Learn more about the author of newly released Creativity and Education in China, Carol Mullen in our exclusive interview!
Carol A. Mullen, PhD, is Professor of Educational Leadership and a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. She researches creativity, mentoring, learning, and policy within international contexts and with social justice lenses. Her authorships encompass more than 220 refereed articles and chapters, as well as 21 books, most recently Creativity and Education in China: Paradox and Possibilities for an Era of Accountability (2017, Routledge & Kappa Delta Pi). She is recipient of the 2017 Living Legend Award from the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration, and the 2016 Jay D. Scribner Mentoring Award from the University Council for Educational Administration.
1.) Why did you decide to write this book?
I decided to write this book because in 2015 the Fulbright Office in Washington, DC, sent me to China for my scholarly work project. The goal was to establish contact with a country that’s central to the geopolitical drama of the 21st century. The American motive was to develop U.S.˗China collegial relations while conducting a study, teaching, and lecturing. So, I traveled to the other side of the planet to discover whether creativity occurs in China’s exam-crazed accountability culture. There I directly experienced the creativity paradox in China’s education system while interacting with Chinese educators, leaders, and students. I could see that a book was possible prior to departure; once there, I was living out this possibility. Routledge and Kappa Delta Pi had already acknowledged this vision by endorsing my book contract before I left. In turn, the book contract motivated me that much more to collect as much data as possible and to carry out a rigorous study.
2.) Are there any common misconceptions about this topic that you would like to clarify for readers?
Yes, there are common misconceptions about this topic. China’s political leadership and much of the world mistakenly believes that its people lack creativity. In the global press, much is said about the need for Chinese people to become more creative and entrepreneurial if the country is to develop into a world-class innovator. It may very well be erroneous, though, to assume that all Chinese students and teachers can’t think creatively, and that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a communist regime like any other, when actually it is highly adaptive, showing itself to be capable of rapid change. While the rote-based, mechanized education of China is surely repressive, it isn’t stamping out creativity. In fact, it can’t economically or politically afford to do so.
Also, I did not know myself how any of this would play out during my time in China. For example, because my schedule evolved day-to-day in China, I wondered about my chances of actually observing creativity. I thought that opportunities would increase if I visited as many different schools as possible, but I wasn’t sure if this was just wishful thinking. I certainly had no idea as to whether there would be enough material on this subject for a book, even if I was fortunate enough to observe creativity here and there.
Ironically, I found myself in a state of uncertainty about the validity or authenticity of my project for “finding” creativity, despite all of the intellectual, organizational, and technical preparation. Might my trip to China end up being much more about high-stakes accountability in a communist regime than the aesthetic in education? I took on the challenge of finding creativity both where there was testing and where there was no testing.
3.) Discuss one important takeaway you’d like to highlight for readers.
Though rote learning and testing in China can get in the way of serious attempts at creativity and innovation in China, educators seem open to ideas that encourage creative teaching and learning, critical thinking, and student-centered, activity-based learning. This tale of creativity about China’s education system has significant implications for America and other parts of the world.
4.) Tell us a story about why you got into the field of Education.
I was always “in” education before I was “in” the field of education, playing teacher as a child and majoring in education for my degrees. I would play school, read books, and create characters despite growing up in a broken home. So, I always strongly believed in education as an expression of freedom from inherited poverty and of possibility beyond a world bounded by low sociopolitical capital. As time went on, I also experienced its conformity and constraint through rule-bound forms of schooling dependent on testing and other constraints. However, my desire grew to experience learning in a simulated liberated environment, not one hampered by artificial barriers of authority, rank, and such. Luckily, my dissertation supervisor from The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISEUT), Canada, was a good match for me, which gave me the opportunity to experiment outside the scope of my dissertation. We explored creative and alternative approaches to mentoring, using our relationship as the case study. I continued to explore over the years, believing that international work can also be a forum for investigating dynamics of creativity and constraint under the most confining of circumstances, which has led to my new book:
Mullen, C. A. (2017). Creativity and education in China: Paradox and possibilities for an era of accountability (2017, Routledge & Kappa Delta Pi).
Published with Kappa Delta Pi, Creativity and Education in China takes readers on a journey through research-supported ideas and practical examples of creative and innovative schooling within a changing regime. Analyzing the consequences of exam-centric accountability on the creative and critical…
Paperback – 2017-03-16
Mullen, C. A. (2016, June 15). Creativity, the other side of China’s exam-centric education: Paradox and possibility. Invited lecture and seminar presented at The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT), Toronto, Canada. (Host: Comparative, International & Development Education Collaborative Program [CIDEC]). OISE/UT feature (flyer, newsletter, audio of lecture @ http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/cidec/CIDEC_Seminar_Series/Seminar_Webcasts_Winter_Spring_2016.html
Virginia Tech Lecture Spotlight: http://www.soe.vt.edu/new_events/2016/June_27_2016.html
Mullen, C. A. (P.I). (2014-15). U.S. Fulbright Specialist Scholar, selected by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FSB), U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education & Cultural Affairs (ECA), & Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES). Proposal ID 6219, fulfilled 2015 in China. Blog post at Fulbright website: http://www.cies.org/article/expanding-knowledge-and-application-creative-thinking-china
Mullen, C. A. (2015, October). Printed interview of Dr. Carol Mullen: 2015 keynote speaker. [Faith Sears, interviewer]. Mentoring & Coaching Monthly, 2(8), 4-6. [UNM Mentoring Institute]. URL: http://mentor.unm.edu/file/content/2015/09/30/October-MC.pdf
Mullen, C. A. (2015, September 18). Live interview: Reaching beyond traditional mentoring models: A conversation with Dr. Carol Mullen. Podcast: Mentoring Today, sponsor: Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring at the University of Massachusetts. Interviewer: Vince Reardon, author of The Pocket Mentor. Blog Talk Radio: http://www.blogtalkradio.com