Robinson’s View of Education: Replenishing the Creativity Drainage System
Humans are naturally creative. This remarkable ability of ours to forge fresh and innovative ideas is why the world has become so advanced. We are unlike any other species because this capacity that we have for ingenuity and originality allows us to fix nearly every problem we come across and aim higher each time. Frank Zappa claimed, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” We have proven this to be true by developing at such a rapid pace through entrepreneurship and inventiveness. Creativity allows us to make something out of nothing, and this aptness is found to be especially present in children. There are no limits to their imaginations because “kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go… they’re not frightened of being wrong” (Robinson). To them, mistakes are not an area of worry; they use them to learn and improve upon ideas, and to expand their creative minds even further.
Yet, as we grow up, our capacity for creativity seems to shrink. Why is this? The answer is simple. The school system is educating us out of it. Sir Ken Robinson is an expert in creativity and is known all over the world for his well-regarded TedTalk, which delves into how the education system is ridding students of their creativity and why it is essential to promote this capacity of ours in school, instead of stigmatizing it. His concepts and ideas are thought-provoking and should be expanded upon and explored further. Another speaker for Ted, Tom Wujec, conducted several design workshops. In the workshops, he analyzed how different groups of people, including architects, kindergartners, and recent graduates of business schools, performed the Marshmallow Challenge. In this challenge, a group must build a structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and to top it off, they must place a marshmallow on top. The aim is to produce the tallest tower without it collapsing. However, the main issue in this challenge is that the tower must be completed in 18 short minutes. The results, at first glance, are surprising. While the business school students consistently performed poorly, the kindergartners proved to be quite successful. They produced some of the tallest and most unique structures out of all the groups. However, when we look deeper into the processes the groups took, we can understand why the results turned out this way. Most people, including the business school students, spent the first few minutes orienting themselves with the task and vying for power. Then they planned what the tower would look like and laid out all of the materials. The majority of the time was spent building the tower, and at the very end, when the marshmallow was placed on top, the structure would collapse, but there would be no time left to try another strategy. However, when the kindergartners approached the task, they delved into it headfirst, without planning or overthinking. This allowed them more time to try new ideas if others failed. They were left with successful and interesting designs. This shows that when people try without thinking of the improbabilities or possibilities of making a mistake, creative ideas are shared, and therefore, problems are successfully solved. Ken Robinson said, “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original,” yet the education system is operating directly against this. As we constantly move towards an unknown future, the public education system continues to stigmatize mistakes and eliminate opportunities for creativity and individualism, squandering possibilities of innovation that keep this world running.
All across the world, people have a common misconception about how school works and the purpose of it. As Robinson said,
“It goes like this: Young children go to elementary school mainly to learn the basic skills of reading, writing, and mathematics. These skills are essential so they can do well academically in high school. If they go on to higher education and graduate with a good degree, they’ll find a well-paid job and the country will prosper too.”
This may seem like it makes sense, but when one looks deeper into it, they will come up with some harrowing questions. Why are we commonizing education for everybody when we all have different talents and skills? We can’t force all students into the same category of interest and aptitude. The choreographer for two of the longest-running shows on Broadway, “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera,” was a victim of this “education malpractice,” as Prince Ea, a word artist and filmmaker likes to call it. Her name is Gillian Lynne, and when she was younger, she underperformed at school. When her mother consulted a doctor about Gillian’s constant fidgeting and movement, he left Gillian in a room with the radio on, and observed her. After seeing her immediately get up to dance, he concluded that she was a dancer, and that she should be brought to a dance school. Now, she is a highly acclaimed choreographer, whereas if she had been told that she had a condition, she would have had to sit in school and never would have found her talent (Robinson).
This raises another question concerning success in life. Why should the only way to be able to live a comfortable life be to get a job that is only given to those with a good degree from a prestigious school? Gillian’s story goes to show that you don’t have to get a higher education in order to be successful, and to assume so is absurd. “Children are born with different amounts of this intelligence, and so naturally some do well at school and some don’t,” said Robinson, speaking about academic intelligence. We are all being molded into robots and replicas of each other, and are all expected to travel down the same path towards the future. Students who excel in less valued subjects are discouraged from pursuing those, and are instead shoved on the assembly line that is school to get constant information, which may not even pertain to their interests, thrown their way. This is a ridiculous notion, yet this myth about how schools are run is trapping us in a never-ending game. It is the main reason why reform efforts end up failing because we feel we have to continue to adhere to the expectations and rules of education to be successful.
