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The best you can do this Christmas for children!

While many heart-wrenching situations demand our attention, underlying our most complex problems and festering challenges is often a sheer lack of creativity or empathy. Urgent then is the need to democratize creativity and develop empathy universally, not just for civilizational advancement but for the very survival of our species.

We may be naturally creative as children but there is no guarantee that our creativity grows with age. In fact, E. Paul Torrance-widely regarded as ‘the father of creativity'-discovered the "4th-grade slump" in creativity which strikes students when they start memorizing for tests instead of creating for fun, thus pushing their own imagination to a backseat. Widespread emphasis on STEM disciplines and the absence of creative education has made the "4th-grade slump" more pervasive. "In 'The Creativity Crisis (2011)', I reported that American creativity declined from the 1990s to 2008. My new research reveals that the Creativity Crisis has grown worse since 2008," says KH Kim, professor at the College of William & Mary.

Using fMRI scans of 7- to 12-year olds, University of Chicago's neuroscientist Jean Decety and his colleagues have found that children are prone to empathy. Research on the neural underpinnings of empathy suggests that we infer the emotional state of our enemy using the same neural structures as our feelings for a beloved. Empathy creates a resonance in which energy and information flow across, engaging, healing, and exhilarating both us and our enemy. Why do children soon abandon empathy and become mean? "We live in a culture that discourages empathy. A culture that too often tells us our principal goal in life is to be rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained. A culture where those in power too often encourage these selfish impulses," said then-Senator Barack Obama in his 2006 commencement address at Northwestern University.

So how can we democratize creativity and develop empathy universally in our bitterly divided country and conflicted world? We must start with the children. Important for their holistic development is STEAMS education, which integrates STEM disciplines with Art for imagination and ideation and Sport for perseverance and teamwork. The STEAMS concept is pioneered by the International Child Art Foundation (ICAF) to foster children's creativity and develop empathy among them. ICAF's flagship program, the Arts Olympiad, has grown into the world's largest initiative that empowers 8- to 12-year olds to overcome the "4th-grade slump" in their creativity. Your child or children you know can participate free of charge in the 6th Arts Olympiad before its May 15, 2018 deadline.

The World Children's Festival (WCF) is produced by ICAF every four years on The National Mall in Washington, D.C. as the ‘Olympics' of children's imagination which develops cross-cultural and interracial empathy. At the 6th WCF in June 2019, the Arts Olympiad winners from participating U.S school districts and nearly one hundred countries will convene to celebrate Creativity, Diversity, and Unity. The WCF is free and open to the public and you are invited to bring your family along. You will see the children collaboratively produce the "Children's Earth Flag" for the first human mission to Mars. A three-day educational festival, the WCF is also fun. See this short music clip.

The self-taught psychologist Erik Erikson coined the term "generativity" to denote concern for future generations. As generativity shapes our actions, it becomes the muse and directs our creative purpose, providing spiritual satisfaction. Freed of the limitations of looking at the world strictly through myopic perspectives, we can finally see the full trajectory of the human experience and the arc of our collective journey from the viewpoint of the divine.

You can help expand the 6th Arts Olympiad to benefit more disadvantaged schoolchildren who lack creative outlets and empathy training with your donation today www.icaf.org. Founded in 1997, ICAF is independently ranked among the 25 Top Children's Charities in the United States and is a leader in advancing U.S. cultural diplomacy by engaging and winning over the world's children.

Ashfaq Ishaq

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