Educating Out of Creativity?

Excellent 20 minute lecture by Sir Ken Robinson on how our current education system is educating us OUT rather than into creativity.

It’s horrifying to think of how my life reflects his observations – Singapore’s education system was all about what was useful, and what was easy to score in so we could get into college: mathematics, physics, chemistry. I felt silly when I took literature for three months. As Robinson puts it: the whole system was a “protracted process  of university entrance.” Even in an American liberal arts college such as Penn, emphasis is placed on what is practical – technical skills that can be applied to society: engineering and business are held in high regard, while economics is the most popular major in the College of Arts and Sciences.

As a recent economics graduate, I realize now that I need to get out of that trap before it’s too late and I fall into monotonic, mundane hell. I can already feel it: It’s getting harder for me to come up with ideas for business plans and trading strategies. I do the same things with my friends every weekend – the same fun, enjoyable, but ultimately safe activities of a college graduate bordering on the wrong side of 25. I have trouble coming up with original choreography for dance, choosing instead to mix and match stuff that I’ve already learnt. It’s troubling.

Thank goodness that I’ve got dance to hold on to – my one creative outlet where I can truly, satisfyingly express myself. I believe that I should work on that a little more. Robinson points out that the ideal education system should be diverse, dynamic, and distinct. In terms of diversity, we think in terms of more than one way – he cites visual, auditory, abstract and kinetic media as some examples of how we think. Education should be dynamic – creativity comes about through the interaction of these different disciplinary ways of seeing things. I wasn’t sure about what he meant by education being distinct, but the analogy he gave of discovering your talent was a very strong one.

Could our silly, impractical, activities not be that silly and impractical after all? Could my pursuit of dance possibly form brain connections that might lead me to come up with original, valuable ideas? Could we be too afraid of being wrong to be able to come up with even better solutions?

A couple of months ago I entered into a fierce email debate with some business and engineering students over the importance of critical thinking. Critical thinking is helluva important, perhaps even more important than technical skill. But now I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps we need to push it a little further towards creativity. Being able to not only critically analyze a situation, but to actually come up with an ORIGINAL solution, something so astoundingly mind-blowing that it could, well, change the world.

Suddenly, the silly, useless, impractical pursuits that we used to chase as children don’t seem so silly after all.


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