Archive for March 27, 2012

Creativity & Education

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original …  By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.  They have become frightened of being wrong …  We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst things you can make.  And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.  Picasso once said this, he said ‘All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.’  I believe this passionately that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.  Or, we get educated out of it.”

- Sir Ken Robinson, TED 2006.

In this 2006 TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson discusses the role of creativity in our education systems, arguing that a strict focus on traditional academics limits the full capacity of many individuals.  Through federal initiatives, standardized testing, and current approaches to education, we encourage people to fear being “wrong.”  Sir Robinson’s statement resonate so strongly.  There’s almost nothing worse than being incorrect.  It means that you’re stupid, slow, behind.  So students focus on being “right,” until they succeed to some degree or just give-up.   The average 4-year HS graduation rate in the US is 71%; in Philly, it’s 66%.  So about 35% give-up, and granted, this could be for many reasons.  However, how many of those drop-outs never found a place to explore their creativity, their genius in painting, art, dance, industrial design, construction, comic-book writing, or video-game development?

By contrast, I don’t think that the answer is to let children always be “right” either.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Everyone is wrong.  Everyone loses  - gets dumped, fired, rejected.  This is life.  Perhaps education can make it safe to be “wrong,” an opportunity for learning and growth vs. a knock on a self-worth.

Can we make education more engaging, more inclusive of a diversity of intelligence?  Would this make life easier for our teachers?

Some of my dearest friends and family members serve our city’s children, working as reading specialists, elementary school teachers, high school teachers, and school counselors in Philly’s public, charter, and private schools.  These are not easy jobs. 30 kids in a class. Reading levels that start to lag in kindergarten. Students experiencing loss, trauma, and family crises.  Sometimes, it’s hard to stay hopeful.  Yet, even in the midst of this, they do, stay hopeful that is … and committed to progress.  So, this is certainly no criticism of dedicated teachers.  Positions in Philly’s toughest schools require incredible dedication and sacrifice; patience and perseverance.  Many, many educators work through seemingly impossible challenges to encourage creativity and learning.

I emailed a few educators Sir Robinson’s quote and asked for their reactions.   Here’s what they say:

In a classroom that encourages risk-taking — encourages creativity — you should expect to find students who can confidently defend their work and a learning environment where constructive criticism is welcomed. By contrast, in a classroom that discourages creativity, students simply look to the teacher for the “right” answer. It is a teacher’s responsibility to present students with the opportunity (opportunities, and many of them) to take risks. I think it is this lack of opportunity — not risk-aversion or unoriginality on behalf of the student — that plagues most classrooms … Martin Haberman said, “when students are asked to apply an idea to the problems of life, there is a good chance teaching is going on.” More importantly, though, learning is going on. All educators should ask the question, “does education imitate life, or does life imitate education,” and honestly answer the question for themselves.

Although I agree with his basic sentiment of If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original, I have not seen a fear of being wrong with my kids. Many of them try and fail and try again.

However, I have seen my kids get frustrated, overwhelmed and give up when they don’t know something on a test, saying things like “this is too hard”. I’ve also seem them participate more and behave better when the material is very easy because they are confident. Perhaps the thing to build in a classroom, in addition to creativity, is confidence.

Other than the once a year standardized testing, I  disagree when he says “We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst things you can make.” I have seen many teachers encourage students when they make mistakes. What’s frustrating, as a teacher, is when a student doesn’t even try at all. I imagine a fear of not doing it right is part of it but I’m not sure it’s the main factor.

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March 2012
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