Are schools killing creativity?

January 8, 2008 | By | 7 Replies More

In this entertaining video, Ken Robinson discusses the critical role creativity should play in education.

Robinson is the author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. Robinson argues that Western education has failed to teach young people to think critically about life, art, culture, and humanism. Instead, most education is geared to producing workers. In the process, most education systems downplay or even disparage art: “Don’t do music; you’re not going to be a musician.” Many brilliant people are taught to think that they are failures because the things they do well–often valuable things-are not valued by most schools. Robinson argues that we’ve got to develop a new “ecology” of education–we’ve got to stop “strip-mining young minds.”


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Category: Art, Education

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (7)

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  1. That was quite interesting. And I dig the British accent anyway. 😀

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    I've enjoyed this speech of Robinson's since it first came out. It elegantly and fluidly presents the idea that I've been reading in stiff technical reports on education for the last decade. Once kids have memorized the bare essentials, we need to start letting them learn what they can do with this raw material, rather than making them memorize more and more stuff that they can quickly Google from their phones, should it ever become relevant to them.

    Of course, this is an ivory tower top down view of education. Here's a video that gives a good view from the bottom of education up. The performer is responding to a jibe from a lawyer at a dinner party (the video starts too abruptly).

    What Do Teachers Really Make?

  3. Alison says:

    In my mind, there's no question that actual education has suffered in the wake of standardized testing and rote learning. Even before No Child Left a Dime, Art and Music programs were first to be cut out of school budgets, followed closely by vocational programs. Even though a student might not have any particular plan for his or her life, taking these classes can be enriching and provide a student an opportunity to excel. Without them, the children are almost dehumanized by the uniform performance that's demanded from all of them, especially during those teach-to-the-test months that take teaching out of the hands of the teachers.

    However, I'm inclined to say that it isn't schools that are killing creativity, but government. The funding cuts and score requirements that drive school curriculum are out of the hands of the teachers and administrators. Decisions by State and local School Boards are made by people who are pursuing money and, sometimes, personal agendas. Even those who start off with noble goals soon find that their decisions have to be based on budgets rather than educational goals.

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Back in 1979, while I was in college, I made the aquaintence of a fellowo by the name of Naoki Obha. He was the dean of engineering from a Japanese university in Kyoto, and was touring American Universities in order to gain an understanding of what it was in the American educational system that gave us the ability to innovate. At the time, Japanese companies were reknowned for streamlining the manufacturing process, and for producing high quality products, and the Japanese schools turned out graduates that excelled in math and science, but lacked in creativity.

    By contrast, America was nowhere near the top in the K-12 education system, but had the best university system in the world. Mr Obha had not been able to discern how American learned to be creative and had taken to doing casual interviews with students he happened to meet.

    This was how he explained the problem to me.

    Creativity cannot be taught. It is natiral and must be nurtured and allowed to grow. Japanese society smothered creativity under an almost obsessive culture of uniformity. The culture also fostered a fear of failure. I pointed this out to Mr Obha, and also mentioned that the really great innovators throughout history were the ones that did not conform to the majority groupthink.

    Think about this. Albert Einstein was rejected by German schools for being below the required intelligence. Thomas Edison's mother was told that he was hopelessly mentally retarted and would never learn anything. Davinci, Tesla, Boole, and Pasteur were considered to be insane by many of their contemporaries. All because they did not conform to the social standards. And because they refused to be limited to the standards, because they dared to question the publicly accepted beliefs, they all made a difference.

    Real creativity requires a cut-and-try mindset. Creativity and science go hand in hand. It is daring to make mistakes and then to learn from the mistakes. It must be fearless of failure, but not foolhardy.

    Mr Obha understood.

    Be vigilant, question everything.

    Mr Obha got the point.

  5. Dan, Taylor Mali from the video made a good show, but he strikes me as a bit too aggressive, like a military instructor for recruits. I would like him more if he toned it down. But he is still hilarious. I had to watch more video of him, these two are really good – The Impotence of Proofreading and Like, you know.

  6. Peter says:

    Wow. Awesome. I cried when I heard the Gillian Lynne story. Something similar happened to me 40 years ago. Sadly, the doctor was someone else…

    This needs to be played to every educationalist and psychologist in the world.

  7. grumpypilgrim says:

    This thread reminds me of a conversation I once had with a Dutch colleague at work. He and his family had been transferred to a facility in Germany, but his wife was adamant that they return as soon as possible to the Netherlands. Why? Because their children were performing poorly in the German schools — a result, his wife said, of the rigid, autocratic environment.

    Whether or not "creativity" can be taught is something of a moot question, the real question is whether a society fosters it or not, and in what manner they do so. Unquestionably, there are practices that foster lateral thinking and practices that don't. Applying those practices depends upon the society's objectives: some situations call for lateral thinking, while others do not. Times of crisis, for example, often demand that action and obedience to authority (or both) take priority over individual creativity. When your house is on fire, when an earthquake strikes, when your car spins out of control, when you stumble upon grizzly bear cubs on a hike, when your enemy is lobbing grenades at you, etc., are probably not the best times to be brainstorming new solutions to the problem.

    The trick, of course, is to know when it's a crisis and when it's not. For example, ever since the 9/11 attack, Republicans in America have done a great job of convincing people that a crisis is at hand, despite a conspicuous lack of evidence to support this claim. Unfortunately, a lot of voters fell for this story and supported Republican candidates, with the (sadly, predictable) results being the chaos and waste we have seen. Were Americans too lazy to examine the evidence themselves, or too unskilled? A bit of both, apparently.

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