Friday, March 20, 2009

Do schools kill creativity? Sir Ken Robinson talks about the effects of public education on highly talented, creative, and imaginative people

Last night before going to bed, and this morning when I woke up, I watched video presentations from TED: Ideas worth spreading. I seriously love this website as I find that in Korea I rarely run into situations where I can be intellectually stimulated . . . so when I feel the need for my brain to get a dose of high level academia with a matching dose of 'Dude, that's totally cool!' in terms of ideas and imagination, I go to this website.

I actually spent a lot of time typing out some of the awesome stuff he says because I hope teachers in Korea will spend some time thinking about how schools kill creativity here, what role foreign teachers play in enabling and perpetuating this problem, and how we might enact changes and model positive teaching examples that might be integrated into the system--even if it's only on a small scale.

"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, but what we do know is that if you're not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original--if you are not prepared to be wrong.

And by the time they get to be adults most kids have lost that capacity. Ah, they have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies by this by the way--we stigmatize mistakes.

And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worse 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 of it . . .

But something strikes you when you move to America and travel around the world. Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one, you'd think it'd be otherwise, but it isn't. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and then at the bottom 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 than those of 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? Did I miss a meeting? [laughter]

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, you know, who really succeeds by this, who does everything they should, who gets all the Browny 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 at the top. I used to be one, so there. [laughter] You know.

But . . . 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, you know, another form of life. But they're rather curious, and I say this out of affection for them. There's something curious about professors and 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, you know, they look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads . . . you know, it's, don't they, it's a way of getting their head to meetings. If you want real evidence of out of body experiences, by the way, get yourself along to a residential conference of senior academics, and pop into the discotheque on the final night. And there you will see it. Grown men and women writhing uncontrollably, off the beat, waiting for it to end so they can go home and write a paper about it . ..

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 systems of public education before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism.

So the hierarchy is reached 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. Don't do music, you're not going to be a musician. Don't do art, you're not going to be an artist. Ah, 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 nothing more than a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they're not, because the things that they were good at at school wasn't valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think that we can't afford to go on that way.

. . . . .

Later, Sir Robinson tells a story about the interviews he did for a book about highly creative people. He talks about Gillian Lynne, and a story she told him about her experiences growing up in the public school education system. One of her teachers asked her mother to come for an interview because Gillian couldn't sit still in class, and was always moving around. The teacher, after the interview, says to her mother,

"Mrs. Lyn, Gillian isn't sick, she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school . . . [Sir Robinson] said 'What happened?' She said, 'She did. I can't tell you sir how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me, people who couldn't sit still, --people who had to move to think--who had to move to think . . . "

Sir Robinson points out that, "somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down"

He continues with,

"I believe our only hope for the future is to develop 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've strip-mined 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. There was a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk that 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 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. Thank you very much."

I'm going to try and do a creative/imaginative activity in each of my lectures next week--who's with me? J

1 comment:

Joe in Korea said...

I love this clip, and have made a point to watch it about every six months or so, just to remind myself of how important creativity is and how much it is lacking in schools. Remember though, it isn't just lacking in Korean schools, but elsewhere, too.

This video has inspired me to try to be more creative in my lesson plans. Since I work as the curriculum coordinator and oversee the revisions of the English textbooks at my university, I think it is important for me to remember to incorporate creativity into the curriculum as much as possible.

One result is that some of the part-time Korean teachers really struggle with the outside-the-box activities. OK, to be fair, so do some of the non-Koreans. Sitting down with them and looking at the learning objectives, both linguistic and behavioral, helps a little. Having them observe more active classes with role plays and tasks that actually lead to students laughing while they are working helps even more. Unfortunately, I don't get a lot of them sitting down and talking or observing such classes. It is easier, I suppose, to just complain. Then they can put a minimal amount of effort into personalizing the activities--which gives proof to their claim that they don't work.

Ah, frustrations.