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Is our education system really stripping away our creativity? I don't think so.

Ken Robinson suggests that we're "educating people out of their creativity". I certainly agree that mathematics and literacy take priority over dance, music and arts in our education system, but what affect is that really having on creativity? Don't most high schools incorporate some kind of creative writing course? Also, don't students have the option to take art/music/dance classes as electives and/or after school activities? I know my high school did (in fact, I took band and choir throughout middle and high school). I'm not saying I disagree with Sir Ken, but I just don't think I'm ready to see arts bases classes take precedence over math and literacy. We need to teach the basic fundamentals of math and science then allow students to explore their creativity at their digression.

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    Nov 25 2013: I will just share my observation. The public high school that I attended in an affluent middle class neighborhood had AP courses (including advanced Calculus, Chemistry, Foreign Languages, Computer Science, etc.). We had band, we had chorus and theater.

    I taught homeless children in a special after school arts program, these were elementary school-age children that lived in shelters with parents who were trying to overcome poverty, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and a host of other issues. THEIR schools cut out the arts, force fed them tests, were filled with violence of all kinds, and seemed places of anarchy instead of school zones. One school had such a serious drug problem with the 4th graders that the kindergarteners routinely attacked each other and no one did anything. These were failing inner city elementary schools. The middle schools and high schools in the area were not much better.

    Back to the question of creativity. Going to our base needs of shelter, food, security...I would say that the current economic collapse and the resultant destruction of education and family (even two-parent homes can't make ends meet today) are destroying creativity.

    How can a child achieve creativity, especially in the public school system, when he or she is concerned about safety, food, stability, a home...where does education even fit in for these kids who are making up a larger and larger percentage of our student population?

    And yes, my students were incredibly creative. The arts program provided an incredible SAFE outlet for their creativity and feelings. I just don't see our most poverty-stricken public schools being able to maintain high creativity when they can't even keep children safe and educated. And personally I don't blame the schools or the teachers. Every teacher I personally know is giving their all. We should talk to the jokers in Congress and the White House. But wait, it's not THEIR kid, so who cares, right? What we really need are more weapons.
  • Nov 22 2013: I think every course can be a means to express creativity, not just the arts. But does the US educational system kill creativity, again the answer is yes and no. In some cases, it is the teacher that destroys the student's creative drive. I also mean that an off handed comment/action unintentionally or intentionally could do it. In others it is the structure of the class which is driven by outside forces.
    • Nov 24 2013: Mainstream education kills creativity. Creativity isn't taking an art or music class it's learning to learn and learning to solve the unexpected. Most schools, not all, do not allow for this type of teaching. You can teach in a way that allows for creativity in any subject but it takes more individualization of subject matter and does not mesh with wrote memorization of useless facts targeted towards a standardized test. Creativity is about individual expression of art, of solutions to problems, and of communication.

      A standard test in history would have some multiple choice questions on facts and a few essay questions on theory and practice. A creatively focused test on history would ask students to solve hypothetical situations that are based on the history studied.
  • Nov 20 2013: Creativity is not the sole province of the arts and humanities. Mathematics is creative, and is a tool of creativity. Literacy doesn't limit creativity, it is essential to it; especially if we become literate in the broadest meaning of the word.

    There is no monolithic universal education system. Some educational processes do construct barriers to creative expression, others find ways to encourage creativity even as they teach the "basics."

    I think that we need to stop categorizing disciplines so rigidly. And we need to teach in ways that encourage both critical thinking and creative expression regardless of the subject matter or discipline. We need arts courses that teach the "mathematics" of art as much as we need math courses that teach the creativity of computation; because some students will need to come at these things from one direction and others from another direction.

    All learning is the learning of language; it is a struggle for literacy, the ability to use the language of a discipline to solve problems specific to that discipline, but also beyond it. All language is creative, not just referential; and, as a great many philosophers have reminded us, the limits of our language are the limits of our world.

