“Do schools kill creativity?”

I love this Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006.

This is now over 11 years old, but never has what he said, been more apt for our education system. Creativity is so important in our lives and our kid’s future lives and yet it is being squashed out! Our job as parents is to educate our kids so that they understand that not everyone is built to be intelligent in the same way. Intelligence as Robinson explains, comes in many forms, it is it’s diverse, dynamic and it is distinct; only with this can creativity and originality flourish!

It’s OK to make a mistake

During this talk Robinson explains how kids are always prepared to take chances and get things wrong, but as they grow into adults, they become frightened of making mistakes because our education system teaches them that mistakes are wrong! Being wrong is not the same things as being creative, but what Robinson explains is that “if you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original”. I try desperately hard with my own kids to get them to celebrate their mistakes, “OK, so we got this wrong, can we see what we need to do, to get this right next time?” Learning from our mistakes in action! But the reality is, when there’s 5 mins before we leave for school, and they’ve got a spelling test that morning, good intentions of learning from our mistakes can evaporate very quickly! This doesn’t of course mean we shouldn’t continue to strive to encourage our kids that mistakes are OK, as long as we learn from them.

As a consequence of this ‘must not fail’ mind-set, Robinson argues that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. This is something I believe in passionately.  Picaso famously stated “all children are born artists, the challenge is to remain an artist as we grow up”.  It is so true! I remember many a time my children splashing paint and producing all kinds of weird and wonderful pieces of art; yet as they have become older, they are conforming to the expectations of society. Robinson would claim that we are educating people out of their creative capacities!

Robison was not just criticising the British system of education, he claims that every system has had the same hierarchy of subjects throughout the world, with Maths, Science and English considered at the top, followed by humanities with the arts at the bottom!  He gives this wonderful explanation about kids ability to move and dance at whatever age, it is something that they are innately born with and he questions why are they not allowed to dance everyday in school? An interesting thought! Why can’t we explore this love, passion and freedom that comes from kid’s movement?  As a secondary teacher stuck in the current education system I can always see the teacher side of, we need them to be able to sit down and concentrate, but actually…. If we can allow them to be creative and flourish in a different way, would this then enable them to become more attentive in other aspects of their education? It’s an interesting concept!

She’s not naughty, she’s a dancer!

Robinson’s Tedtalk refers to the life of the incredibly, brilliantly talented British ballerina and choreographer Dame Gillian Barbara Lynne. At school she was labelled as being a problem, naughty, never able to sit still, fidgeting always late with her homework etc etc. The school wrote to her parents believing she had a learning difficulty! It took a consultation with a doctor who realised that she was not sick – but a “dancer”! She was being forced to conform in an educational environment that just wasn’t for her! The moment she was taken to a dance school – she flourished. This is the lady who was not only noted for being a British ballerina, preforming at Sadler’s Well’s Ballet Company, but who went on to choreographer two of the longest running shows in Broadway and London, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats and the Phantom of the Opera.

The way our educational system has been set up (and I hate to say even more so currently) many highly talented intelligent, brilliant people think they are not – because what they are good at was not valued or was highly stigmatised when they were at school. This stunts creativity! Just thinking back to Gillian Lynne, as Robinson states “ Someone else may have put her on medication and told her to calm down”! What a waste of originality which would have been lost, had her talent not been recognised by her doctor!  When I first started teaching there were lots of opportunities for creatively, chances for students to learn from their mistakes.  Our current system is squeezing out art and creative subjects to make way for more “academic” subjects.  Why?  So as a nation we can show our success in the PISA rankings  – a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which tests 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading. 

So what does this mean?

This Ted talk raises so many questions as a teacher in secondary education – but also as a parent! I desperately want my children to succeed! But succeed in what? Do I want them to conform to what society expects “intelligence is”? I’d like to think not, my primary desire is for them to be happy;  but I know that I am keen to ensure that they have good general Mathematical and English skills.  These are of course essential for them to access the next stages in their lives! But do I think that my 10 year old needs to understand and be able to identify what “determiner” is? No, I do not! Do I think that it is more important that she be able to dance about, sing to her hearts content, celebrate getting things wrong, but learn through the process – Absolutely!

Susie x