“Do Schools Kill Creativity?” is a provocative question asked and explored in a 2006 TedTalk by one of the greatest educational thinkers of our generation, Sir Ken Robinson. Since then, Sir Ken Robinson’s video has amassed over 67 million views, becoming the most watched TedTalk in history and sparking an ongoing conversation about the future shape and definition of education. Sadly, the world lost this great influencer when he passed away recently, but his work lives on.
In the TedTalk he positioned that:
“Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there’s a reason. Around the world, there were no public systems of education, really, before the 19th century. 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 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 design 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.”
He, along with many other great educational thinkers and change agents, have gone on to argue that while our industrial style of education may have had a place in the late 19th and 20th centuries, it certainly does not meet the needs of today’s challenges. In 2010, Sir Ken Robinson made a short animated film, Changing Education Paradigms that clearly illustrated the argument. He rightfully concluded that we cannot meet the future by doing what we have done in the past.
In order to prepare our students for the world they will inherit, Sir Ken Robinson advocated that the educational system had to offer a broad and varied curriculum that fostered individualization of the learning process. He believed that education should ignite curiosity through creative teaching, which depends on high quality teacher training and development. Finally, he believed that education must focus on awakening creativity through alternative learning processes that put less emphasis on standardized testing and conformity and more on sparking curiosity and interest.
Sir Ken Robinson believed that we needed to change the metaphor of education from the factory model (mechanical approach) to an organic system, more like a gardener or farmer. He said, “We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”
I continue to agree with his observations that much of the present educational system in the United States promotes conformity and actually rewards compliance rather than creative approaches to learning. Standardization of assessments and what is traditionally and narrowly valued reinforces this.
I have read his books, had the good fortune to hear him speak in person on a few occasions, and was most honored to be able to spend the better part of a day with him in a very small gathering.
As an educator and Jew, his approach truly speaks to me as creativity in learning and expression is a primary Jewish value. As an example, our foundational story is told in the Torah. The Torah does not begin by stating that God is a king, or father, or just or merciful. The Torah begins by describing God’s attribute as Creator – “Bereshit bara, Elokim et hashamayim ve’et haaretz – When God began to create the heaven and the earth…” We are meant to create, to dream, design, and imagine – through creativity, problems are solved, discoveries are made, and lives are enhanced. (It was through creative thinking and problem solving we were able to reopen school during the pandemic!) And as Sir Ken Robinson would often say, “Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. It’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves”
May his memory be for a blessing and may we stand on his shoulders with the courage to create the learning environments that enable our children to blossom and flourish; the learning environments they deserve.