    Let us continue to teach the language of the arts as well as the language of mathematics and academic composition, but let us also recognize that these are all part of the same language: the language of being human.
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    Nov 19 2013: Our education system is destroying all creative thought. Not only was the institutionalized system of education designed for transferring religious knowledge and to make people good laborers, the system has only become worse through decades of corruption. The upper echelons of the education system are making sure that children have no desire to actually learn after getting out of school. They're being taught to take tests, not to learn. Teachers aren't given enough freedom in the class to actually nurture any kind of love of learning.
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    Nov 19 2013: Creativity is not just in those subjects art/music/ dance. Creativity is the way of thinking, the way you see possibilities to solve the problem you have. And that creativity is the thing that is ruined by school formalism, requirements,insistence to learn in "unnatural ways". Watch this video.
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    Nov 25 2013: Whence this blind faith in the value of higher mathematics being required for everyone Craig? My own informal survey of hundreds of people over the last 4 decades has found 3 respondents who have used geometry or algebra since graduation. Two teachers and a lady who says she uses pi every time she makes pizza. The general rational seems to be that being exposed to these subjects somehow increases the capacity for abstract reasoning and logic. Yet observation of election results appears to refute this when we consistently get contests that are within a few points of being a tie. I do not for a second say those skills are useless for us as a society since obviously science and engineering would be crippled without them. Just that the myth that everyone benefits when we are all forced to take them needs to be seen for what it is, a naked emperor. The reported average retention of 20% of curriculum one year after high school graduation underscores the waste of time invested in coerced curriculum.
  • Nov 21 2013: I don't think that schools are killing creativity but I do think that schools are suppressing the creative outlets that kids have access to. I that there is a focus in society on logical streams such as math, literacy, science which is good but there is a group that is being marginalized and forgotten about. What about kids whose talents do not lie in those streams? Yes, they have the option to take electives or extra curricular activities but what if that is not an option? I think that schools need to focus on fostering individuality and not forcing the "main" or widely known streams into all students. I know for me personally, I do not have the skills necessary to excel in math or science but I am an extremely creative person. It was hard for me in high school to get past the requirements of these courses while at the same time seeing the courses I wanted to take not being available or taken seriously. This is a serious issue plaguing education today and we need to find a way to incorporate all difference into a common institution.
  • Nov 19 2013: Hi Dear Craig Jackson,I don't know what are going on in others countries in the world,but I do know what educaiton is going in my country China.Because of lots of problems are waiting to be solved,so here we have to use exclusive examninations' scores to measure how students' learning,so here teaching orientation just focus on examinations,too bad...although we are trying educaiton reform to change that,but doing is more difficult than saying...teaching here not help students growing but destorying.Now we dare to challenge to ask ourselves these questions.I think it is a big progress in my country.

    I being a teacher,I think what I said doesn't mean I want to deny myself,I just tell myself I must be acknowledged the facts and face them directly,accept them completely...
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    Nov 19 2013: plus, craig, don't people have the option to emphasize creativity if they want to, concentrate on arts courses, maybe even go to a magnet school for the arts?
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      Nov 25 2013: Greg most students in K12 have pretty limited options and are often unaware of the ones they do have. Even arts classes are often taught in a way that stifles creativity. Critical thinking is thwarted by teachers who think they have the one true answer for most questions and discourage questions generally. I have worked in dozens of schools on two continents and these behaviors are still common.
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        Nov 25 2013: thanks, chad. Well, I thought you were disagreeing with Sir Ken, now you seem to be agreeing with him?
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          Nov 25 2013: Greg I do agree with Ken that most of standardized western education tends to leach creativity from children, his idea that the Arts are the best way to combat that tendency not as much. Although I do support the basic value of having Dance, Music and drama available along with other visual arts. The case study he quotes about divergent thinking diminishing with age and education while compelling is not proof that education is the primary cause. Perhaps age itself is an important factor too. Overall though I think he is asking very important questions and is not wholly wrong on any point.
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        Nov 25 2013: chad, how are you using the word "creativity" when you say standardized western education tends to leach creativity from children? How do you assert that standardized western education leaches creativity from children?

