Summary Schools Kill Creativity Essay

In 2006 Sir Ken Robinson gave an unforgettable talk at TED about how to develop children’s natural capacity for creativity and imagination, and how the design of our current public school systems are working to kill that creativity.

Here is the video of the talk, with a text transcript of the main points below (in case you’re at work, or on a lower bandwidth connection). I highly recommend the video to get the full force of his presentation.

1. There’s extraordinary evidence of human creativity.

2. We have no idea of what’s going to happen in the future.

We have a huge interest in education, partly because we’re relying on it to take us into a future that we cannot predict. Children starting school this year (2010), will be retiring around 2075. Nobody has a clue what the world will look like in 5 years time, let alone in 12 years, when these kids are graduating from high school, or 16 years if they go to college.

We have no idea what that future will bring, we have no clue, and yet we’re supposed to be preparing them for that.

Children have extraordinary capacities for innovation.

All kids have extensive creative capacity, and we squander it, quite ruthlessly.

Creativity now is as important in education, as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.

Tells a story of a little girl in class in a drawing lesson, who rarely paid attention, but she was really into this. So the teacher went over and asked, “what are you drawing?” And the little girl said “God”, and the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like”, and the little girl said “Well they will in a minute”.

Tells the story of his son in the Nativity play. He was playing Joseph. So there they were at this play, and at the part where the three kings come in to offer their gifts, they went out of order. And completely unintentionally (talking to the child afterward), the first child came forward and said “I bring you gold”. The second said “I bring you myrr”. Then the third child came forward and said “Frank sent this.”

The point is that kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.”

By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. We run our companies like this, we stigmatize mistakes. We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is that we are educating people OUT of their creative capacities.

Picasso once said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.

We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.

Think of Shakespeare, he was in somebody’s english class at some point. How annoying would that be… “must try harder”. Think of being his dad… “now go to bed… and put that pencil down.. and stop speaking like that… it’s confusing everybody.”

Every education system on the earth has the same hierarchy of subjects, at the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on earth.

And in pretty much every instance, there’s a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music, then drama and dance.

As children grow up we begin to educate them from the waste up. And then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side.

If you looked at education as an alien, and simply looked at what the output was, who gets all the brownie points, you’d have to conclude that the whole purpose is to produce university professors (I used to be one).

There’s something curious about professors, they live in their heads, they live up there, and slightly to one side. They’re disembodied. They look at their bodies as a form of transport for their heads.

It’s the way they get their heads to meetings.

Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. The whole system was invented after the 19th century. The whole thing came into being to accomodate the needs of industrialism. The whole thing is built upon two ideas.

1. The most useful subjects for work are at the top. So you were probably steered away from things, as a kid, from things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job, doing that.

Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician, don’t do art, you’re not going to be an artist. Benign advice. Now, profoundly mistaken.

2. 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 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.

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 from education than since the beginning of history. It’s the combination of technology and its transformative effect on work, and demography and the huge explosion of population.

Suddenly, degrees aren’t worth anything. When I was a student, if you had a degree, you had a job, and if you didn’t have a job, you didn’t want one. But now kids are graduating and going back home to play video games. Because now you need an MA, whereas before you needed a BA, and soon you’ll need a PHD.

It’s a process of academic inflation. The whole structure of education is shifting beneath our feat.

we need to radically rethink our view of intelligence.

We know three things about intelligence.

1. It’s diverse – we think about the world in all the ways we experience. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement.

2. It’s dynamic. If you look at the interaction of the human brain, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. Creativity, more often than not, comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.

Corpus Collosum – nerves that connect the two halves of the brain. It’s thicker in women. Perhaps why women are better at multitasking.

3. It’s distinct.

Gillian Lynn – a choreographer who did Cats, and Phantom. They had lunch and he asked “how’d you get to be a dancer?” She said when I was in school, in the 30’s I was really hopeless, and the school wrote to her parents and said she has a learning disorder.

Probably now they’d say she had ADHD. But this was the 30’s, and it hadn’t been invented, it wasn’t an available condition. People weren’t aware they could have that.

So she went to see this specialist, in this oak panelded room, and she sat on her hands while this woman talked to her mother about all the problemsGillian was having at school. And at the end of it, (she was 8), the doctor went and sat next to her, and said “, I’ve listened to all the things that your mother has told me, and I need to speak with her privately, we’ll be right back.”

As he went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. and when they got out of the room, he said, “just watch her”. Soon as they left, she was on her feet, moving to the music. He said to her mother “Mrs, Lynn,Gillian isn’t sick, she’s a dancer. take her to a dance school”.

