If You Come out of School Thinking You Are Not Creative, School Failed.

“I’m not one of those creative types,” said the Google analyst sitting next to me in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport waiting for our flight to San Francisco—delayed for an hour.

“I wish you wouldn’t say that about yourself,” I said. (In an airport you can talk that way to someone  you will never see again.)
“It’s okay. I just never was one of those kids who made art all day long. I’m just not one of those creative people.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Why not?”
“Because you are human. Human beings are creative maniacs.”
“Not me. I never did well in art class,” she came back a little defensively.
“Look, I am not saying all people are artists; I am saying that just because you label yourself a math person doesn’t mean you’re not creative. You can’t do your job at Google properly if you can’t think creatively.”
“Well, you are right about that.”

School taught my New Best Friend that creativity is the province of the arts, while the rest of the subjects, which require organization, routine, systematic thinking and the ability to handle boredom can leave creativity out. (Creative writing would be the exception that proves the rule.)

Children go to school creative and most come out alienated from their own creativity.

Yes, let’s make sure that all the creative arts are taught in school, but let’s also make sure school teaches that there is an art to every discipline. Creativity is essential for all aspects of brain development, and isn’t that what education is all about?

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15 thoughts on “If You Come out of School Thinking You Are Not Creative, School Failed.

  1. We spend 12+ years suppressing creativity in children and then as adults spend another several years learning how to be innovative and creative. What’s wrong with that picture? As with many things in our systems of learning, we have wasted an enormous amount of time and resources. If we could just get it right the first time, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time doing it over.

  2. There are so many of us who are fighting against this kind of education, which kills creativity and also young people’s inherent ability to problem solve, think, create, and believe in themselves. It was great listening to Sir Ken Robinson. How can we change this system on a massive scale? Or should we be satisfied with working one on one, plugging away at every relationship with a teacher, an administrator, a parent, a child? Will it work for parents to rebel against this kind of education that is slowly suffocating our children’s sense of who they are and their enormous capacity to learn, grow, and create?

  3. design thinking, like critical thinking, is something worth exploring….useful in all disciplines… It also breaks down the myth that creativity is a gift and not a process ….

  4. Yes!!! Let’s get it right the first time!!!
    Let’s add the skills of design thinking to the basics–after all they can be taught at the same time, and, yes, Amy. It’s time for the Robinson revolution.

  5. The aptitude for Story is as far as we know, uniquely human… and at the core of all other ways of knowing. Self-concept is a story; scientific thinking is a story; culture is built of stories. The capacity to both be absorbed in stories AND to tell them — to world-build, in essence– is one of the most critical skills for living. As Vivian Paley has pointed out for many years, young children’s dramatic play is where the “storytelling” muscles are exercised. We are diminishing children’s possible futures when we dismiss dramatic play as simply “fun.”

  6. In the wonderful 1997 book, Notebooks of the Mind – Explorations of Thinking, author Vera John Steiner researched the early childhoods of many of the world’s most imaginative minds in an effort to understand how creative people think.

    Steiner wrote that the majority of great poets and authors recalled as young children, “The magic of words not being discovered in a solitary way. The subjects felt most alive in sounds and rhythms in the midst of noisy movements sharing lines with each other.”

    I thought of this when I recently heard of a teacher imposing “silent lunch” on his students as a punishment for being too noisy in class. Steiner’s book was published in 97′ and yet most schools have evolved only slightly if at all.

    A left-handed woman recently wrote how glad she was that her parents and teachers never tied her left hand behind her back in an effort to make her right-handed as did the parents of many of her friends. Sometimes I feel like schools are in essence “tying back” the right side of our kid’s brains in an effort to make them only use their left side.

  7. Thanks for posting this one. And all the comments are spot on. I have met so many adults who have said, “I can’t sing,” or “I could never learn to play an instrument,” and when I would say, “that’s just not true … who told you that?” They would answer, “My first grade teacher ..” (second grade teacher, school music teacher, etc.) One of these people was about 35 years old when I asked him (I was about 20), and he said he was tone deaf (but loved to listen to me play my guitar). I said, “If you were tone deaf, you wouldn’t enjoy music.” Then I proved to him that he was not tone deaf. He left his environmental teaching job, interviewed waterman and farmers all around the Chesapeake Bay, and wrote and performed songs on guitar to educate the public on the life of the people who made their livings from the bay. His album i on the Smithsonian Folkways label. Virtually any child can do anything in an environment of love, support, respect, and encouragement.

  8. Thank you all. Great stuff. Definitely hit a chord here.
    Suzy, nice metaphor tying left hand behind the back (as Marty’s story shows). Sorting according to ability is actually what schooling does–some kids come out of it educated.–but mostly (they will say) not because of school.

  9. I agree with all of this! We need to stop labeling students as “gifted!” …either you are “gifted” or NOT! EVERYONE has gifts and talents, and great educators can help students discover what they are. Our nation/parents need to stop asking: Is my child gifted?
    BUT rather: Are my child’s needs being met? Join the movement of appreciating the diversity of our children and “like”

  10. I agree with this point of view–that there is a possibility for creativity in all things that we do. I also believe that we can develop or stymie our creativity, and that all people should have confidence to develop their creative abilities. BUT, I don’t know if it is just or primarily the schools that foster the belief that creativity is confined to the arts. I think it may be a broader societal view that need to be changed.

  11. Bonnie, I completely agree that thinking of creativity as limited to the arts is a cultural phenomenon–perpetuated by schools. I have this crazy vision that a 30 years from now schools have reeducated the entire population that thinking creatively is essential for life.

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