Sunday, July 29, 2007

Schools Kill Creativity

Another TED talk link.

My set response to people who claim to be terrible at maths is to point out that different people learn in very different ways and it may well be that given a teaching style more appropriate to them they would have 'got' maths, or physics or whatever subject they failed to enjoy.

I know that the subjects that failed to click with me (or vice versa) didn't click simply because I never understood the reason the subject was important and the dry facts as they were presented never stuck with me. These were generally the subjects where knowledge over understanding was needed to excel in the exams, history being the prime example. These were the subjects that I had trouble visualising, the sciences I could always visualise with relative ease.

Though it would be easy to claim that it was spoon feeding, the things that did stick with me from history were generally those lessons presented simply through watching movies (strangely, that and a lesson on the satirical works of William Hogarth). Anyway, since the very dry lessons on the taxes of the 1500s and how to make a piece of paper look old I have become more interested in the subject and have read a little more than I had back then. I still find historical dates (unconnected to physics) stick for only a short time but I'm slowly building more of a structured understanding of how we've arrived at where we are today.

Anyway, I'm talking tangentially. I really want to talk about the fact that although we have an idea that it's important for all school kids to get a basic grounding in a range of 'important' subjects and that idea seems natural and wholesome, a video from the TED talks gives an interesting counter to this statement. Sir Ken Robinson is also a truly great storyteller in my opinion.

I have to admit that when I started watching this movie the scientist in me with the reactionary opinion that everyone can be good at maths and science if it's explained in the right way jumped to the forefront. By the end I realised that there's a lot more to the question than such a simple response.

I was really motivated to write about this subject because I found myself repeating the anecdote from this video about the 'troublesome child' to several people whose eyes lit up at this powerful tale of the right way and the wrong way to deal with someone who doesn't want to concentrate on the classical subjects at school. A perfect example of how one's gut reaction can be tragically wrong.

Anyway, the core of the argument is that we channel kids through a very narrow pathway of learning which probably sees a huge number of children excluded simply because they learn in different ways. We don't all find the same things natural to pick up and if we want to open the true creative capacities of the young then we need to rethink education in a big way.

The British Government seem to excel in rethinking education by changing the syllabus and exam system year on year. Sadly all they manage by doing this is to create chaos and devalue true learning over getting as many heads to university as possible.

I believe that the teaching of many subjects in schools in England needs to be rethought, but perhaps there are even more rotten foundations in our educational system which should be deconstructed and reconstructed first.

Anyway, watch the movie and tell me what you think


Anonymous said...

Well you're lucky I didn't teach you for A-Level. errrr right

Benjamin said...

Hi Jon.

I think that we look for freedom, as children, from our masters. At first, these masters are in the home in the form of mum and dad. They attempt to mould us into copies of them. We learn to tackle society just as they did.

So my mum taught me that power lay in knowledge, that the answers were in books. I went to school and, while I found most subjects pretty easy, I can't say that any of them interested me much. Maybe I opted for geography because I had an inkling for travel and escape. I could never see the meaning of mathematics but I still achieved a grade B at A-Level. None of the syllabus interested me frankly and it's so strange and half-delightful, Jon, to - like you - come to history now.

I read about Magna Carta and the English Civil War and I look around and I'm living merely at...

Like I see Brown and Bush smiling on the front of a newspaper, getting in golf buggys on TV, and I realise these are just the latest kings. It's hard to explain.

I didn't see it before. I thought 'Urgh, how horrible it must have been to live in the eighteenth century with typhoid and pouring your toilet from the roof into the street below'. As a youngster, I thought 'How lucky I am to live in the clean and new, modern world'. But I don't. I just live at this present moment in time and it's just... it's weird, it's like I haven't ever lived in the future but somehow civilisation as we know it seems sort of archaic to me. Or maybe former times, the last 1,000 years seems much closer than it was before. Hard to explain.

Fundamentally I excelled at school because I was middle class, because I was bourgeois.

I agree that 'school kills creativity'. I agree with Picasso that children are great artists. This guy, Sir Ken, is quite funny. One slightly wonders at his small critique of global warming which passes quickly into an advert for the 'ultimate driving machine'.

I agree with your criticism of the government. I think Mr Brown's raft of new measures or changes in institutional structures of working practice, funding etc is ludicrous. Because on reading the small print there seems little difference to Blairite policy so it is the taxpayer effectively funding changes implemented primariy for the purposes of spin, in order that Brown may distance himself from Blair.

Anyway, I should get off my soapbox before I get voted into parliament or Big Brother or something.

Think I'll send you a short e-mail on other matters, actually.

Unknown said...

Actually, he did but I thought the lessons were not too bad. Now that many of my friends are teachers I understand how hard it is to stay motivated when you are having to teach within a system that you think is crazy. Not much fun!

Ben, good to hear from you again and thank you for your insights. Yes, it's interesting to look at the current political climate from the perspective of the last thousand years.

The pace of change of global politics and especially technology make this time unlike any other and though there are definitely parallels to the past, I'm sure that we will see more shifts in the bases of power in the years ahead than those we have seen before.

Perhaps the voice of the people, through the increased connectivity and communication channels will change things in ways we can't imagine.

Benjamin said...

A fair summation of where the world is at, Jon, and it is pleasing to read such optimism and enthusiasm.

Boom in blogs gives Africans a voice on the web is an article in last week's Independent profiling the increasing numbers of bloggers in Africa.