She did. “I went to this room, and it was full of people like me. People who couldn’t sit still, people who had to move, to think. They did ballet, tap, jazz, everything.”

Then she got a wonderful career at the royal ballet, graduated, founded her own company, met Andrew Lloyd Weber, and has been responsible for some of the most amazing ballets in history, given pleasure to millions, and she’s a multi-millionaire.

Someone else might have put her on medication, and told her to calm down.

I think our only hope for the future is to adopt a new perception of human ecology. One in which we start to reconstitute our perception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds, in the way we strip mine the earth for a particular commodity. And for the future it won’t service. WE have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.

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, which we may not even see. But they will, and our job is to help prepare them to make something of it.

I certainly think Ken makes a strong argument, and believe much of what he talks about is why (according to Gallup) some 50% of employees are not engaged in their work today, costing the nation around $300 billion in lost productivity, and why so many are unfulfilled with their career paths (more on this post).  It’s a decoupling of their pursuits from their passions.  They never found their sweet spot, and ended up pursuing something that they were assured could pay the bills, rather than something they were truly passionate about.

If this is you, click here for a series of posts that will help you learn how to get back on track, to find fulfillment in life and in work, and to chart a trajectory towards a career that you love.

Note:  Thank you for being here.  Remember, you matter, and you can make a difference.  Please share this post with someone else, and come back for more.

  • Schooling offers more knowledge.

    Even though public school curriculums are strictly structured, the knowledge children obtain from the holing builds a platform for new innovative thinking. One example of creativity not being killed is that most high school grads that go onto college are dissed into many different majors. If public schools killed creativity and made us all think the same, we would all take the same major.

  • Schools do not destroy creativity. Schools may not offer enough art classes, but they certainly don't destroy it.

    People destroy their own creativity. The high school I go to is a science and technology school and yet we have three art murals and tons of music and art classes that anyone can take. If a person isn't a naturally creative person, then they just won't be throughout life.

    Don't blame the school. This is the technology age so the schools are just preparing you for reality. But school isn't trying to take away your creative spirit. I'm a senior and I haven't taken art since freshman year yet I still love to draw and I still use my brain.

  • They give us a platform

    While being in school we tend to know certain things which we didnt knew before. These things are called basics. After learning these basics we tend to use our imagination to create wonders. The modern marvels are products of these basics collaborated with our creativity . So schools rather than killing our creativity provides us a platform where we can nurture ourselves to be more creative and imaginative.

  • Creativity refers to the ability to think differently

    The education system does not kill our creativity but instead in my opinion it improves the quality of our thinking. It structures out thinking and gives us the freedom to formulate our own opinions.It helps us alter our thinking and express our thoughts and emotions in a healthy way. It helps us dream wonder and imagine.

  • School give students a chance for learning something new. And it provide students creativity.

    I don't think this opinion that school kill creativity. Because school provide us(students) new information and knowledge that we don't know previously, after students understand this, they create new things based on the old more easily. For example, if you learn literature, you take chance to write poem or fiction. If not, because young people don't go to school, he or she has difficult to know literature. Not only this case, but also in many field, students take chance to improve their creativity in school.

  • Creativity in the classroom comes down to the teachers creativity.

    Im an art teacher, I work alongside another art teacher who also teaches mathematics. You would think that a subject like maths would discourage creativity, but what has opened my eyes is when this art teacher teaches maths he had the students create graphs on the floor using masking tape and allows them to go outside and give them the freedom to learn where they are not strapped to their desks and with this their marks reflect. I believe that it is not the school, or the subjects that kill creativity, but the teachers and the way the teachers are educated to teach.
    We all need to understand and develop new ways to educate the next generation which is innovative and exciting in order to nurture the creativity, not repress it.

  • "kill" really? Definitely doesn't "kill" creativity.

    While you may (correctly) argue that school is not necessarily a place which inspires or develops creativity. It definitely does not kill it. I don't find school creatively stimulating, however I don't allow it to stifle my creative side. I merely pursue it outside of school (for me its photography). It is an uncreative person who allows school to "kill" their creativity.

    In any event I personally think that school actually gives us the tools which helps drive our creative side. For example teaching a painter different ways of using the brush and achieving what they want. Or teaching a composer various instruments so that he is in a better place to compose from. Or equipping a person who enjoys poetry with a fine vocabulary, so that they may pursue their creative side of writing more effectively.

    When whinge about school killing their creativity it makes me sick, as it clearly shows a lack of imagination and is really just an excuse for their laziness. Please get off your arse and make an effort to pursue your creative side rather than finding excuses.

