How Teachers Affect Creativity | VOX, CEPR Policy Portal

Teachers can have a lasting impact on their students’ productivity, but measuring that impact is difficult. This column evaluates the influence of teachers in the context of Western music structure over the five centuries. The author finds that students are more similar to their teachers than other contemporary musicians and that this influence lasts for the next two to three generations, as most students become teachers themselves, but then disappear. High quality teacher students are more likely to become high quality musicians, while imitating a low quality teacher reduces the chances of success in life.

Ideas are fundamental to the production of any creative product, whether in the arts, sciences or business. However, because ideas are so interesting, little is known about how they are communicated between people. Teachers, educators, and role models are affected in many ways (Rivkin et al. 2005, Rocko 2004, Chetty et al. 2014, Waldinger 2010). However, in creative professions it may be their creative or intellectual influence that is most important: how teachers create student skills and ideas about art, and consequently the nature of the work they produce. Teachers or professional leaders with broad reach can even influence the direction in which all areas move.

Academic researchers may recognize the potential for this influence, reflecting on how they have shaped themselves where they graduated from work and the faculties that have taught or counseled their courses.

On the one hand, the guidance of subject matter experts is essential for the transfer of basic principles and skills and the ability to better understand from low quality work. But it may also attract students to the tastes and methods of a teacher who is out of the mainstream or who does not meet contemporary standards. Ultimately, this influence may even lead to the spread of bad ideas. Whether teachers and role models in the creative field leave an impact on their students that shapes their future work is an empirical question.

In a new article (Borowiecki 2022), I study this question in the context of the structure of Western music over five centuries. Examining historically important cultural institutions in such a setting where the lineage of music is well documented allows direct comparison of the content of their work and measures of continuous value. I create a new approach that provides specific insights into how teachers influence their students’ creative work, how long this influence lasts, and what the consequences are for the student’s innovative product.

Figure 1 Map of musicians by birth location in Europe

Notes: Map shows the birthplace for musicians born in Europe and listed in Barlow and Morgenstern (1975, 1976). Information is collected by the authors (see Borowiecki 2022, Section 4 for details).

Using specific data by hundreds of composers to capture the key features of a creative product for about 15,000 music compositions, I calculate the degree of similarity of the pair composers (or combinations) and confirm that the students are learning from other, non- Related, more similar to their teachers than contemporaries. Composers

The next two to three generations have been influenced by the lineage of music, as many students have become music teachers themselves, but then the influence disappears. I also confirm the results by comparing students who have interconnected teachers – these students are more similar to each other than other contemporary musicians.

I then examine the results of the observed influence in an attempt to determine if the influence is a good thing. Does it just lead to better ideas, or worse? My findings show that students who imitate highly qualified teachers are more likely to become high quality musicians themselves. On the other hand, imitation of low quality teachers reduced the chances of success in the life of students. This underscores the importance of choosing the right role model.

It’s clear that ideas aren’t always good. ” In fact, some of the ideas and actions taken may be detrimental to a young person’s success. This creates additional challenges for the student, who needs to carefully filter and identify the best practices for themselves. These observations carry special weight considering the potential long-term effects experienced at the beginning of a person’s life or career.

Outcome The production of a creative or intellectual product has implications for our understanding, especially around questions where ideas come from; Why some ideas are produced against others, and by whom; And what will be the consequences. These questions are of general interest and have significant market implications.


Borowicki, KJ (2022), “Good Repetitions? The Influence of Teachers on Music Structure from 1450”, Journal of Political Economy, The next

Chetty, R, JN Friedman and JE Rocko (2014), “Measuring Teacher Impact: Assessing Prejudice in Teacher Value Added Estimates”, American Economic Review 104 (9): 2593-2632

Lucas, RE (2008), “Ideas and Growth”, NBER Technical Report 14133.

Rivkin, SG, EA Hanushek and JF Kain (2005), “Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievements”, Econometrica ۷۳ (۲): ۴۱۷–۴۵۸.

Rocko, JE (2004), “The Impact of Individual Teachers on Student Achievement: Evidence from Panel Data”, American Economic Review ۹۴ (۲): ۲۴۷–۲۵۲.

Waldinger, F (2010), “Quality Issues: Expulsion of Professors and Outcome of PhD Students in Nazi Germany”, Journal of Political Economy 118 (4): 787-831.

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