Schools Should Ditch Creativity

The problem with the word ‘creativity’ is that it conjures up such a wide range of possible interpretations that it ends up serving no-one except those who wish to peddle it as a pedagogical aim and charge thousands of pounds for their talks in Dubai or Davos, or a school hall near you on an inset day.

Creativity finds itself being associated with imagination and originality; it is peddled as a twenty-first century skill, competency, or disposition and finds itself bumping into communication, critical thinking and collaboration. Sometimes it is broken into smaller pieces each trying to solve creativity’s mysterious magical qualities by tying it down to more manageable skills or dispositions like risk taking, lateral-thinking, out-of-the-box thinking, problem-solving and divergent thinking. These, of course, open up even more opportunities for faddish interpretations and yet more opportunities for consultants and workshop providers to earn some dosh.

The late Dr. Edward de Bono “dedicated his life to inspiring, encouraging and enabling us to be better and more creative thinkers.” His methods promised to ‘break old patterns’ and ‘create new ones’, with the latter seemingly opening up a problem in that in creating new ones, one had to create, and therefore well… that was why we were sitting at the feet of the guru in the first place… To be fair to the de Bono organisation they do provide lots of resources for schools for free on their website but it all seems to me to be adding to the mystique of creativity as a magical thing.

Schools were, famously, accused by Sir Ken Robinson accused of killing this magical thing. Robinson suggests that we grow out of creativity as we get older due to schools: “making children become frightened of being wrong… we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”

The distinct messaging from de Bono and Sir Ken seems to be that mistakes are ok and we should break old patterns, this, of course, can find ‘creativity’ at odds with schooling where there is often an emphasis on teaching people to get things right by looking at how, figuratively speaking, ‘the old patterns’ are made. An emphasis on being de-schooled, de-patterned fits into a modernist, progressive, fervour but, paradoxically, does little for creativity. De Bono has made patterns he wants you to follow, if you break his patterns his whole empire crumbles and Sir Ken extols the importance of the arts, emphasising Music, Dance and Drama but not many babies get these disciplines knocked out of them as they get older, rather than growing out of them, they get trained into them and become better as a result. Even if self taught the musical prowess of an older human being tends to surpass that of a baby.

In his report ‘All Our Futures’ Robinson defined creativity as: Imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value. If schools were to follow this idea the pressure is on. How ‘imaginative’, how ‘original’, and what ‘value’ ? And how much of the mundane, unoriginal, valueless work that we produce everyday is to be judged as not worthy? Who judges this – who tells the children, who, remember, are no longer frightened of being wrong, that they are now merely: ‘unimaginative, unoriginal and that their work has no value’?

Schools should ditch creativity and, replace this laudable but impossible aim with the word ‘create’. Pupils should create things and be taught how to do so.

Schools should not just be focused on memory, the curriculum should not just be focused on capital K Knowledge, children should also be taught how to create things.

This makes the whole process far more manageable, less about magical thinking, and more practical. Create: “bring (something) into existence” This should be an important focus for schools. Not woo-woo ‘creativity’ but to-do ‘create’. And how we teach children to create things matters. An essay, a report, a graph, a dance, a translation, a cottage pie, a dovetail joint, a computer programme, a song, a speech, an argument, a solution, a painting; whatever it is, a well designed curriculum is structured in such a way as to support and enable children to get better at creating things.

Creativity is dead, long live creating.

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