  • Courses to learn and further knowledge in new ways

    In my high school we have an IB program which amerces people in a different way of learning and thinking about problems. There are also many courses such as economics and Theory of Knowledge which question the ways which any given student looks at a situation and makes them have their own creative interpretation. I think that with all the elective courses you can take, students have a great opportunity to express creativity at school.

  • Ha ha ha

    As a student and a creative writer, I believe it does. It's obvious that a structured environment tends to stunt creativity. Students are expected to follow tried-and-true methods instead of creating their own. This is often the case even in subjects like literature, where students are often given strict guidelines for writing things like short stories and poems. My poetry assignments in eighth grade had precise rules for each individual line, making poetry seem very constricted and uncreative.

    This effect is amplified by our age's emphasis on STEM, which encourages people to take these structured classes. Through this school system's limited opportunities to expand creativity, talented students are given few opportunities to expand their creative abilities.

    Part of it is the psychological effects of school as well. In today's academic environment, being wrong is one of the worst things that can happen to you. Students are taught that there is only one correct answer, and anything else means that you're wrong. This leads to a “I’m just not good at it” mindset, which is common in many students today.

    That’s completely untrue. Talent has nothing to do with it; all it takes is desire and time. I can testify that everyone has potential to be creative, and all you need is some way to unlock it. As an elementary school student, I had no interest in creative works whatsoever. In fact, I thought that I was far from creative. I had an unhealthy obsession with video games that dominated every aspect of my being.

    I didn’t start writing until fifth grade, when an everyday moment inspired me to try writing. It wasn’t an “Aha!” moment or anything like that. It just involved a journal entry about a guy named Bob.

    So I tried writing. I started out horrible. What do you expect? When you try something out for the first time, it won’t be easy to do it well. It's not that you "can't do it".

    The thing is, students don’t realize that because school has completely erased that from their heads.

    Sure, you can argue that school doesn't kill creativity because of liberal arts electives and stuff like that. But that's not necessarily helpful. At the end of the day, any one high school student might take maybe one or two semesters of a class specializing in their preferred art - alongside six years of structure.

    As I mentioned before, I'm an aspiring writer. In the five years I’ve been writing, I’ve written four novels. Out of those four, I only consider one of them decent enough to be published. Because school never trained me to write fiction, I had to use a trial-and-error method to build up my skills.

    But isn't school supposed to prepare us for the future? Even in our STEM-conquered lives, creativity is necessary. These days, a new piece of technology isn't interesting because it's new; instead, it's interesting because it brings something new to the table.

  • Ha ha ha

    As a student and a creative writer, I believe it does. It's obvious that a structured environment tends to stunt creativity. Students are expected to follow tried-and-true methods instead of creating their own. This is often the case even in subjects like literature, where students are often given strict guidelines for writing things like short stories and poems. My poetry assignments in eighth grade had precise rules for each individual line, making poetry seem very constricted and uncreative.

    This effect is amplified by our age's emphasis on STEM, which encourages people to take these structured classes. Through this school system's limited opportunities to expand creativity, talented students are given few opportunities to expand their creative abilities.

    Part of it is the psychological effects of school as well. In today's academic environment, being wrong is one of the worst things that can happen to you. Students are taught that there is only one correct answer, and anything else means that you're wrong. This leads to a “I’m just not good at it” mindset, which is common in many students today.

    That’s completely untrue. Talent has nothing to do with it; all it takes is desire and time. I can testify that everyone has potential to be creative, and all you need is some way to unlock it. As an elementary school student, I had no interest in creative works whatsoever. In fact, I thought that I was far from creative. I had an unhealthy obsession with video games that dominated every aspect of my being.

    I didn’t start writing until fifth grade, when an everyday moment inspired me to try writing. It wasn’t an “Aha!” moment or anything like that. It just involved a journal entry about a guy named Bob.

    So I tried writing. I started out horrible. What do you expect? When you try something out for the first time, it won’t be easy to do it well. It's not that you "can't do it".

    The thing is, students don’t realize that because school has completely erased that from their heads.

    Sure, you can argue that school doesn't kill creativity because of liberal arts electives and stuff like that. But that's not necessarily helpful. At the end of the day, any one high school student might take maybe one or two semesters of a class specializing in their preferred art - alongside six years of structure.

    As I mentioned before, I'm an aspiring writer. In the five years I’ve been writing, I’ve written four novels. Out of those four, I only consider one of them decent enough to be published. Because school never trained me to write fiction, I had to use a trial-and-error method to build up my skills.

    But isn't school supposed to prepare us for the future? Even in our STEM-conquered lives, creativity is necessary. These days, a new piece of technology isn't interesting because it's new; instead, it's interesting because it brings something new to the table.

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