lost. To avoid such a fate in my own humanities-based courses, I combine standard critical thinking assignments (such as research papers, analytical essays, and reading-response assignments) with creative arts exercises (such as poems, illustrations for difficult textual passages, and historical fiction projects) to give my students experience using both faculties.