Reframing Education, Embracing Creativity

As a child, it’s no doubt a common idea for one to have imagined being a rock star, standing on stage in front of thousands of screaming fans singing along to every word. It’s no doubt a common idea to have imagined being a movie star, walking down the infamous red carpet, having your picture taken in a fancy suit or one-of-a-kind dress, anxiously waiting to win that Oscar. My dream? I wanted to be a wrestler. You read that right, a wrestler. My parents were so proud. To which I was told, as we all are “You’ll never do that! You want to get a proper job!” (Whatever that is?). As you get older, the more creative aspirations of your life may have taken a back seat, and they probably did.

Sir Ken Robinson’s “Schools Kill Creativity” is a talk that must be seen. Delivered with a bone dry and subtle wit, Sir Ken presents a powerful, well-informed and very entertaining argument as to why children are steered away from creative thought and how education eradicates creativity rather severely.

The biggest opponent facing creativity in the education system is the concept of ‘intelligence.’ Now that doesn’t mean to suggest that creativity doesn’t access intelligent faculties or isn’t an aspect of intelligence – what this means is that creativity does not fit in to the majority of tests that measure intelligence. Particularly in Western culture, intelligence is seen as a barometer of a person’s worth. Education is a global institution that measures the academic intelligence of children.

One of the key theories that believes creativity is an element of intelligence is the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence  which focuses on analytical, creative and practical intelligences. It’s interested in the roles of cognitive processes, experience and context. Another popular theory is Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence (1999) in which seven intelligences are identified; Linguistic, Musical, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinaesthetic, Intrapersonal and Interpersonal. Critics argue that some of these are appropriately described as special talents than as forms of intelligence. Both theories represent a more modern approach to intelligence that supports the role of creativity and individual differences. They suggest that there is not just one way to be intelligent.

Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Intelligence
Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence

Gardner Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Gardner Theory of Multiple Intelligences

The classical view of intelligence has a very strong influence on the policy of education and this presents serious implications to the self-efficacy (belief in their own ability) of children from a young age and can seriously affect their self-esteem (concept of worth) in later life, especially to those children of a creative disposition. Sir Ken Robinson suggests that it’s the education system that dims the light of creativity of children; this is demonstrated by creative classes not being valued as highly as mathematics for example. It is because of this academic hierarchy that some children never realise they have a talent or realise what they are good at because school simply does not recognise those talents as containing any academic or intelligent value or even having any contribution to the ‘real world’.

I find this image seems to sum up intelligence testing in schools
I find this image seems to sum up intelligence testing in schools

When I listened to this talk, it reminded me of one of the greatest minds to have ever existed. A man with unquenchable curiosity. The “Renaissance Man”, Leonardo da Vinci. He’s a fantastic example to this topic in many ways. He was the born illegitimately, and this impacted on his access to school because it meant that he wasn’t allowed to go. As a consequence da Vinci had freedom to explore and investigate the world around him. It was because of his curiosity of the world in which he applied his creative genius. He benefitted in many ways by not going to school (I’m not suggesting that children boycott school) as he was allowed to think differently and completely out of the box. Because his creativity was not shaped or moulded to suit the homogenous ideologies of education he saw the world completely differently. Although there is a significant difference in culture today than there was in a pre-Renaissance childhood of da Vinci, I still think this highlights the great impact creativity has and supports Sir Ken’s argument that creativity is an important commodity.

To further Sir Ken’s statement, it isn’t just education that kills creativity. Parents can also play their part. Some parents can put enormous strain on their children by placing value on specific subjects. For example, I was good at drama and English, yet I was awful at maths and science. My parents felt that being good at drama wouldn’t help me get a “good job”. Some parents can place a great deal of added pressure on their children by focussing on the end goal, a “good job”. This means a well-paid job in a work place environment of social worth. For example, to be an actor, one requires tremendous fortitude, dedication, hard-work, confidence and total commitment and it may take years to achieve, yet the same amount of energy, confidence, hard-work and commitment are all required to be a doctor. I would argue that most parents would prefer their child to follow the career path to a doctor. Why? I propose because it’s more socially acceptable and seen as more intelligent. The homogenous, archaic and generalised concept of intelligence does need to be revolutionised in the education system.

“Every education system in the world has the same hierarchy of subjects; Mathematics, Languages, Humanities and then the Arts – Sir Ken Robinson”

Whatever you may think about the role of creativity within education, it is important to understand that it plays a significant role in our world. In the real world, creativity works hand in hand with science and technology, from designing cars to designing scientific experiments and these creative individuals are fundamental to these industries. So why don’t we nurture these creative minds in school?

This talk is a powerful, must-see presentation. With tremendous comic timing and engaging story telling ability, Sir Ken Robinson uses hilarious anecdotes to set up and apply context to his important, well informed and intelligent arguments. He suggests that everybody has a vested interest in education. If you are one of these people, what are you waiting for?


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