Learning Beyond Schooling responds to Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

Sir Ken Robinson: If you want to stop the problems in education, stop causing them. Nobody has a clue, what the world will look like in five years’ time……And yet, we’re meant to be educating students for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary.

LBS: He is right! Our public education is lagging farther and farther behind from the massive transformations occurring in the real world in real time. Students are being fed old knowledge for a world that has long gone past. It’s taking far too long to graduate students from high schools and from colleges. The current curricula need to be revamped, restructured, reconfigured! We are not tapping into the talents of our young. In fact, we kill them slowly and systematically throughout the long and arduous schooling years.

Sir Ken Robinson: And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents, and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly…..creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

LBS: So true! So many kids with so much talent but they are never discovered nor recognised because we are measuring them with totally different measurements. They have to suppress their real creative selves to conform to a uniformed mentality that values compliance to the system rather than originality of thinking.

Sir Ken Robinson: I heard a great story recently — I love telling it — of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was six, and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this girl hardly ever paid attention, and in this drawing lesson, she did. The teacher was fascinated. She went over to her, and she said, “What are you drawing?” And the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, “They will in a minute.”

What these things have in common is that 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. I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.

LBS: There will be no creativity or innovation by being safe. The world would not have Apple if Steve Jobs had stuck to being safe. And Elon Musk would not have created Tesla or SpaceX if he was afraid of failure. Without innovation and creativity, there would be nothing new to look forward to in the future.

Sir Ken Robinson: Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one. Doesn’t matter where you go. You’d think it would be otherwise, but it isn’t. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities. At the bottom are 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 in schools than 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.

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. 

LBS: Very true! Somehow, bright students who want to opt for the arts subjects are subjected to a great deal of pressure to stick to the science stream instead of making the switch. Reason? Because of the purportedly “better” career opportunities.

Sir Ken Robinson: 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, who really succeeds by this, who does everything they should, who gets all the brownie 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 the top. And I used to be one, so there.

Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there’s a reason. 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. So the hierarchy is rooted 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 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. 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 design the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can’t afford to go on that way. 

LBS: Parents and educators need to see this revolution taking place in order to change the way they educate their young, and to ALWAYS preserve their CREATIVE and CURIOUS MINDS. How? By giving them adequate space for imagining, for creating, for expressing their inner thoughts, feelings and stories. By giving them the tools to create their stories and imaginations. By being their supportive partners in creative learning. By questioning everything and recreating a future that sits well with their hearts.

Sir Ken Robinson: In the next 30 years, according to UNESCO, more people worldwide will be graduating through education than since the beginning of history. More people. And it’s the combination of all the things we’ve talked about: technology and its transformational effect on work, and demography and the huge explosion in population.

Suddenly, degrees aren’t worth anything. Isn’t that true? When I was a student, if you had a degree, you had a job. If you didn’t have a job, it’s because you didn’t want one. And I didn’t want one, frankly. 

But now kids with degrees are often heading home to carry on playing video games, because you need an MA where the previous job required a BA, and now you need a PhD for the other. It’s a process of academic inflation. And it indicates the whole structure of education is shifting beneath our feet. We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence. 

LBS: Yes, exactly! Do check out Professor Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory that reinforces the view that each of us is made up of various intelligences put together. Not just one. Or none! https://www.simplypsychology.org/multiple-intelligences.html

Sir Ken Robinson: We know three things about intelligence. One, it’s diverse. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity — which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value — more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.

And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct. I’m doing a new book at the moment called “Epiphany,” which is based on a series of interviews with people about how they discovered their talent. I’m fascinated by how people got to be there. It’s really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who maybe most people have never heard of, Gillian Lynne. She’s a choreographer, and everybody knows her work. She did “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera.” She’s wonderful. 

Gillian and I had lunch one day. I said, “How did you get to be a dancer?” It was interesting. When she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the ’30s, wrote to her parents and said, “We think Gillian has a learning disorder.” She couldn’t concentrate; she was fidgeting. I think now they’d say she had ADHD. Wouldn’t you? But this was the 1930s, and ADHD hadn’t been invented at this point. It wasn’t an available condition. 

Anyway, she went to see this specialist. So, this oak-paneled room, and she was there with her mother, and she was led and sat on this chair at the end, and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes, while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school, because she was disturbing people, her homework was always late, and so on. Little kid of eight. In the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said, “I’ve listened to all these things your mother’s told me. I need to speak to her privately. Wait here. We’ll be back. We won’t be very long,” and they went and left her. 

But as they went out of the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. And when they got out of the room, he said to her mother, “Just stand and watch her.” And the minute they left the room, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes, and he turned to her mother and said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.” 

I said, “What happened?” She said, “She did!”

And the rest is history!

Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/iG9CE55wbtY

LBS: Thank you Sir Ken Robinson for your wisdom and insights into the importance of creativity in our lives. Your legacy will live on in every parent, child and educator who are committed to an education that nurtures the heart and soul, by creating happier and better individuals together!

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