All across the world, we have the same hierarchy of subjects. Mathematics and languages are at the peak of the pyramid, the humanities are in the middle, and the arts are rock bottom. To go even further, there is a ranking of specific areas within the arts: drama and dance are valued less than music and art. In fact, “There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics” (Robinson). Why is this the case when the arts allow us to open our minds to critical thinking, expose us to all that the world has to offer, and teach us how to collaborate and cooperate with each other? Eugene Ferguson, a historian said, "Pyramids, cathedrals, and rockets exist not because of geometry, theories of structures, or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture - literally a vision - in the minds of those who built them.” Every student has a flame of brilliance in them, and the education system is extinguishing those flames by teaching students material that they may not grasp or care about. Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” So why are we determining the intelligence of students based on subjects some are not meant for?
In addition to this hierarchy of subjects, budget cuts have been made to schools more and more frequently. In the Chicago public school system a few years ago, over 1,000 teachers were laid off due to budget cuts, and 10% of those teachers were in the arts programs (Hambek). Instead of listening to students’ opinions about what to cut from the curriculum, policymakers immediately get rid of programs in the arts. This is because they find them less important than the core subjects we study, but it completely eliminates the opportunity for students to express themselves creatively.
Aside from the hierarchy of subjects and budget cuts in schools, there has also been a massive rise in preparation for standardized testing. A continual increase in stress is being put on schools to produce top-notch test scores, making the sole focus of education being prepared for the test at the end of the year. Instead of teaching to help nurture the developing minds of our youth, teachers have begun teaching to the test. This limits creativity and individuality because students who write more original and unique responses may receive a poor result based off of the fact that they don’t follow the structure preferred by test makers. Tests also create narrow-minded thinkers because they suggest that there is only ever one correct answer to a question, when in reality, we should be encouraging the idea that there are several solutions to an issue. We live in a society where “mistakes are the worst thing you can make” (Robinson). Yet, making mistakes is the only way we can learn how to persevere and eventually succeed. The most worrisome part about standardized testing however, is what the creator of the tests, Alfred Binet, remarked about them: “these tests are too crude to be used and should be abandoned.” How is it possible that our education system is centered around something that isn’t qualified to measure our intelligence?
Robinson brought up an interesting concept in his TedTalk. He suggests the idea that if an alien came to Earth and asked what the point of public education is, we would have to conclude, by looking at the “winners” and most successful people, that public education is meant to produce university professors. However, shouldn’t the answer to the alien’s question be to prepare students for whatever comes their way in the future to further advance the world? How can we possibly expect all students to become professors when we all have different capabilities, some academic and some not. Education should not be one dimensional. It should be diverse, dynamic, and distinct. We learn in endless ways: mentally, visually, kinesthetically, abstractly, and so on, and through interactive education, creativity can more easily be expressed (Robinson). These are not the bases that the education system stems from, however.
Before the 19th century, there essentially weren’t any forms of public education. Robinson said, “These systems were developed in large part to meet the labor needs of the Industrial Revolution and they are organized on the principles of mass production.” At the time, it made sense for all the students to learn the same few subjects because that was what was required for jobs in the industrial field. However, the world has vastly changed, so why is our education system remaining in the past when everything else has advanced and progressed? The modern world calls for entrepreneurship and innovativeness, which can only be fostered by creative and critical thinking in schools. However, colleges have also twisted education into a “protracted process of university entrance” (Robinson). This allows only those who excel at the valued subjects to believe they are intelligent, and those who are skilled in areas that are stigmatized in schools are led to think they are not talented. Robinson continues to say, “We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence.” This means a major change must be made to the education system.
However, many people don’t realize a change can be made. Robinson states,
“If you want to change education, it’s important to recognize what sort of system it is. It is neither monolithic nor unchanging, which is why you can do something about it. It has many faces, many intersecting interests, and many potential points of innovation.”
While there is no doubt that a change can be made, it may take time and consistent effort. To start, people need to define what the issues with education are currently, and using these pinpointed problems, a vision and plan for what education should look like can emerge. Will standardized testing be included in new visions of education? Will grades still exist, or will the arts be of a higher standard than the current core subjects we value? These questions are an essential part of making adjustments to schools. By having examples of difficulties in the classroom and providing specific areas of improvement, others can become aware of the education reform that needs to be made, causing more people to take a stand.
