Do schools kill creativity for our future leaders of tomorrow?
Here’s 3 ways they do.
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But first, let me share something with you that got me steaming.
A friend shared with me recently an experience he had at his teen’s school.
The school had labeled this young man with a “learning disability” after he performed poorly on a test (on a topic in which he had zero interest). He had performed well on the previous one.
But what was just as upsetting, or perhaps more so, for this teen’s parents, was the career path they provided for this teenager.
After sharing that he wanted to be a YouTuber, photographer or musician, they told him that he would have to go to a technical school because he didn’t have the grades in his core classes for traditional college and that he would have to spend several years stocking shelves as he worked his way up.
I was floored.
While I do believe you have to “pay your dues” while you’re learning new skills and working your way up in any field, the fact that a school would tell a student that he had a future in stocking shelves was shocking to me.
Talk about setting kids up for mediocrity.
While I think there’s nothing wrong with stocking shelves if you’re a high school student or if it’s what you have to do to support your family, imagine being a teenager, full of dreams and aspirations, and being told that was your career path. And by adults who are supposed to be cheering you on and encouraging you to dream big and aspire to big things.
I can imagine that the blow from that could be crushing. And all because your interests are in the arts.
Sir Ken Robinson addressed the way schools are stifling creativity in his Ted Talk and the Q&A that followed.
So, do schools kill creativity?
Here are the big problems that Sir Robinson sees:
Schools are Industrialized
As Robinson says, “The whole system was invented — around the world, there were no public systems of education, really, before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism.”
In a Q&A after his TEDx talk, he explains, “The larger argument about this is that when I say public education arose in response to industrialism, it also developed in the image of industrialism. If you look at public education systems in their general shape, they are manufacturing processes. And a lot of it happens — we separate people by age, it’s a very linear process, very focused on certain types of outcome. And standardized testing is, in a way, the grand example of the industrial method of education. It’s not there to identify what individuals can do. It’s there to look at things to which they conform.”
Former principal Azul Terronez agrees that the conformity and standardized testing needs to go.
“When schools become a place where work happens and people do creative, imaginative things you can do incredible things.”
Hence the growing popularity of Design Thinking and Maker Learning.
Phyllis Fagell explains, “Maker Learning is when you’re working on a hands-on, self-guided project using technical skills and tinkering and inventing and designing to solve a problem. And as a school counselor, I love it because, in addition to learning fabrication and circuitry and whatever technical skills you happen to be working on, you’re also learning grit and perseverance and creativity and collaboration and how to work in a team and it really can help meet the needs of different types of learners.”
They Create a Hierarchy of Subjects
Robinson says that we place higher value on subjects like math and reading over subjects like art and music and dance. Even within the field of “art,” music and art classes are given higher value than dance, for example.
He says, “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. Is that right? Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician; don’t do art, you won’t be an artist. Benign advice — now, profoundly mistaken.”
As an example, he tells the story of Gillian Lynne, a dancer whose parents were told as a child that she had a learning disability. As a girl of eight, she was fidgeting in school, had difficulty turning in homework on time, and was disruptive to others. When her parents took her to a specialist, however, the doctor told her mother, after watching dance after they left the room, that she was a dancer and needed to be enrolled in dance classes.
A child who could have been labeled with a learning disability and put on medication would eventually go on to found her own dance company, be responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, and become a multi-millionaire, in her own right.
All because someone had the insight to recognize that intelligence isn’t necessarily representative of how you perform in math and science class.
Terronez says, “My son hated school since second grade. The moment they make you feel stupid is the moment he hated it. When you’re a kindergartener cutting and gluing you’re okay. First grade, you’re still learning to write your name. By second grade where you have to start to be able to use your words and write sentences when he found out that he’s also dyslexic, that it wasn’t as easy for him, that’s when he started to hate school…
But when YouTube came out, 2006 or seven, he was glued to it, he was fascinated. I used to get upset until I realized one day, I realized he was watching these how-to videos.
‘What are you learning?’
He’s like, ‘I’m learning how to edit this thing, I want to make this explosion in my movie, and I don’t know how do it so I’m watching how to do it. And he basically created his own digital apprenticeship from these people he learned from online. And he figured it out. And he would reach out. He would send them messages and say, ‘Hey, you know, I’m making this movie…’ You know, he didn’t know any better, so he just reached out to people. I think it was that quality that I was like, you know what, this is important. This is way more important than anything that I’m teaching.”
“There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics,” Robinson says. “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? Truthfully, what happens is, as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up.”
Schools Stick to a Strict Schedule
“If you live in a world where every lesson is 40 minutes, you immediately interrupt the flow of creativity,” Robinson says.
Giving kids longer class periods would give them more time to work through problems. It gives them time to get unstuck.
Joseph Carroll, a former superintendent of the Masconomet Regional School District in Topsfield, Mass., says that extended class sizes allow students to “concentrate their time and energies in a much more effective way,” because they can study a subject in depth without interruption. “It’s a more efficient way to learn,” he says.
And with longer classes, teachers would have more time for fun, creative learning activities.
Teacher, speaker and bestselling author Catlin Tucker says that when she leads professional development for teachers, she often hears “ I’d love to do [fill in the blank with some creative idea or activity], but I just don’t have time. My classes are only 50 minutes.” … Teachers get super excited about integrating technology or want details about a project, assignment, or routine I do with my own kids. When they find out that my school is on a 90-minute block schedule, they sigh and tell me that they just don’t have that kind of time with kids.”
And if that wasn’t reason enough, cognitive science also shows that the harder it is to learn something, the more likely they are to remember it.
So the Big Question: Do Schools Kill Creativity?
To summarize, Sir Robinson believes the problem is that
- Schools are industrialized
- They create a hierarchy of subjects and don’t encourage creativity
- Schools stick to a strict schedule
What do you think? Have you tried a Maker Learning program?
Are you seeing changes in your school? Do schools kill creativity for our future leaders of tomorrow?
We would love to hear your thoughts!