Do schools kill creativity?


It is probably the most imprinting period in one’s life: School. I am sure that most of you remember the time you had in your good old school days. But whether you consider your school days as good or not, one thing is for sure: They were old. Not just in a temporal sense, but especially concerning the structure of the school system we still “enjoy” today.

You surely also remember the subjects you were good at, and those… you were not. But do you remember a time where you were interested in subjects that actually were not considered as official school subjects at all? Like, for example, dancing? Or drawing?

Maybe you cannot even come up with one single thing you were really good at because by that time, your parents had already convinced you that you would never get a job doing that. And that you should better be improving your math and language skills because these are the things that are going to bring you further in life.

We all know that and we all still get to hear it now and then, even nowadays. (At least I do.)

“My contention is, all kids have tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.“

That is pretty much the beginning of Ken Robinson’s inspiring TEDTalk “Do schools kill creativity?”, in which he quickly answers this rhetorical question through diving into the established “hierarchy of subjects” in our educational system. This is also the most watched Talk of all times (so far)!

“Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. And in pretty much every system too, there’s a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think math is very important, but so is dance.”

The root lies, he continues, in the history of our educational system, which was and still is the product of the 19th century. Having to meet the needs of industrialism, two ideas emerged out of the arising school system back then:

“One is that the most useful subjects for work are at the top. And the second is the “academic ability“, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence. The whole educational system 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.”

But as the world has evolved and still is evolving more than ever, we have to “rethink our view of intelligence”. In the past, graduating was almost a synonym to finding a job, whereas right now “you need a MA where the previous job required a BA and a PHD for the other.” Ken Robinson calls it the “process of academic inflation“. 

Therefore, we have to encourage creativity in our children instead of stigmatizing their “mistakes”. At least, “kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong. And if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

This is a remarkable and very, very important TEDTalk. A TEDTalk about our rigid school system and the urgent call to renew the definition of intelligence it provides.

So what are you waiting for? Watch Robinson’s Talk right here:

Photo credits to Alina Nikolaou

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About Marija Barisic

Marija studies German and History at the University of Vienna and loves reading and writing about psychological and spiritual theories of human mind. She likes late-night-talks with open-minded people and getting to know different point of views.

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