Schools That Kill (Creativity) by Duane Sharrock

You’ve seen the TEDx video by Sir Ken Robinson:

There is so much wrong about this video, including the citations of research, but especially about what Ken Robinson claims about schools killing creativity. Eventually, I want to revisit what I’ve discovered about the research and the assertions, but for now, I want to address the teachers who agree that schools are killing creativity.

To teachers looking to make their classrooms more creative because they believe schools kill creativity…

Ask yourself: do you consider yourself creative?

This is an important question. Often, teachers tell students that they must step outside of their comfort zones and think differently, but the teachers don’t do any of that. To step out of one’s comfort zone, this could mean that a teacher picks a hobby to learn (or to learn more about) or it could mean taking a free online course on Coursera of with Edx (etc). Teachers taking such actions can increase empathy, develop insights into creativity and learning, but knowing more will add more passion to their classrooms. Learning isn’t so easy when you are doing it in front of others, but this discomfort is easy to forget with time. You can cut that time and be more aware by learning something new each year, possibly, over the summer break. This exercise will lead to humility and compassion and appreciation of the small and large risks students take. Humility and appreciation goes a long way.

Art thrives under restrictions. There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet but the letters make up words, sentences, paragraphs which, in turn, make articles, research reports, songs, poems, and countless stories.

Creativity works with limits, despite limits, and disregards limits. Rules are broken or surprisingly used to produce unexpected effects. Writers have written stories based on lists, for example. Sculptors make rocks come alive, implying motion in vibrant sculptures. Think of the transformations of flat canvases to produce the illusions of three dimensions, motion, and more.

When teachers lack creativity, they find excuses why they can’t create solutions in a so-called restrictive system instead of looking for solutions. This isn’t only the case in education, but I know about education, so I feel free to talk about educators.

Look at history. People have created arts and innovated new products, procedures, and approaches during recessions, during wartime and oppression and slavery(!), and this occurred during times before computers, before electric lights, before the steam engine. Poor kids make dolls out of whatever castaways are at hand. They create games to play outside or inside. Parents entertained their children by singing, learning instruments, teaching dance steps, storytelling, and more. They made clothes and helped build scooters, repair homes, spice up food scraps so that they tasted better giving later generation our comfort foods and traditional dishes (blacks, Jews, Italians, etc).

Yet, in a time when we have many technologies that can save us time and make us more efficient, complainers don’t explore them or they certainly don’t use them. Many of these complainers don’t know HOW to use them. Their post on a social network is the greatest tech accomplishment they can claim.

You can do more.

Think about this: artists living under tyrannical governments/regimes produce art regardless of threat of imprisonment and death, lack of freedom of speech, neighbors as informers, yet teachers claim they can’t create. Schools have had standards for many years, but few schools require the following of scripted lessons (which is required only when the school is already a failure).

It means DO THE WORK.

The complainers and apologists don’t know how to research, they don’t write, they don’t have flexibility. Ambiguity freaks them out. Uncertainty freaks them out. They don’t take risks unless it is to serve their own selfish goals to do less and not be held accountable. Often, the complainer-teachers held no jobs outside of education so have no other models to compare to, they can access no differences in perspective. It’s just that complainers are ignorant. The complainers, for example, don’t read articles. They read headlines. They don’t look at the details, the specifics; they look for the broad strokes and generalizations (okay, I’m generalizing—but hey). It’s like drawing a picture of a globe and complaining that it doesn’t show a clear route to the store across the street. Instead, they look for somebody to tell them what to do, then complain when somebody actually TELLS THEM WHAT TO DO.

This is not about ALL teachers however. The majority of teachers actually are creative, in small ways or huge ways. They differentiate instruction. They scaffold towards higher levels of skills and higher standards and deeper learning. They attempt new approaches based on progressive learning theories—like project based learning, inquiry based learning, constructivism,  global awareness literacy, arts integration, thematic units, technology integration, flipped classroom model, modeling instruction, MOOCs, gaming, gamification, 21st Century learning objectives (with the “4Cs–communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking), Magnet schools, STEM, STEAM, KIPP charters, and in more than 40 states here, we have Common Core State Standards which is a reform to a degree. They create new lessons and engage their students despite the ignorance of criticizers and stressed out (but well-meaning politicians?) looking for solutions by blaming teachers for a laundry list of reasons that are often self-contradictory.

Here’s something else to think about: at the heart of creativity, there is a rejection of authority or resistance to authority! With varying levels of revolt–subtle undermining, contrary evidence, play, satire, parody, calls to action, probable outcomes, differing perspectives to name a few. So anything that teaches a student how to support any of these rejections or resistors will foster creativity.
Meanwhile, complainers assert that there are no new ideas. Complainers are limited, because they limit themselves, then they insist that the limits exist for all.

There are no limits.


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