How Schools Kill Our Creativity

Everybody is interested in learning new things. Everybody is interested in education. Because it’s education that’s meant to take us into the future that we can’t quite understand. That we can’t prepare for. And most certainly can’t quite grasp. 

All kids are gifted with tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly. You know what is amazing about kids? They’re not afraid of being wrong. We all know that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. But by the time these kids grow up and get to be adults, most of them have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run everything in our society like this. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re running 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.  As Picasso once said: “All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” 

I believe this deep down in my heart, that we don’t grow into creativity, we get educated out of it. There are two principles on which human life flourishes and grows, and they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers have to work and most students have to endure. The first one is that human beings are naturally different and diverse. The second principle that drives human life is curiosity. Curiosity is the engine of achievement. 

Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. 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 drama and dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics or any other subject. Math is very important since it is the building stone of our universe, but as important is dance. Children dance all the time if they’re allowed to, we all do. We all have bodies, don’t we? It’s in our nature. It’s who we are. It’s a way to express ourselves and math can’t do that for us. Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there’s a reason for that. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism and that was more than 200 years ago.

So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas. The most useful subjects for work are at the top. So you were probably steered favourable away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the illusion that you would never get a job and an acceptable wage doing that. Is that right? Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician and you will never be as great as person X; Don’t do art, you won’t be an artist and you will never be as great as person Y. The consequence is that many highly-talented, wonderful, creative people think they aren’t that, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. The second is academic ability. Take a moment to realize that the whole system of public education all around the globe is a long-winded process to get you into university.  But due to that the whole structure of education is changing. Because in the next few years more people than ever before in history will be graduating and suddenly degrees aren’t worth anything because everyone has one. 

We have to rethink the foundation on which we’re educating our future. And the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are. Let’s not forget that we are educating fragile human beings. Let’s not forget that we are educating them to be prepared for their future and at the same time shape them for the rest of their lives. School is a dangerous tool because it is responsible for our future. But by doing school right we can create sheer beauty  and bring richness and growth to our lives and this planet.

This post was inspired by Sir Ken Robinson. If the educational system would have more people like him we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. He is an inspiring and life changing person. We need more people like him.

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