Thursday, November 19, 2009

Creativity and Education


Just watched Sir Ken Robinson giving his TED speech in 2006. (All videos are available for download at TED.com, go see for yourself). In it, he talked about a lot about how all are born creative. However, it seems that the educational system, designed in 19th century to produce workers to work the factories in the industrial age, is actually designed to STAMP OUT creativity. Thus, it may be time to rethink the educational system.

When you think about it, what exactly are we doing to prepare our children for the future? The only things we can give them are money, education, and some love. However, love doesn't put food in the stomach, and money is worth less every day. So it must be education. However, the public education system is invented in the 19th century to feed workers to work the machines of the Industrial Revolution, and has not changed much. So what exactly are we teaching our children to cope with the future? Will what we be teaching them be useful, or not?



If you look at the schools today, public or private, charter or regular or magnet or whatever, they all have the same subjects: language, math, sciences, then arts, IN THAT ORDER. Why? You need language and math to learn the others, but also, mastering language and math will be enough to at least get some jobs. In fact, often you will hear that anything else is fluff, don't study them because you wil not be employable, especially the arts. Your parents will tell you that you "the big money is in banking, or engineering, or computers." I'm sure everybody has heard that. The primary tests today for college entrance, SAT and ACT, only test math, and English. And it has been that way for decades. In fact, an industry has popped up just to do college entrance tests. Does that mean the schools are doing such a bad job for college entry? That we need to pay extra for our students to learn math and English?

Or put in in another way... you're deliberated turned away from the arts, by teachers, by parents, by everybody. Except in recent years, when popularity of rap artists, American Idol, and such "reality shows" have produced a bunch of pop icons, inspiring a bunch of new generation folks who somehow think it's possible to really make a living as an "artist", when in fact a TINY FRACTION of artists make it big.

Another thing about school is you are told NOT to make mistakes. Everything from spelling bee to tests to grades are there to reinforce that: mistakes are bad. Learn exactly what we tell you to learn and you'll do good. Do NOT think for yourself. That does not help you in your career. The more you learn what we want you to learn, the better. Frankly, some students thrive in that, but some do not.

It's hard to accept that when the educational system in the West is supposed to be some of the best in the world! In many parts of the world, you don't even have different subjects! In many countries you only have ONE religious text to read! In countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and others, there are no schools, just religious Madrassas that purportedly teach Islam, and the only thing there is to read is the Koran, and you only get what your teacher tells you! Any sort of higher learning is derided as Western contamination or corruption.

On Earth, everything evolves. It doesn't matter what directed this evolution, be it God or nature (or both). The ideas is that everything strives to be better, if only to pass on our "good" parts to our next generation. Even everything we invent gets better in some way.

So what exactly has changed in education in the past one hundred years? And I mean revolutionary changes? Maybe my memory is faulty, but I can't think of anything significant. I started to say distance learning, but that's merely a shift in the communication medium, from direct to indirect. The material and the lecture is still the same, and subjects are still the same. Multimedia is also that... shifting the medium of the information conveyance. The only thing I can think of is interactive learning, but that's not actually as revolutionary as you think it is. People think interactive learning started with computers, but when you really think about it, interactive learning started with parents going "Yeah!" and "no".

The point is we haven't done anything to really encourage our kids to pursue creativity. Most of creativity comes from looking at certain things without any preconceptions, or simply from a new angle, thinking about it in a way that's never been done before. And children are ideal for that, as they have no preconceptions except what we drill into them. When they resist repetitive boring knowledge, we call them bad students.

In a way, Sir Ken Robinson is correct in that the education is designed to turn out... more university professors. Think about it! What do most Ph.D's do? They do research and lecture students. Why should it NOT be that a system would seek to renew itself? Thus, can we really rely on the university system, then graduate and doctorate students to be the "cream of the crop"? How many of the richest people in the world are Ph.D's? Not that many, apparently. Bill Gates never graduated Harvard (he quit after 2 years to start Micro Soft, later Microsoft), and Warren Buffett did graduate, but did not pursue anything higher. If success in the world is not bound to amount of education, then what does it encompass?

If you are an entrepreneur, you need creativity, and let's hope the educational system did not entirely drum it out of you. If you are a parent, try not to destroy the creativity in your kids. Creativity is far more than creative writing and some art or music. It's a way of life, a fresh perspective on things. Try to nurture that in yourself and others, and you shall be rewarded in turn.

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