        I have a very broad concept of "creativity" for example, I think a plumber can be creative in how he plumbs, a garbageman can be creative in how he picks up garbage, a soldier can be creative in how she soldiers, etc. Creativity to me is problem-solving, and people in every profession problem-solve. As far as I can see, people everywhere are doing their jobs with creativity, and the education system has helped prepare them to do this.

        I do know of some radical approaches to education that might intrigue you. The Masai tribe in Kenya has rejected formal education, when the Kenyan government has tried to force the Masai to send their children to school, the Masai would rent children from other tribes and send them to school, passing them off as Masai children. The Masai live very simply, basing their lives around their cattle, living in little dung huts without running water or electricity, eating only beef and milk. When you live simply like this, you perhaps don't need school.
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        Nov 25 2013: another radical approach to education is Deep Springs College. This in the California desert, it is a two-year college with only 20 students, each student is on full scholarship but has to work on the school cattle ranch, the students are all in the top 1% academically, students are given much responsibility, sitting on the board of admissions and of trustees. The idea is that if young men spend some time in the desert it will nurture greatness in them.
  • Nov 19 2013: The school shall kill creativity but develop other qualities!
  • Nov 19 2013: Different strokes for different folks.
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    Nov 19 2013: I think if children are taught that nothing needs to be created, then creativity can flourish. In other words, educating children without a well defined occupation as an endpoint, while also communicating that the world has many problems that need to be fixed; may lead to creativity out of confusion.
    I think our education system stripped away human creativity when it took Native American children from their families and disregarded all culture and tradition.
    I think our education system stripped away my creativity when it separated me from my classmates, putting me in a room with others that also did well on tests. I refused that isolating program.
    I think what needs to be created is methods to appreciate all the creativity that was destroyed by modern education.
    Jacques Soustelle describes Aztec education system in detail, in his book, Daily Life of the Aztecs. I believe intricate ritualistic dance movements performed by all students to be high level creativity and social achievement.
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    Nov 18 2013: I went to a school that had "...Fine Arts Center" in the title. We made statues, had 5 different choirs, orchestra, band, were allowed to paint murals on all the walls, and skip class to work on an art project for Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater.

    The same school I enjoyed immensely for the bulk of my childhood is now suffering severe funding shortages and has had to cut all their art programs to bare bones. The orchestra doesn't have the money to repair instruments so instead of starting kids on the violin in 1st grade they now wait until 4th. After school programs for performances and school plays have been cut. The choirs, orchestra, and band are unable to travel for the competitions that they once competed in and the students are missing out on having all their hard work and dedication to their craft recognized the way other schools have sports to show the community their talents.

    Creativity can be encouraged to the max in school but the average family, well, when do they have the time to cultivate that creativity in the home?
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    Nov 18 2013: I don't think there is scholarly evidence to suggest that uneducated people are more creative than educated people. I believe learning to read has a cognitive, brain-altering effect and that, generally speaking, when education opens doors to new areas, activities that got very focused attention in the pre-literate years, like finger painting and some kinds of story telling, may get less attention from then on for many people.

    I learned this from reading Eric Kandel's neuroscience textbook. Christopher has a degree in neuroscience and perhaps can elaborate on this if he comes by. There is also an interesting case of an autistic girl named Nadia whose art as a toddler was considered comparable to Leonardo Da Vinci's but whose art abruptly changed to become much more age-predicted once she learned to speak and read. The effect was not from schooling (I don't think she went to school) but from learning those new skills. (There is an article on her in Raw Vision #74, which you can read free online)

    What this means is that, if one gives certain kinds of tests to kids before they learn to read and then those particular tests years later, kids' performance may decline, not because they were in school but because they learned to read, which opened compelling new doors. But if you put other kinds of questions before them that demand creativity, those who have learned to read and been exposed to the other learning experiences schools offer will have vastly more interesting and creative ideas in those areas than they had at age four.
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      Nov 19 2013: I think you are right, uneducated people are not more creative.
      However, from my own school experience I remember that creativity wasn't something especially cultivated.
      A school system that puts more focus on creativity are the Waldorf schools with there antroposophic philosophy. I know several people coming from those schools and they indeed seem to be more imaginative and think more frequently out of the box.
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        Nov 19 2013: I think schools, with their diversity of students and teachers and the various experiences they provide, are probably a very broadening experience for most students. I remember how much teachers encouraged and valued creative and insightful approaches to assignments and saw the same things in my kids' educations. I went to ordinary urban public schools, as did my daughters.

