schools and creativity

Our education system has mined our minds in the way we strip-mine the earth, for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. --Ken Robinson

Some excerpts:

My contention is all kids have tremendous talents and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly. [...] My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.

[...] 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 this way, by the way, 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. Picasso once said this, he said that all children are born artists. The problem is how 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, we get educated out of it.

[...] our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there's a reason. The whole system was invented, around the world there were no public systems of education really before the nineteenth century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. So the hierarchy is originated on two ideas, number one, that the most useful subjects for work are at the top. So you had probably stayed 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 designed 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. In the next thirty years, according to UNESCO, more people world-wide 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? [...] the whole structure of education is shifting beneath our feet.

We need to radically re-think our view of intelligence.

[...]Gillian and I had lunch one day. I said, "how'd you get to be a dancer?" She said it was interesting, she said when she was at the school, she was really hopeless. And the school in the thirties 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? [...] she went to see this specialist. So this oak-paneled room, and she was there with her mother and she was led in and sat on this chair in there and sat on her hands for twenty minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school. And at the end of it, because she was disturbing people and 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, "Gillian, I've listened to all these things that your mother's told me, I need to speak to her privately." So he said, "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 said she was on her feet, moving to the music. They watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and he said, "you know Mrs. Lynn, Gillian isn't sick, she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school." I said, "what happened?" She said, "she did. I can't tell you, sir, how wonderful it was. We walked in this room, and it was full of people like me. People who couldn't sit still. People who had to move to think." Who had to move to think. They did ballet, they did tap, they did jazz, they did modern, they did contemporary. She was eventually auditioned for the royal ballet school, she became a soloist, she had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet, she eventually graduated from the Royal Ballet school, found her own company, the Gillian Lynn Dance Company, met Andrew Lloyd Webber, she's been responsible for some of the most successful musical theatre productions in history, she's given pleasure to millions, and she's a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication, and told her to calm down.

[...] What I think it comes to is this. Al Gore spoke the other night about ecology and the revolution that was triggered by Rachel Carson. I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology. One in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way we strip-mine the earth, for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. We have to re-think the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children.

There was a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk, who said, "if all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within fifty years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within fifty years all forms of life would flourish. And he's right. What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely, and that we avert some of the scenarios that we talked about. And the only way we'll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being so they can face this future.


He's going to be eleven next month. He's wearing a men's 12 in shoes. This morning he came and laid down with me, snuggling into my shoulder. I looked at his face, noticing the oil and tiny rash of bumps on his nose. He made little sounds of contentment. When he stood up again, I noticed how long his legs are getting. I said, "Jake, I think you grew some more. All right, that's enough growing, you can stop now." He laughed and said, "I don't think that's going to happen." "Oh c'mon," I said, "can't you stay my little boy for just a little longer?" He smiled and said, "I think that's going to happen."