Last week, we spoke about children living abroad being more creative. This week, I’m following up with more thoughts about creativity in education.
At the 2006 TED conference, Sir Ken Robinson gave a talk that highlighted the need for our educational system to be redesigned in order to foster creativity. The talk is about 20 minutes in length and can be viewed for free below (or at the TED website). Skip past the video for my summary of the talk.
Sir Robinson explains that our educational system was created in the 19th century to meet the needs of industrialism. For this reason, a hierarchy was created with subjects most useful for work at the top. Children are often discouraged from subjects that aren’t seen as being relevant for work (specifically the sort of work important in industry). The result of this is that academic ability has come to unilaterally define our view of intelligence. Now, Robinson says that “many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the things they were good at in school weren’t valued, or were actually stigmatized”.
Children, he explains, are naturally creative, but we are educating them out of their creativity. The cause of this is that we inspire a fear of being wrong in our children. In school, he says that we teach children that “mistakes are the worst thing you can make” (and, in general, we run our companies the same way). If you aren’t prepared to be wrong, you can’t possibly be creative, as you aren’t brave enough to envision something original. Children are born without this fear of being wrong (“Kids will take a chance”), but we instill it in them in school.
In addition to squandering creativity by teaching fear of mistakes, we neglect the opportunity to nurture creativity by devaluing subjects that require it—art, music, dance, theater, for instance. As mentioned above, this goes back to our hierarchy of school subjects based on their importance in industrial work.
Sir Robinson says that we have to rethink intelligence, acknowledging the following three facts about it, and then designing our education system to foster them:
1. Intelligence is diverse. “We think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically, we think in abstract terms, we think in movement.” Thus, we have to acknowledge and cater to all of these intelligences, as well as others.
2. Intelligence is dynamic and interactive. “The brain isn’t divided into compartments.” Robinson suggests that creativity often comes about through inter-disciplinary explorations (which our current educational system downplays). This also means that different types of intelligence (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, academic, etc.) need to be encouraged to work together.
3. Intelligence is distinct. Everybody is intelligent in a unique way, and we all express our intelligence differently. Our current education system tends to suppress these differences, mining children “in the way we’ve strip-mined the earth for [one] particular commodity”. But in many children, the one sort of intelligence that our educational system focuses on is not the strongest.
Sir Robinson firmly believes in the importance of creativity in education. Remember that the children we are educating today will be retiring around in the 2070s. With the rate that the world is changing, we don’t know how to educate children for the world 5 years from now, let alone 60 years from now. The best thing that we can do is to prepare children for a lifetime of learning, exploring, and discovering, so that they have the tools to adapt to the demands of the world as it changes. By teaching kids to be creative, we are ensuring their success in the future world we know so little about.