Monday, November 8, 2010

Stifling Creativity: The School as Factory

I've written a number of times about creativity and divergent thinking and how easy it is to stifle both (for example here). I've also written before about Sir Ken Robinson's ideas on the topic, and his view that school tends to educate '...people out of their creativity'.  Children he suggests have a natural tendency towards novelty, experimentation and exploration of their world in new ways right from birth. While genes have something to do with creativity and it varies from one person to another, all humans have the potential to be creative and creativity can be fostered or discouraged. In a recent lecture he cites research from a longitudinal study of 1500 children over a 10-year period ('Breakpoint & Beyond: Mastering the Future Today').  The results of this work suggested that while at age 5 almost all children (98%) demonstrated high levels of creativity and divergent thinking, that at subsequent assessments at 5-year intervals, this dropped dramatically as children progressed through school.

In a recent lecture Sir Ken Robinson suggests that throughout the developed world governments are talking about reforming schools, but in every case they are simply seeking to go 'back to the future'. He suggests that around the world we are seeing governments continuing to support the maintenance of schools systems that:

1. Were devised in the 18th century age of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. The Enlightenment led to a questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals, and a strong belief in rationality and science. The needs of the Industrial Revolution led to the creation of mass public education to train workers. 

2. Deductive reasoning is valued and the school system turns children out factory-like after being tested and 'packaged' for life.

3. School education is completed in institutions that resemble factories, children are grouped in classes, grades and year groups and are shuffled through a system that approaches learning in discrete subjects and devalues the arts and creativity compared to the sciences.

4. The outcome he argues is that children are streamed into academic and non-academic groups and many find the experience boring and frustrating. In an age where children receive more stimulation than ever before through media, life experiences and communication technology, school he suggests, is simply mind-numbingly boring.

His presentation below takes just 11 minutes to view; it is a stimulating and challenging lecture. 

How can we stimulate creativity?

a) The preschool child - Parents, carers and preschool teachers need to:

  • Provide time for children to explore their world.
  • Offer opportunities for structured and unstructured play.
  • Encourage experimentation with language and story.
  • Create an environment that encourages the child to invent novel solutions in play.
  • Ensure that children are not placed under too many restraints and structures.
  • Try to enhance opportunities for children to attempt to solve problems or explore new things.
  • Offer new experiences and situations that challenge them to find out, seek solutions and solve problems.
  • Make good use of technology without allowing it to dominate children's lives.
    b) School-age children - The teacher or parent needs to:
    • Encourage learning, expression and exploration in situations that emphasise the generation of ideas, solutions and forms of expression that are divergent as well as convergent.
    • Ensure that the desire to evaluate learning and encourage excellence does not limit creativity.
    • Ensure that rewards do not simply privilege single answers or solutions, or pathways to reaching the single right answer (because of course there are correct answers to some things).
    • Integrate opportunities to learn as much as possible cutting across the traditional subject disciplines.
    • Provide time for children to explore, express and reflect on their learning.
    • Encourage self-discovery, inquiry learning and varied modes to expressing ideas.
    • Encourage exploration of the arts and humanities as well as the sciences.
      Conclusion Schools constrain and conform our children to such an extent that originality, innovation and discovery are not valued as much as they should. As these disappear, so too do enjoyment, motivation and creativity. As John Holt expresses it:

      What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out. (John Holt, 1981)

      Related links and resources

      'Creativity in Young Children' - James Moran (here)

      My previous post 'The critical place of play, creativity and fantasy' (here)

      I have written a series of 4 posts on play here or check out all posts tagged 'play' here and a number of posts on creativity in learning and language (see for example my post on being inventive with language here or all posts tagged 'creativity' here).

      1 comment:

      Dan said...

      Such an awesome article - thank you!

      As a therapist / business person, this is an area I have found I have had to force myself to expand and grow.

      As a parent, this is an area I admit struggling in. At times, it is too easy to allow the schools to do the work. But in my moments of revelation, I realize how important it is to continue to offer opportunities for my children to grow outside the day-to-day classroom activities.