On ‘Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity’

Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity

…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. 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’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.

This fear, or aversion, of being wrong is so strong. It becomes virtually intrinsic – all that you internalize relative to your family, society, self-identity. I see it in so many of the people who I’ve encountered who have even taken it upon themselves to try to better themselves, whether it’s doing aikido or studying how to speak English. As for aikido, with all the experiments I continually do, both outwardly and inwardly, I’ve found it’s impossible to progress, or even stay motivated to keep going, without discarding the compulsive aversion to mistakes.

In English lessons, you have people who hesitate to speak at all or else forever take a long time preparing what to say before they say it. In aikido, the interactive nature of the practice makes preparation completely unfeasible, because you have to be creative and responsive as soon as you interact with a partner and their inherent moment-to-moment variability. People who try to do aikido perfectly either power through and successfully ignore any responsiveness required, or else stop and retreat as soon as they encounter anything unprepared for (which is usually almost immediately).

The people who accept mistakes, but do so mindlessly, are also problematic. In English lessons, this means they don’t devote any or enough attention to noticing mistakes, which would lead to self-correction, which would in turn lead to being understood. If you aren’t understood, then it defeats the purpose of your endeavor – it’s self-satisfaction. In aikido, mindless mistakes mean you continue executing the movement or technique regardless of what’s actually happening. You either just power through, which can be damaging to your partner’s body as well as your own, or you break from your partner and continue the movement on your own – this is an issue especially salient to aikido practice and its cooperative nature, namely because the partner “cooperates” and moves as if you both are moving together, potentially masking your moving alone.

… Truthfully, what happens is, as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.

If you were to visit education, as an alien, and say “What’s it for, public education?” I think you’d have to conclude — if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this, who does everything that they should, who gets all the brownie points, who are the winners — I think you’d have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. …

This may not be precisely the same point as above, but a major point of being “educated from the waist up” as opposed to coming to embody something is that you can talk and understand about something, but you can’t do it. You can read a manual about flying a helicopter, you can join a conversation about connecting with someone and uniting with the energy of the universe, but that doesn’t mean you can do it. As for the big picture, the problem is that you “get all [or a lot of] the brownie points” for this. Part of society’s cost is we get lazy about discerning the difference – we don’t stop and say, “These people over here are actually working and practicing to do the thing, and those people are just talking about it”. More importantly, we don’t stop and ask ourselves, “Am I actually working and doing the thing? Or just talking about it?”

Now our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there’s a reason. … They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas. Number one, that the most useful subjects for work are at the top. So you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that 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.

… 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.

This is synonymous with the problem I mention above, about not discerning about doing and just “getting”. Doing can become stigmatized easily, particularly because most people don’t ‘do’ perfectly or show results every time. The things that show the results we are conditioned to recognized, those have become valued.

We know three things about intelligence. One, it’s diverse. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity — which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value — more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.

Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children. … We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely and that we avert some of the scenarios that we’ve 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. By the way — we may not see this future, but they will.

The above quote is expressed just fine, but here’s a possibly trite, related thought: about aikido, particularly those who concern themselves with effectiveness and application, people have difficulty linking what’s apparently being practiced and how it could possibly be actually used. They overlook the fact that you are preparing for some future possibility that you cannot see. For this, practicing to be whole and creative is essential.


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