The view from his shoulders: forty years of Sir Ken Robinson’s call for creativity

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It is not surprising that Ken Robinson (1950–2020) became a crusader for creativity in education and everyday life. After all, his first degree was in Education, graduating with a qualification to teach English and drama in elementary secondary schools. Reminiscing about the time he graduated in the early 1970s, he noted that creativity and self-expression were “now coming by many to be seen as the real point of drama in schools.” (p.143) Drama provided for creativity, self-expression, and the development of the senses “as an independent force” aimed to produce a whole, tolerant person who was “sensitive, aware, confident, imaginative, well-adjusted to Society and so on.” (p.153)

He had serious doubts about all this early on; doubts about a naive and “unqualified doctrine of self-expression and creativity” that assumed that children would arrive at “self-realization by some kind of expressive homing instinct with the teacher only occasionally correcting their course by the guiding shake of a tambourine.” (p1.54) By 1980 he was in no doubt: it was “important to bury these ideas (p.154)”.

Twenty years later, in Out of our Minds, Robinson presented a new definition of creativity with real intellectual muscle. In a structured, three step progression he arrived at his longstanding definition: Creativity necessarily involves “imaginative processes with outcomes that are original and of value.” (pp. 114–118)

Skip ahead another 20 years to 2023, and Robinson’s thinking is still shaping creativity- infused education globally and the reach and application of his thinking to the major problems of our time is revealed in the topics and discussion groups here, of us creative revolutionaries!

My interest, as a drama teacher from way back then, remains around the challenge to amplify creative learning opportunities in course and lesson design. It remains for each of us to support others “not to fix this system but to change it… not to reform it but to transform it.” (p.xx) Ken’s challenge in the introduction to Creative Schools is even more shrill after the lightning bolt which was COVID, noting “the answer is not to do better what we have done before” whilst acknowledging that “the great irony with the current malaise in education is that we actually know what works.”

How can we build a serviceable learning design framework for schools and colleges which elevates creativity, which incorporates what we know works, but not keep blindly doing what we have done before? For us at there are a number of headline issues that we identified in our quest to build a contemporary learning design framework for our pedagogy of creativity.

1.  We need a congenial Learning Design Framework which:

  • Elevates the productive ambiguity which comes from staying with your senses, rather than quickly moving to conceptual explanations. This acknowledges the distinctiveness of aesthetic learning and the importance of Maxine Green’s notion of the “variously meaningful.
  • Deploys expressive outcomes, from Eliot Eisner, alongside behavioural objectives and related goals.
  • Insists on a learning management system (LMS) which has the features to enable creative engagement of the kind used every day by creative educators. Quizzes and text forums alone can never adequately serve our needs.

2. We need to make learning personal and significant which:

  • Elevates each student as a partner in learning and leads them to Anna Craft’s notion of ‘possibility thinking’ or the Jewish parenting belief of Tikkun olam – Repairing the world.
  • Elevates student choice over rigid course structures, especially those fixed months or years in advance as a guarantee of ‘quality’.
  • Elevates ‘co-roles’ for learners as co-creators, co-researchers, co-designers and so co-on.
  • Elevates peer engagement, dialogue and interactivity, alongside direct instruction, demonstration, and routine practice.

3. We need to elevate opportunities for creative engagement across the modes of delivery which characterise education post-COVID which:

  • Identifies the features, benefits, and challenges of creative learning online (especially of embodied learning).
  • Tests which learning activities are best suited for when we are in-person together in the classroom or studio, and what creative force can synchronous and asynchronous modes of delivery bring to the adventure of learning.

4. We need to elevate opportunities for creative career enhancement which:

  • Ensure that the management of each person’s creative capacities are learned at a young age and not stifled, or “bonsaied” (in the manner of the KH Kim’s manicured but stunted bonsai plants) by their learning climates.
  • Nest Creativity with the other three C’s of Collaboration, Communication and Critical Reflection and align it with Jefferson and Anderson’s Creativity Cascade for all 21st Century learners.

All these moving parts are coming together in an online course currently in development and called the Joy of Learning the Kadenze way. If you have responses about any of the matters raised in this post the Kadenze team would love to hear from you. Perhaps you have thoughts on:

  • What you believe is essential in any learning framework for creativity?
  • Based on the headlines above, what might be missing in this learning design for creativity?
  • Would you like to contribute to our deliberations, or even pilot the learning objects we are building?

If any of these questions tempt or tease, I would love to hear from you – my colleagues invested in The Creative Revolution.

Brad Haseman is a founding member of The Creative Revolution. Brad first met Ken Robinson in 1977, soon after they became newly minted drama teachers, and they maintained their relationship until Ken’s death in 2020. Brad is currently Professor Emeritus QUT, Australia and Executive Vice President, Kadenze, Inc., a learning platform explicitly designed for the creative arts, design and creative technologies. Currently Brad is leading a team of five authors to produce the Joy of Learning the Kadenze Way, a Learning Design Framework designed to ensure that physical and virtual classrooms become places of adventure and alliance.

Credit for Image: Alex Alvarez on Unsplash


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