The best way to make a change would be to not just reach people in general, however, but the education policymakers themselves. The policies through which political pressures are being pushed on schools need to be confronted and revised. However, the time it would take for policymakers to realize an extensive upgrade needs to be made would be quite lengthy (Robinson). This is because their, as well as universities’, main focus has shifted from education to money, similar to most societal ventures in today’s esurient world. Jana Kasperkevic, a reporter, commented about universities’ “transformation from providers of education to business ventures that strive to be the biggest and the best providers of the ‘college experience.’” Instead of cutting important and creative classes which help expand students’ minds, policy makers should be made aware of the possibility of reconfiguring the entire structure of school. This change is long overdue, but policy makers are not going to step up to the challenge on their own.
It is up to those who are actually involved with schools and the current education system at the ground level. Students, teachers, parents, and administrators alike can all make a difference and can vouch for creativity to be brought back into education. Robinson said, “If you’re a teacher, for your students you are the system. If you’re a school principal, for your community you are the system. If you’re a policymaker, for the schools you control you are the system.” By making small changes or endorsing adjustments to education within the system, or taking initiatives outside the system, a substantial modification can be made to the public education system to reclaim the values we want and need students to learn to make the most of the future.
As students grow and learn throughout their years in school, their capacity for creativity and ingenuity are drained, posing a serious issue for this ever-changing and developing world we live in, which thrives on innovation and entrepreneurship. The uncertainty and ambiguity of the future cannot be dealt with close-minded and uncreative people; the world as we know it is dependant on innovation, and we need to fuel it with original and fresh ideas, which can only occur if we expand upon children’s creativity from the time they are born, and certainly throughout their school years. Children are the future, and our job is to help them find their talent and build upon it to reach their full potential.
So why is it that in a study by Kyung Hee Kim, a professor of education at the College of William and Mary, children were found to be, based on scores from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, “less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle?” Along with the fact that the number of startups over the last few decades has steadily diminished, it seems that there is a plausible major economic issue in store for us. The need for change in the classroom is long overdue; we need to stop suffocating children’s creative spirits and let them live colorful and diverse lives. Picasso once said, “All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” Let’s stop stigmatizing and undermining subjects which have just as much value as mathematics and writing, and let mistakes be made to promote perseverance and a want to share new ideas. It’s time to stop judging fish by their ability to climb trees, and for everyone to remain and flourish as their own creative artist.
Awosika, Ayodeji. "25 Quotes That Accurately Represent the Problems with Our
Education System." Thought Catalog, Thought & Expression Company, 17 Apr.
Accessed 16 Nov. 2016.
B., Robin. "Standardized Testing." Letters to the Next President, National
Writing Project, 7 Nov. 2016, letters2president.org/letters/16441. Accessed
16 Nov. 2016.
Batten Institute University of Virginia Darden School of Business. "How
America's Education Model Kills Creativity and Entrepreneurship."
Forbes, 19 Mar. 2015, www.forbes.com/sites/darden/2015/03/19/
#5ee217b81ac7. Accessed 10 Jan. 2017.
Build a Tower, Build a Team. By Tom Wujec. Perf. Tom Wujec. Ted. Ted Conferences, Feb. 2010. Web. 7 Jan. 2017. <https://www.ted.com/talks/tom_wujec_build_a_tower#t-129388>.
Do Schools Kill Creativity? By Ken Robinson. Perf. Ken Robinson. Ted. Ted Conferences, Feb. 2006. Web. 16 Nov. 2016. <https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity>.
Hambek, Jill. "Arts Programs in Schools Often in Danger of Being Cut."
Washington Times, 14 Mar. 2016, www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/14/
arts-programs-in-schools-often-in-danger-of-being-/. Accessed 10 Jan. 2017.
I Just Sued the School System. By Richard Williams. Perf. Prince Ea. Youtube. N.p., 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqTTojTija8>.
Kasperkevic, Jana. "The Harsh Truth: US Colleges Are Businesses, and Student
Loans Pay the Bills." The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 Oct. 2014,
10 Jan. 2017.
"Quote by Frank Zappa." Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/quotes/
4408-without-deviation-from-the-norm-progress-is-not-possible. Accessed 7
Robinson, Ken, and Lou Aronica. "How Schools Kill Creativity: Forget
Standardized Tests, Here’s How We Really Engage Our Kids." Salon, Salon
Media Group, 26 Apr. 2015, www.salon.com/2015/04/26/
our_kids/. Accessed 12 Jan. 2017.
"Useful Quotes for Arts Advocates." National Performing Arts Convention, 27 Mar.
2012, www.performingartsconvention.org/advocacy/id=28. Accessed 7 Jan.
Lauren Broseker is a freshman at Morristown High School in New Jersey. She is an avid reader and loves to write as well. She is a strong believer in keeping creativity and arts programs in schools, and hopes this paper will bring more awareness to the change that must be made in the education system.