        My concern is that I don't want to see students talk themselves out of getting an education or making the most of everything an education can offer. So much of what one gets out of experiences depends on attitude.

        Those who seize the day, as it were, and make the most of what their schooling offers will, I think, lead much more intellectually rewarding and creative lives than those who 'write off" their schooling.

        Adults who had bad school experiences should keep in mind that young people of today are not doomed to repeat those bad experiences. They may, through their open-mindedness, resourcefulness, and resilience, form a great foundation for lifelong learning and creative achievement.

        I must qualify my judgment with the understanding that education is different in different countries and even within a single country.
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          Nov 19 2013: In the end it depends a lot of the student as well. Some take the initiative and make the best out of and others just make it through.
          I also think that parents have a responsibility to foster creativity in their kids, especially when it becomes obvious that the school isn't doing it.
          But, as I wrote in one of my other posts, I think schools in general should be much more focused on the practical applications of the teachings. That in itself would probably improve creativity.
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        Nov 19 2013: I agree that the trend of focusing work around big questions, problem solving, and design is promising in this respect.
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      Nov 25 2013: Fritzie a lack of "scholarly" evidence may only be proof of scholarly prejudice. Still the question as I understood it is not whether uneducated people are more creative but whether standard western education tends to curtail creativity. As an educator my observation is that it does so tend. Of course a strong willed and proactive student can still create value in systems that are less that ideal. So? Such a student could stay home, watch sesame street and possibly educate themselves like Lincoln mostly did. Public educations'' mandate is to help all the students realize their potential and based on results I have to agree with Ken Robinson that it is failing most of them. As he observed the system as it now is favors those with good short term memories and higher verbal skills that can easily translate to paper. Then there are those highly motivated pupils who would through their own merits succeed in almost any system. These two types equate to roughly 20% of the student body in my observation. Another 30% who graduate still fall short of their potential and with the high drop out rate we are left with a populace that is 40+% functionally illiterate, nearly innumerate and apparently cannot consider more than two aspects of any abstract issue. Fifty years ago the need for unskilled laborers could absorb most of that, and the pay level was survivable. Not any more it seems to me.
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        Nov 25 2013: I can see that given your doubts about broad-based research findings, you place your faith in your specific anecdotal experience as an educator. That would not typically give a solid basis for predicting how your students might have done without education, I think, nor be a particularly broad sample for drawing general conclusions.
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          Nov 25 2013: Again you seem to miss the point, which is not whether to educate or not, but whether standard western education tends to stultify creativity. I have no prejudice about broad-based scientific research but have seen scholars at universities deny reality with their obfuscations. I nor any other contributor on this blog is advocating a no education option. Also why is your "anecdotal" positive experience and that of your daughters better than mine? You seem to say in another place that some trends are improving in their focus on big questions etc. This seems to allow that improvement is possible, thus that things are not perfect. How is that different than my position other than quantitatively? You seem to see the glass as mostly full, I see it as mostly empty with lots of room for major improvement. The originator of this blog asked for reactions including opinions and thoughts. I gave mine, you gave yours, I disagree, so do you. Agreed?
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        Nov 25 2013: Indeed there is a wide range of material and professional development opportunity available for educators who seek to improve their practice in this respect and many districts and states encourage or require such professional development as a condition to maintain the teaching credential.

        I would be the first to encourage any teacher who is weak in this area and has not undertaken such training opportunities to do so for the advantage of his students. One does not need to go through a career stifling ones students, if that is what appears to be happening! Administrators should support such professional development plans.

        Craig's question was whether schools are stripping kids of their creativity and his position was that they were not, generally speaking. He was in no way arguing that schools are perfect, if you reread his question as he posed it. He and others in the conversation in no way suggest that there are not teachers who could very much improve their practice through open-mindedness about new techniques, thoughtfulness about their practice, as well as observing other teachers who may serve their students better in some areas.