Do Schools Kill Creativity?

This post, from Zoe Westhof, originally appeared on her Essential Prose site on 4/29/09.

I’ve been thinking a lot about education lately. It all started when I watched this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Robinson asserts that creativity in education is as important as literacy, and the current school system does not treat it as such. In fact, he says, the current school system stifles creativity.


What these things have in common you see 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. Now I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. But 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, by the way — we stigmatize mistakes. And we are 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. Picasso once said this. He said, that 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 rather that we get educated out of it. So why is this?

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

When I heard this, I of course started thinking about my own schooling. I was fortunate enough to go to some pretty unconventional schools throughout my childhood. My elementary school, for example, encouraged “inventive spelling.” If you didn’t know how to spell a word for the story you were writing, you made it up — you wrote it the way you thought it should be. Now, I can’t prove any cause and effect here, but I now happen to be a top-notch speller. I’m sure that’s more due to my childhood consumption of every book I laid my hands on, but inventive spelling was great nonetheless. We actually had a class called “Rhythm” that, as far as I remember, entailed a lot of jumping and dancing around a big empty room. I also didn’t have grades until I was 10 years old, and the school I went to resided inside half the public library building.

So my schooling experience wasn’t exactly conventional, but it began to fit into certain molds as I grew older. After all, I had to get into college, didn’t I?

Robinson suggests that our schooling system would look to aliens like an entire process devoted to creating university professors. If you look at the path from high school to university and beyond, schooling and academia have become insulated, self-perpetuating ecosystems that are often irrelevant to the world outside. Luckily, there are many teachers who reach beyond that — but it is a hard system to crack.

Read the rest of the post (which includes the TED talk video referenced in the opening paragraph above) on Essential Prose.

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