I remember when our daughter was at senior school, we went for parents’ day to collect her report and the English teacher was concerned. He sat us down and told us that our daughter was struggling because (wait for it...) – she thought too much. I was gobsmacked. For him, she needed to chill with the brain cells if she ever had a chance of passing. I think now, if I had to do the raising of kids all over again, I’d home school my children. The mental boxing that takes place on a daily basis in our schools is nearly criminal. I don’t think I could allow it now, now that I know better.
Why do I say that? Because from day one our educational system does everything it can to stop a child from being creative. From standard one the process begins, the process of panel beating a creative being into uniformity. Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up.” Only the strongest can withstand the barrage.
Every child is creative. They are explorers. They want to take chances. They daydream. They are desperate to learn everything, to understand why things are the way they are. They follow their hearts. They experiment - sometimes they fail and sometimes they succeed, and each path teaches them something more. Learning is a magical, creative, exciting place when you’re a kid.
But then you go to school. In school there’s a right way for everything. There is always a right answer. No grey areas. Even a short story (something that should be allowed some freedom at the very least) is prescribed. Learning is what the teacher says is learning, not where your interests take you, not on some path of discovery decided by your own questions. Learning is what the syllabus says, what the textbook tells you. Wrong is bad- always. Failure is much, much worse. Avoiding failure is paramount, and the best way to avoid failure is to do the same thing over and over, to never ever get out on that exciting edge where exploration occurs, where risks must be taken, where failure is a perfectly acceptable option. For creativity to thrive, failure must be acceptable. In our schools it isn’t.
In the world we live in this is exactly what is not needed. What is the use of memorising a bunch of ”correct” facts to regurgitate on an exam? The only reason is to create a legion of obeying robots that can be quantified in some way so as to see who can go further in the creativity-crushing educational system we have.
But in real life the ONLY thing that matters is creativity. Facts you can look up on Google, they mean nothing when it comes to intelligence. Memorising is the lowest level of understanding on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Memorising for an exam means almost nothing, and yet we value it above all else. Rote learning is so 19th century. It’s madness to continue on a path that is no longer viable and yet we keep on doing it. Over and over again without thought.
In our competitive world, a good business person is a person who can come up with creative solutions to problems, a person who can see an opportunity where no one else can. Critical thinking and a questioning mind are mandatory to navigate the life we now live. I doubt a career can be found where improvisation is not an asset. A good problem solver in an organisation is more valuable than diamonds. Effective leaders see failure as a learning opportunity, as a welcome step on the way to a solid success. Brainstorming and daydreaming are essential for real success in life.
And yet in our school system we are beating that out of our children.
I recently ran a creative writing workshop and I must say I was disappointed by the stories that came from it. The fear of being wrong reeked off every page. Even when I begged the kids to think widely, to be crazy, to let their minds roam everywhere, that no place was off limits- they couldn’t do it. Or wouldn’t- which is the same thing really, or maybe a bit worse. They were so scared of being wrong they would not take a step into unknown territory.
How are these kids going to make it in the real world out there? It’s a shame what we’re doing to our children. We’re setting them up for failure when they come to school with such promise, and that’s just wrong.
(This first appeared at my column, It's All Write in The Voice newspaper)