How Schools Kill the Creativity We Need Now More Than Ever

“Creativity is as important as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”

Ken Robinson, author of the insightful, Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life, makes an entertaining and moving case for creating an education system that nurtures creativity.

The system of education is radically changing beneath our feet. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution. Academic ability has come to dominate our view of intelligence because the universities design the system in their image. The whole system of education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. “And the consequence is,” as Robinson says, “that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not because what they were good at in school wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatized.”

It’s not only the method of education, it’s also the inflation of degrees that’s making them increasingly meaningless. And it’s not only our institutions, it’s also technology and population growth that are dramatically changing how we should think about intelligence.

Creativity is about more than mere originality anyway. We know three general things about intelligence. It’s diverse, dynamic, and distinct. We think in the ways we experience the world. Intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided up into compartments. In fact, creativity, which Robinson defines as “the process of having original ideas that have value” more often than not comes about from interdisciplinary ways of seeing things.

We teach our minds like we’ve mined the earth, for a particular commodity, and for the future it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.”

Take the case of Jillian Lynn, a famous choreographer, who has produced Cats and Phantom of the Opera. As an eight-year-old in the 1930s she said at school she was really hopeless. Today they probably would have surmised that she had ADHD, but in those days “people weren’t aware they could have that.” She went to see a specialist. Fortunately for her, the specialist was special. He recognized there was nothing wrong with Jillian. He saw her dancing in his office to the radio when she thought she wasn’t being observed. “She’s a dancer,” he told her mother, and suggested she go to dance school. And that’s when Jillian discovered “all these people just like her.”

She went on to become a soloist in a wide variety of musical genres, and then on to a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She graduated, founded her own company, met Andrew Lloyd Webber, and is now responsible for creating some of the most successful musical productions in history. She’s given pleasure to millions, and she’s a multi-millionaire. “Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.”

What more can we be doing for our children?