19 October 2008

Inciting Revolution - Or, Why We Cannot Teach Creativity in Schools

Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.
- Bertrand Russell

Like all institutions, education helps to ... preserve the status quo. It is necessarily conservative.

A basic requirement of moving into a new age is creative thinking. But schools stifle creativity, particularly in children, by insisting that they conform to standards of behavior and belief, and by teaching them to respond to questions with answers that are expected of them. Answers that are expected cannot be creative, precisely because they are expected. Creative answers are necessarily surprising, unexpected. The current American educational system can be characterized as having students memorize known (expected) answers to predetermined questions. ….

Students are also taught that certain questions must not be asked; for example, Jules Henry, a cultural anthropologist who argued that a human’s foremost evolutionary task is to learn how to learn, wondered what would happen “if all through school the young were provoked to question the Ten Commandments, the sanctity of revealed religion, the foundations of patriotism, the profit motive, the two-party system, monogamy, …. and so on. … such questioning would produce more creativity than a change-resisting society could handle.

All quoted from Russell Ackoff and Sheldin Rovin's Redesigning Society, pp. 83-4.

Picture from Sandi's 2nd grade class last Valentine.

Other blogs:
ceyo "our students are showing up tomorrow"


Anonymous said...

Someday I'd like to research the relationship between comedy and change. It seems like a lot of our recent cultural changes found their first voices through people like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Dick Gregory, and the Smothers Brothers.

Some of our most brilliant, creative minds end up in comedy, and a lot of times they can sneak in pretty revolutionary ideas between the punch lines.

cce said...

I think Thomas has a point...perhaps creative thinking is more palatable to society if couched in a certain, "he/she can't be serious sort of context."
Also, as for the conformity of education and how this relates to my life - just got O's MCAS scores back which show a near problem in the math arena. Now is this a school failure or an O failure? How is one supposed to even interpret these damn standardized tests? Who needs tutoring him or his teachers?

Gypsy at Heart said...

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." Albert Camus

I've never been able to separate the concept of education from creativity. Learning perforce implies curiosity and curiosity in turns engenders experimentation and questioning. In an ideal world, isn't that loose and malleable progression a winning formula for creativity?

Ron Davison said...

It certainly seems as though, of late, the serious reporting about the absurdity of the modern world is best done by comics.

(good to have you swing by again), if there should suddenly spring up huge demand for standardized tests, we'd have a generation ready to produce them. As yet, I've not figured out how there is demand for that.

Great quote. If we were focused on the real world, experimentation would be wonderful. But we cloister kids off - like monks. Set them loose on society. Let them try projects to cure homelessness, pollution, lack of profit or wealth. Then creativity matters. But as long as the kids are taking cce's son's standardized tests, there is not much room for creativity.

Anonymous said...

Oh!... where do I begin with so much to say? Kids are plenty creative in the classroom, just come to room 18 for a day... even an hour, and watch them work.
They sure can't be creative on standardized test though. Strangely, I find that kids can get the wrong answer on these tests because they know too much. The classic test question for me was asking which diagram shows 1/3 shaded. The kids had trouble with it. I was very frustrated, thinking they SO know about fractions, but all of the choices were in black or white. After the test they said, "Wow! that was a weird question about 1/3 shaded. None of them were shaded... I guess their teacher never taught them about what shaded really means!" They make questions very tricky by using strange wording.
So much about academics is learning how "rules" or patterns work in language and math. Students are very creative in spelling and it is very hard to pursuade them otherwise! I think that you need to know how things are "expected" to work before you can really get creative with academics.(especially at the 2nd grade level) There is still loads of room for creativity, especially if kids know how to handle the freedom.

Life Hiker said...

One of my son's is a "Sandi", teaching 8th grade math in the combat zone of Phoenix. His "average" kids are hammering the test scores, only 2% behind the "gifted" class. Why?

1)He shows them respect and love.

2)He convinces them that they can succeed and exceed expectations.

3)He works harder than he expects them to work.

Brian was a fine athlete, a banker, a manager, and a headhunter before he was a teacher. He knows that life is not simple, especially for these kids. So, he laughs, cajoles, drills, and enjoys them as they learn how to make the numbers work. His kids have smiles like Sandi's kids. Lovely!

Norman said...


We used to show this in an animated film back when I was teaching leadership to adults. It always resulted in very interesting discussions.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought the Montessori approach was fascinating. Unschooling is a unique approach, as well. We are new to the public school system, and I am terribly disappointed. Horrible arts, music, and math.

Ron Davison said...

I guess we all learn that language is a bit like ice - something we slip around on for quite some time. Excellent point, though, about how creativity is desired in one area (story telling, for instance) but not in another (e.g. spelling).

How unsurprising that your son would teach and teach so well. I think it probably also helps that Brian has such a rich background to draw from, to share with the kids.

sad and almost too matter of fact to be poignant story. Thanks. We do learn to wait to see what'll get encouraged and what'll get punished, don't we?

Sandi (my wife, just a few comments before you), is trained in Montessori. I think it is fascinating and cool. Unschooling I don't know about. But why is it that public schools feel the need to focus on math and science but not arts? That kind of thing gets me on my soap box.