Creativity, education, and the future

27 03 2010

This morning I’ve found myself surrounded by books and spring sunlight, nurturing myself and learning more on the fascinating topic of “creativity.” I took the time to watch a TED talk this morning that’s been on my list to watch for quite a while now, and it was absolutley worth it.

The TED talk is entitled, “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity,” and this is exactly what it’s about – on how students are educated out of their creativity by the school system. Robinson asks, “So why is this?” Through a series of stories, anecdotes, research and evidence, and hilarious jokes, Robinson discusses the absolute importance for creativity – the way it impacts our world, the way our world impacts it, and the way our education systems are changing with and without it. He shares in his talk three things we know about our intelligence, and how he believes “we need to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.”

This talk is, without a doubt, one that I feel any and all teachers would benefit from watching. Not only is it inspiring and rejuvenating, but it is also sprinkled with real research, findings and truths about our education system. Even if you don’t completely agree with it, I can at least promise you that it will make you think. However, since I’m well aware that finding 20 min. to sit down and watch a presentation can be rather difficult (it took me weeks to finally get around to watching this talk), below I’ve highlighted some of what I feel are the most important parts of the talk:

“I have a big interest in education, and I think we all do. We have a huge vested interest in it, partly because it’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp. If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue — despite all the expertise that’s been on parade for the past four days — what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet we’re meant to be educating them for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary.

… So I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.

What these things have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. If you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this. He said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it. So why is this?

But something strikes you when you move to America and when you travel around the world: Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one. Doesn’t matter where you go. You’d think it would be otherwise, but it isn’t. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on Earth. And in pretty much every system too, there’s a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I think math is very important, but so is dance. Children dance all the time if they’re allowed to, we all do. We all have bodies, don’t we?… Truthfully, what happens is, as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.

If you were to visit education, as an alien, and say “What’s it for, public education?” I think you’d have to conclude — if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this, who does everything that they should, who gets all the brownie points, who are the winners — I think you’d have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn’t it? They’re the people who come out the top. And I used to be one, so there. And I like university professors, but you know, we shouldn’t hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement. They’re just a form of life, another form of life. But they’re rather curious, and I say this out of affection for them. There’s something curious about professors in my experience — not all of them, but typically — they live in their heads. They live up there, and slightly to one side. They’re disembodied, you know, in a kind of literal way.

Now our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there’s a reason. The whole system was invented — around the world, there were no public systems of education, really, before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas. Number one, that the most useful subjects for work are at the top. So you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. Is that right? Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician; don’t do art, you won’t be an artist. Benign advice — now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution. And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can’t afford to go on that way.

In the next 30 years, according to UNESCO, more people worldwide will be graduating through education than since the beginning of history. More people, and it’s the combination of all the things we’ve talked about — technology and its transformation effect on work, and demography and the huge explosion in population. Suddenly, degrees aren’t worth anything. Isn’t that true?… But now kids with degrees are often heading home to carry on playing video games, because you need an MA where the previous job required a BA, and now you need a PhD for the other. It’s a process of academic inflation. And it indicates the whole structure of education is shifting beneath our feet. We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence.

We know three things about intelligence. One, it’s diverse. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity — which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value — more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things... And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct. I’m doing a new book at the moment called “Epiphany,” which is based on a series of interviews with people about how they discovered their talent. I’m fascinated by how people got to be there.

I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children. There was a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk, who said, “If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.” And he’s right.

What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely, and that we avert some of the scenarios scenarios that we’ve talked about. And the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. By the way — we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.

To learn more about Ken Robinson and creativity, Robinson has written a book called “Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative,” that asks questions such as “Why is it essential to promote creativity? Why is this so important? What’s the problem? Why do so many adults think they’re not very creative (and not very intelligent)? How do we lose the confidence to be creative?What should be done? Is everyone creative or just a select few? Can creativity be developed? If so, how?” I haven’t read it yet, but it is officially in my cart on Amazon and should be a wonderful read for this summer.

In 1998, Robinson also “led a national commission on creativity, education and the economy for the UK Government bringing together leading business people, scientists, artists and educators. His report, All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (The Robinson Report) was published to huge acclaim.” This report can be found for free on his website, along with descriptions of the other books and articles that Robinson has written, live interviews and presentations of/with Robinson that have been recorded over the years, links and so much more. His website is quite fun, interactive, bright and helpful. Check it out!

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2 responses

29 03 2010
brm5004

I just wanted to say that I always enjoy your blogs! They are so helpful, informative and cheery to read!! 🙂 Thank you

6 04 2010
Self-assessment « Teach Simplicity

[…] technology and Storytelling supports learning, imagination, and creativity. My previous blog, Creativity, education, and the future was one of my most enjoyable posts to write so far in terms of research and information, however, […]

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