Does Education Kill Creativity?
Ideas worth Considering from Sir Ken Robinson and Alfred North Whitehead
Ken Robinson: Educational Theorist
Alfred North Whitehead:
Sometimes education kills creativity, stifles imagination, and destroys curiosity...all in the name of learning.
It is too standardized. It reduces students to test-taking-machines. It forgets connections between intellect and feeling. It neglects the imagination. It doesn't permit people to make mistakes. It forgets that sometimes the most important things in life -- love and trust and hope -- are vague. It confuses clarity with wisdom.
That's what Sir Ken Robinson says. He knows that there is also some good education today. But he believes that the talents of many, many children are needlessly squandered by forms of education that are modelled after factories rather than, say, a good jazz concert. We have rendered unto classrooms that which belongs to assembly lines.
Robinson is one of the world's leading thinkers on creativity, innovation, and learning. He is the author of many books, including The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything and Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. (GO) And he is also very, very funny.
His talks are worth listening to for the humor alone. You'll see. The first one has now been viewed by almost a million people around the world.
Whitehead's Philosophy of Education
If you are interested in a philosophy that supports Ken Robinson's point of view, you will be interested in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.
Whitehead was a mathematician and philosopher who taught at Harvard late in his life. His process philosophy is now being developed by scholars around the world, especially in East Asia. Late in his career he became very interested in education and wrote a famous book called The Aims of Education, which is often used as a seminal text by people interested in educational reform.
Here are some key ideas in Whitehead's philosophy which resonate deeply with the ideas of Ken Robinson.
1. The Subject of Education. The ultimate subject in education is Life in all it manifestations: human life but also the life of the plants and animals, the earth, and the wider universe. The whole of nature is alive.
2. Creativity. Creativity is an essential dimension of life and it is found at every level of existence. The planets and stars are creative in their ways, and so are the quantum events within the depths of atoms. Animals are obviously creative in their capacities for innovation and adaptation. When educators stifle creativity, they are going against the very grain of the universe.
3. Collaborative Creativity. We are not skin-encapsulated egos cut off from the world by the boundaries of our skin; we are persons-in-community whose very identities are established in relation to others. Even if a person develops ideas in isolation, the ideas are a synthesis of countless forms of creativity developed by others.
4. Intellect and Feeling. The Western Enlightenment was mistaken to present the mind as if it were disembodied and disaffected, separable from feeling and movement. The intellect ought not to be separated from feeling. Even thinking is a form of feeling: a feeling of ideas. This includes even mathematical thinking. It is a felt exploration of pure potentialities.
5. Multiple forms of Intelligence. It is a mistake to reduce intelligence to science and mathematics, or even to book learning. There are multiple forms of intelligence: kinesthetic, empathic, mathematical, emotional, verbal, imaginative, and practical. All are important in different circumstances.
6. Aesthetic experience. Aesthetic experience plays an important role in education, because all experience is aesthetic. The very aim of education at its best is to provide people with ways of finding beauty in their lives and adding beauty to the lives of others. Even wisdom and compassion, even truth and goodness, are forms of beauty. Beauty consists of satisfying forms of harmony and intensity.
7. The Problem of Inert Ideas. The problem with education today is that it is focused on inert ideas. Inert ideas are ideas that are treated in isolation from their relevance to life and the world, and in isolation from their relevance to students. They are approached as commodities or as objects, but not as lures for feeling, understanding, and action. When ideas function effectively in education, they are alive with potentiality.
8. The Need for Romance. A good teacher must always remember that there are three phases to education: romance, precision, and generalization. The romantic stage occurs when students are introduced to ideas that engage them, that are interesting, that make them feel more alive. The precision can come later, but without romance where is no joy in education.
9. The Problem of Standardization. Education fails when it is locked into standardization when it should be focused on personalization. Each student is unique in his or her abilities, and in the particular forms of 'intelligence' that bring him or her joy and can help him or her contribute to the well-being of the world.
10. The Value of Learning by Doing. Education fails when it forgets the wisdom of the body, and when it forgets that, often, the most important kinds of learning occur through practice. Learning can occur from body to mind as well as mind to body. This does not mean that book learning is bad. To the contrary it is wonderful. But it's not enough.
11. The Problem of Disciplinary Fragmentation. In higher education today a central problem lies in the excessive specialization of academic disciplines. Often university professors assume that their primary goal is to introduce students into their academic guilds, forgetting the education is in service to life. While specialization can be valuable, it needs to be balanced by generalization, and transdisciplinary studies.
12. Whole Person Education. At every level education needs to be oriented toward the cultivation of whole persons who live satisfying lives and who, at the same time, can contribute to the common good of their communities and the world.
This is only a skeleton of Whitehead's ideas on education.
If you would like to see how Whitehead's philosophy might serve the larger needs of a world in need, and help transform higher education: see Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet in JJB. (GO).
If you are interested in transforming education and the role technology might play, take a look at video on the left, featuring an organization called Learning Without Frontiers. It is "a global platform for disruptive thinkers, innovators and practitioners to share knowledge, ideas and experiences about new learning." (GO).
If you are interested in multiple forms of intelligence, you will be interested in the thought of Howard Gardner, featured in the video on the left. He is a pioneer in the idea that there are many forms of intelligence, which comes out of psychology. Scroll down for a list of the many forms of intelligence worthy promoting in education.
Robinson and Whitehead, the folks at Learning Without Frontiers and Howard Gardner, can help us become more disruptive, more creative, and more personalized in education. They provide helpful tools for worldwide, educational reform. That reform can occur in public schools, but also at home and in the workplace. The whole of life is a learning experience, an act of collaborative creativity in which, together with others, we seek wisdom for living in the only true subject of education: Life in all its manifestations.
Quotes from Ken Robinson's TED talk
Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.
All kids have tremendous talents -- and we squander them pretty ruthlessly.
We are educating people out of their creative capacities.
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.
I believe this passionately: that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.
Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects: at the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and the bottom
are the arts.
It's education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp.
There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why?”
You don’t think of Shakespeare being a child, do you? Shakespeare being seven? He was seven at some point. He was in somebody’s English class, wasn’t he?
How annoying would that be?”
Typically [professors] live in their heads. …They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads. It’s a way of getting their head to meetings
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: ‘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.
Howard Gardner's Multiple Forms of Intelligence
Additional videos for your enjoyment