“Do Schools Kill Creativity?” A TED Talk every Creative Revolutionary is familiar with. Sir Ken Robinson’s talk continues to be a revelation. Despite being over 17 years old, it remains the most watched TED Talk of all time. It has been watched over 75 million times and is estimated to have been watched by at least 4 times that figure. And aside from the sheer brilliance of the talk, of the speaker, of the subject matter and of the reaction since, one aspect of the talk that I find equally brilliant is its title.
Do Schools Kill Creativity? - Sir Ken Robinson
When Sir Ken Robinson took to the TED stage in 2006, he didn’t actually have the title ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’ as his session – that was attested afterwards, by the TED team, to cast the hook and bait the viewer. And it really worked.
The talk doesn’t refer exclusively to the arts which some, before they begin to watch it, may preconceive. Creativity, as I mention in my article “Why You Are More Creative Than You Think: Uncovering Hidden Talents“, isn’t an exclusive club for those wielding paintbrushes or pirouetting in ballet shoes. It’s a universal capability, a multidimensional phenomenon that permeates every discipline and field.
SKR (Sir Ken Robinson) was fond of saying that creativity is as important in education as literacy, and in the talk he emphasised that we should treat it with the same status. But what does that mean? Are we to place our children in front of easels and demand that they conjure up the next ‘Starry Night’ or ‘The Last Supper’ before they retire for the night? Not quite. Our conception of creativity goes beyond the traditional confines of the arts.
Creativity is “the process of having original ideas that have value“. Note the keyword here, that always sends shivers down my spine: ‘value‘. Creativity isn’t just about originality; it’s also about utility and appropriateness. It’s about introducing new ways of thinking, solving problems and generating ideas that are valuable within a particular context.
This broader understanding of creativity has significant implications for education. It means that we should be fostering creative thinking in all disciplines, not just those traditionally associated with creativity like music or visual arts. It means that our maths classes should encourage original problem-solving techniques, our science classes should welcome innovative hypotheses, and our history classes should reward unique interpretations of past events.
Why is this so crucial? Well, as SKR states, we’re preparing our children for a future that we can’t possibly predict. We’re living in a time of extraordinary change, and the world is becoming increasingly complex and interconnected. To navigate this uncertainty and complexity, our children will need to be flexible, adaptable, and innovative. In short, they’ll need to be creative.
Yet, our current educational model tends to marginalise creativity. Born out of the needs of the Industrial Revolution, it values conformity and standardisation over creativity and diversity. It champions rote learning over creative thinking, uniformity over individuality.
The result? Many of our children’s creative capacities get dulled or even lost during their journey through education. Instead of fostering their natural curiosity and creativity, we often end up suppressing these qualities in favour of narrowly defined academic success.
However, there’s good news. Creativity, as Sir Ken argued, isn’t something that we either have or don’t have. It’s not a fixed trait but a process that we can all engage with. This means that we can cultivate it, both within ourselves and within our children.
To do this, we need to do two things: re-envision education and then, the system of education. Two very distinctly different things that we so often mislabel, or at least blend together subconsciously.
We need to move away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach towards a more personalised model that values and nurtures the unique abilities and interests of each child. We need to make space for creative thinking and experimentation, and we need to broaden our understanding of intelligence and achievement.
Sir Ken Robinson suggested that intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinct. By recognising this, we can help to foster a culture of creativity in our schools. We can start to value diverse forms of intelligence, encourage the dynamic interaction of different ways of thinking, and recognise the distinct abilities of every child.
Such an approach wouldn’t just benefit those students who excel in traditional academic subjects. It would benefit all students, giving them the skills and confidence to think creatively and solve problems in whatever field they choose to pursue.
“Our task is to educate their whole being so they can face this future.” If we’re to rise to this challenge, we must educate the masses to recognise that creativity isn’t just for the arts – it’s for everyone, it’s for every discipline, and it is critical for our future.
- How has your own experience with the education system shaped your views on creativity?
- Do you agree that creativity is as critical as literacy in education? Why or why not?
- What steps can we collectively take to foster an environment that values and nurtures creativity in every child, irrespective of their chosen field?