Monday, May 25, 2009

Education and creativity

You may have seen this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson titled Do Schools Kill Creativity? I only discovered it last week when a friend of mine posted it on Facebook. It's not only interesting and insightful but also really funny ("If a man speaks his mind in a forest, and no woman hears him, is he still wrong?"), so if you haven't seen it, press Play. If you have, watch it again.

I was a bit reluctant to watch it because of the title, Do Schools Kill Creativity? It's all too easy to criticize schools and teachers. Most teachers want to encourage creativity and give every child an opportunity to shine. They do their best to make their subjects interesting and to promote creativity. But what many people don't realize is that teachers work in a very difficult environment and are under a lot of pressure to prove that they are doing their jobs well, which is why, a lot of the time, they have to teach children how to pass exams, instead of how to think for themselves.

Fortunately Sir (I love that he's been knighted) Ken Robinson is not talking about teacher's shortcomings, but about a systemic problem. The fact that our education is based on an outdated system that encourages homogeneous thinking, and it's based on memorizing facts, dates, and formulae instead of giving children the skills to come to their own conclusions. A system that doesn't encourage experimentation or the value of making mistakes as learning tools, and that, as he brilliantly put it, prepares everyone to be an University professor.

Shouldn't we be teaching children to think for themselves, shouldn't we be giving them the skills to create, look at things in a different light? Experiment? Shouldn't we be fostering their different talents?

I was lucky at school, I found it fairly easy and never had to try that hard, but I was definitely encouraged to stick with what I did well. Spanish and writing were my strong points, it was decided early on (and for this, I'm grateful). I was also told that Foreign Languages, and English in particular, were definitely not my thing. I now realize that what wasn't right for me was the teaching method, but if it hadn't been for my love of traveling and my curiosity about other cultures, I'd still think that English was something I couldn't do.

Sir Ken Robinson advocates a school that promotes uniqueness, that caters to different learning styles, that fosters mistakes as a way to learn things, that encourages children to experiment and be creative. I hope that we can make this a reality.


  1. sadly, most state funded education requires the meeting of targets and the passing of exams, the reaching of standards, in order to 'prove' that it provides value for taxpayer funds.

    i think we will know we have reached our potential when we have smaller classrooms, better paid teachers, and children have more freedom to explore and be curious, and teachers aren't afriad to tell the truth, rather than parrot a sanitised curriculum.

    thanks for posting this :)

  2. When we interview interns for our company, we look for those who answer HOW they would find an answer rather than the one that KNOWS the answer...

  3. Great talk B and yes funny too.
    Good point about the devaluation of degrees - and so many other interesting theories.
    A touchy subject for me (my education was so wrong on so many levels)
    10 out of 10 for this link! :)

  4. Creativity seems to be the theme in blogosphere this week!

    I'm a teacher and I know how difficult it is sometimes to hit the right note with the students and awake their creativity. Especially in a group of, say, 12. And also if you put too much emphasis on creativity and compromise on the theory too much you end up with the English model where students leave school and can't read...

    I haven't seen video but I'll check it out tonight!

  5. I love this post for so many reasons. You (and the video) hit the issue right on the nose.

    I used to teach and like Polly, I found it difficult most of the times to focus on creativity...I had about 40 students on average in each class!

  6. i will check this out. i´m a junkie... happy day!

  7. I think it is about 6 years ago but it can be longer Dan Pink wrote a piece called schools are out. Maybe I still have it somewhere because it made me think about education a lot. I thought about sending you a copy but that is no good because it is probably written in Dutch. Maybe I can find an English version on the net.

    See you!!

  8. Found it.

    Happy read.

  9. Elizabeth, thanks so much for that link. It was a very interesting article. He makes a good case, specially when it comes to home schooling (the other two sections are weaker). This is really interesting to me because in Spain, home schooling is illegal, and even in England it's very uncommon.
    I think his predictions are probably too drastic, but I can definitely see where he's coming from, comparing school with the job market. This was also Sir Robinson's case, that school is based on an industrial society that has pretty much disappeared. Lots to think about indeed!

  10. B, I want to thank you again for this post. I have been listening to Sir Robinson's case a few time now and it gives me a lot to think about. This video has led me too others and it is giving me a really wonderful time to ponder over things. Just love it when people talk with such a passion about the thing they believe in. You can see it in their movements, the eyes but most of all hear it in their voice. So thanks again. See you.

  11. Elizabeth, after I watched this video, I also started watching everything I found by Sir Ken Robinson, he's really an amazing person, so knowledgeable and passionate. I don't have kids, but this has really got me thinking about the kind of education I'd want to give them.


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