In the western world, we’re so lucky to have access to education. It provides us with the tools and skills we need to develop our cognitive potential and eventually embark on a successful career. There have been some significant criticisms over the years, analyzing the education system, such as inequality of opportunity and achievement-based outcomes.
In more recent years, some have focused on the way that the education system affects human creativity. Whether this is the case or not, it has created a debate. Are schools allowing children to grow in terms of creativity, encouraging creative growth? Or are children’s creative outlets being suppressed? Before we examine some of the recent debates and findings, it’s important to look at what creativity is.
What is Creativity?
When you think of creativity, what comes to mind? Someone who is an artist, painting abstract images, or someone who works in an office? Of course, an artist is going to express creativity, but so do individuals in a wide assortment of other jobs.
This is because creativity is not limited to artistic ability. Creativity also includes the ability to come up with new ideas and unique insights in order to get ahead. In fact, creativity is simply the art of turning an imaginative idea into reality. If you’re able to make connections and generate solutions, that is creativity.
Think of creativity as a two-step concept. First, you need to think of an idea, coming up with a concept or solution in which you could potentially act upon. The second step is producing, as you build on the idea you’ve come up with. If you were to stop after you come up with an idea, you’d simply be an imaginative person. Creativity wouldn’t typically describe this process because you didn’t take action.
The Connection Between Creativity and Children
When you think of a young child, it’s clear that they are full of potential. Children are like sponges, waiting to absorb information and enhance their knowledge. In that sense, all children should be viewed as unique beings, all with creative potential, waiting to express their ideas.
While focusing on child development, most theories support the notion that children are highly creative beings. Young children love to explore and fantasize about the world around them, however, many believe that this high level of creativity does not necessarily expand into adulthood.
Varying degrees of development are reliant on experiences. The environment a child grows up in can influence their abilities and talents. In this case, their level of creativity. Many experts in the field of creativity agree that it is possible to both encourage and inhibit a child’s ability to be creative.
Sir Ken Robinson and TED Talks
If you’re not familiar with TED Talks, they are conferences for ideas worth spreading. One guest speaker by the name of Ken Robinson, presented his thoughts in a lecture titled, Do schools kill creativity? This, leads us to the question on everyone’s mind, does education and school kill or foster creativity?
Robinson explains that the hierarchy that’s utilized within modern public systems of education is rooted based on two core concepts:
- The first is that useful subjects in terms of work are always seen as the most important. If you were a fond music lover as a child, perhaps you heard, don’t focus on music, you won’t be a musician. When you think of successful careers, becoming an artist and musicians isn’t generally encouraged.
- Secondly, the concept of academic ability has blurred our views on intelligence. If you think about it, elementary and high school were essentially setting you up for post-secondary education. If you didn’t get good grades in high school, you wouldn’t get into a college, and you wouldn’t ’make anything of yourself.’
It’s a shame really, as there are plenty of brilliant, creative individuals who do not see their true value based on what schools value. If you were talented in terms of design, yet your school did not harness this, you may do poorly in other subjects, lowering your perceived value.
He explains a classic example of this in terms of Gillian Lynne, a choreographer who is best known for her work in Cats and Phantom of the Opera. In school, she was hopeless and her teacher said she may have a learning disorder as she was fidgeting all the time and lacked focus.
When her mom took her to a specialist, he listened to everything her mother had to say and then turned on the radio to observe. When the doctor and Gillian’s mother left the room, she began moving to the music. The doctor then said, “Gillian isn’t sick, she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”
She said it was the best experience that ever happened to her, especially being in classes with like-minded individuals. The key here is, we’re all different, and public education doesn’t necessarily allow those differences to shine through.
Creativity and Education
In a study conducted by Adobe, it was found that 82 percent of the college-educated professionals surveyed wished they had more exposure to creative thinking when they were students. Additionally, 91 percent agreed that there’s more to school success than just course material, and 78 percent wish they had greater creative abilities. Although this is just one study, which analyzed 1,000 college-educated individuals, it provides insight into creativity in terms of those who have completed school.
For years, creativity has been misunderstood in terms of its practical use and its high value. As mentioned, many believe that focusing on ’creative subjects’ will limit and restrict career choices, which is why there’s often a focus on science, maths, and technology. I am not saying that these subjects aren’t important because they are, but creativity cannot be ignored. For those who believe fostering creativity means only focusing on art and dances classes, this is the wrong approach. Instead, children need to be encouraged in terms of creative thinking, allowing their thoughts to have a voice.
The main reason why many, including the passionate Mr Robinson, believe that school kills creativity is based on standardized testing. Meaning, even if a child is incredibly creative and may thrive in one area they’re passionate about, they may be alienated due to the rigid structure of the current education system.
Robinson has also expressed his views on education in terms of industrialism. Children are taught a set curriculum and are expected to conform. Based on this rigid system, education is not about finding how individuals may thrive, allowing them to foster their abilities. Instead, this idea of conformity is causing an immensely high rate of high school students to drop out.
Now, it’s unrealistic to say that each student would have access to classes that support their dreams and talents, but it’s not unrealistic to reform education. Instead of offering standardized testing, why not increase the level of personalization, based on the individuals being taught?
Human imagination and creativity need to be encouraged. How can we reach our highest capabilities if creativity is restrained? Although heated debates will continue on this topic, many believe that the education system needs to be re-evaluated. Yes, maths are extremely important, but they should not put on a pedestal while more creative subjects are viewed as a ’waste of time.’
So perhaps the safest thing to say is that schools do not necessarily kill creativity, however, they do restrain it and are not effectively fostering it.
What do you think? Do you have an experience in which you can relate? If so, please share below!