Neatness vs. Creativity

Exactness and neatness in moderation is a virtue, but carried to extremes narrows the mind.

-Francois Fenelon

Consider this: Neatness and creativity often can't coexist. If you want your classroom to be a neat one, it likely won't be a very creative one--and vice versa. Remember that creativity is important for helping students to learn, and it shouldn't be omitted due to a need for neatness.

Have you ever seen one of those classrooms that is neat to the extreme? Creativity and extreme neatness rarely coexist. Here are some reasons why:

  • Ultra neat classrooms look bare. There isn’t much in the room in terms of art and science supplies or even school supplies above the basics. There might even be empty shelves. Extra stuff = more potential for mess. The easiest solution? Don’t let that stuff into the classroom to begin with. Students cannot use what isn’t there. Often art, science, and other messy subjects are minimized or skipped altogether.
  • In the ultra neat classroom, everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – has a place, and it is put back in its place as soon as it is done being used (if it is ever used at all). Books are alphabetized. Papers are always neatly stacked or filed. Coats and backpacks are always on hooks, never on the floor. Students may be so worried about accidentally ruining something or putting it back in the wrong place that they choose not to use them at all.
  • Student desks are not only perfectly aligned but also always to be kept perfectly neat, both inside and out. The floor is immaculate – no scraps, ever. Extreme neatness takes large amounts of time to maintain – time that could be better spent actually learning something.
  • The walls are decorated with perfectly positioned store-bought posters. If there is student work, only the best examples are displayed. This is not at all inspiring for those kids who know that while they might have some great ideas, they have no hope of attaining the ultra-perfect expectation that is required to have their work displayed.
  • No one talks during work periods. The students are trained to work in silence. Group work is rare, as the noise level makes the teacher uncomfortable. Most work is done individually by students at their desks. The classroom may look orderly and well-controlled, but students are missing out on the chance to collaborate, learn to work with others, and improve their social skills.
  • Neat, grammatically correct papers get higher scores than creative ones, even if the assignment was in creative writing. When teachers value neatness over content, students start to as well. Writing suffers because “big” is easier to spell and write than “enormous.” Neat can be boring.

Obviously, organization and neatness have their place. Most people have trouble working when everything is chaos, and I’ve seen those classrooms, as well as ones similar to the one described above. However, like most things, neatness is best in moderation.

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