Rethinking Creativity in Education

Over the past few weeks I have rediscovered TED talks. For those of you who do not know what TED talks are, or know about TED, but have never really listened to one before, I highly recommend it.

Last year, one of the student groups in college had a weekly event that they called TED Talk Tuesday. Every Tuesday they would show a TED talk for people to watch and discuss. The group was a science honors society so most of the talks were science based. I do not consider myself to be a science person, but I still did enjoy myself there. The talks are written for the average person, not the huge academic, and many of them can be pretty funny.

Well it is not Tuesday, so today I will be having a TED Talk Wednesday.

Sir Ken Robinson giving a TED talk

Sir Ken Robinson giving a TED talk

Back in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson gave a talk at TED called “Schools Kill Creativity”. Now, this talk might have been given seven years ago, but I fully believe that it is still highly relevant today. During his talk, Robinson tells the story of Gillian Lynne. Lynne, who grew up in the ’30’s and ’40’s.

While she was at school, some of the teachers thought that she might have a learning disorder. She did not seem to be paying attention, and could never stay still in class. Now a days people would probably say that she has ADHD.

She and her mother went to a specialist, and when the specialist left the room with her mother to discuss a few more things he left Gillian alone with the radio on. Gillian’s mother and the specialist watched as Gillian began to dance around the room. The specialist then turned to Gillian’s mother and told her that her daughter was not “sick”, but was in fact a dancer. That was how she thought about, and processed the world: through dance.

During her career as a dancer Lynne worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber on some of his biggest productions such as Phantom of the Opera, and Cats. Robinson continues by saying,

She eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School, She became a soloist, [and] had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduates from The Royal Ballet School, founds her own company, The Gillian Lynne Dance Company, [and] met  Andrew Lloyd Webber. She has been responsible  for some of the most successful theater productions in history, she has given pleasure to millions, and she is a multimillionaire. Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.

That really spoke to me. Robinson urges us to act more like a child in the way that we approach creativity and coming up with new ideas, instead of having a child emulate our adult process. This is important, he says, because children are not afraid to do the wrong thing. They are not afraid to mess up, or to do something different, until they are taught that it is bad. They think outside the box. We learn that making a mistake is bad, that it is the worst thing we could do. But, Robison claims that

If you are not prepared to be wrong, you won’t come up with anything original.

Learning how to be wrong is a process that everyone has to go through, it is just less scary the younger you are. I believe that failure, as much as it sucks, is an important part of life. When I was in middle school, I did modern dance. I was the only one in my grade who did dance for all four years of middle school, and I could not wait to do Varsity Dance once I got to high school. I tried out in ninth grade and didn’t make the team. I hadn’t even considered what I would do if I didn’t make it, and I was crushed.

Now, I believe that it would have be a lot of fun to be on Varsity Dance in high school, but I also believe that dealing with that failure in my life prepared me in the long run. I am also just not a graceful person, and was in fact quite clumsy at the time. Even in stories, if a character never faces any problems or plot reversals, they do not have a chance to grow as a character, and the story has no where to go.

Robinson also claims that today’s education system puts too much emphasis on the “traditional” subjects of English, Math, Science, History etc. Of course these are important subjects to learn, but for Gillian Lynne, Dance was an important subject to learn too. Robinson states that the whole purpose of education is to prepare children for the future, but who really knows what the future will look like? Because of this, he believes that creativity is as important a part of our education system as literacy is. And this is a problem with so many school cutting down on their arts or extracurricular activities programs.

I have definitely seen the importance of creativity in my life, both as a young child who always had to write, and as a college grad. Many people scoff at English majors, saying that there are no “transferrable skills” that could be used in the workplace.

I however disagree. Shirley Tilghman, the president of Princeton University, has addressed this issue with a variety of different college majors. She says that you bring the information you learned in your college classes with you into the real world, but you also bring the ability of critical thinking with you as well. College, no matter what the major, should teach its students to think critically and present new ideas. It is those sorts of things that matter in the working world, no matter what the industry.

There are also a variety of different intelligences that the current education system does not always emphasize. Robinson says that today’s schools focus on academic ability. Other intelligences are seen as not as important. This is because education is frequently used to get into college, and further the academic cycle of school.

However, there are many different intelligences in the world. The psychologist Howard Gardner talks about this in his Theory of Multiple Intelligences . He claims that there are nine different intelligences that people can have, and the list has expanded since then.

Gardner claims that there is logical, or mathematical intelligence, spatial intelligence, linguistic intelligence, bodily, or kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence, naturalistic intelligence, and existential intelligence. Now many of these can be addressed in a school setting, but at the same time many aren’t. And different people excel in different learning environments that do not always look like a typical classroom.

So there you have it. Those are my thoughts on Ken Robinson’s TED talk, and on the importance of creativity in the education system. Go listen to the talk – it is very well done, and will really make you think about these issues.

Click here to find out more about Sir Ken Robinson.


4 thoughts on “Rethinking Creativity in Education

  1. Clare,

    That was a fascinating article on Rethinking Creativity in Education. Great food for thought.

    Glad I saw it.

    Much love,


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