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TED: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

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I found a new hero. He's not a gay author, but he does have something marvellous to say about creativity.

Please watch this man give his very entertaining, informative and sometimes funny address. His name is Sir Ken Robinson. Yes he's a Brit, but he has been to California. :icon_tongue:

He gave a very stimulating address entitled,

as part of a TED conference: Technology, Entertainment, Design. The TED website seems well worth investigating as do the many TED talks' excerpts on YouTube.

Maybe you are already aware of this site, but I only just discovered it and I wanted to share it with you because I think it is important.

If you find an address on TED that you think is interesting, please leave a link to it here.

As for this particular talk given By Sir Ken, he has stimulated my thoughts on the freedom that creativity brings, even when that freedom has been born of a denial of acceptance in school systems that places little emphasis on nurturing human talents.

I must thank Trab for drawing my attention to TED by one of these talks by Jill Bolte Taylor, a scientist who had a stroke and lived to tell of how the stroke affected her sentience in her address,

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I've heard this argument before. I took one creative writing class in high school, and it was horrendous. The teacher was a moron beyond comprehension. (And I aced the class, so my opinion wasn't influenced by my grade.) I did a lot better in college, and still remember getting a paper back where the teacher gave me a C+ and commented, "it's obvious to me that you faked this entire paper, but you did it so well I have to give you a C+. You should consider writing."

Noted author Harlan Ellison was so unmercifully criticized by his high school creative writing teacher, he made it a point for the next 20 years to make sure he sent first editions of all of his published stories to that teacher. I think it's fair to say Harlan won that argument.

That having been said, there are good teachers out there, and I think at that age, the most important thing they can do is to encourage young writers and point them in the direction of good textbooks that can at least explain the basics and warn them about common mistakes. The same goes for artists, filmmakers, and so on.

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Utterly spellbinding lecture, and entertaining too.

I have reason often to contrast the education my grandchildren are receiving with what my father paid a fortune for me to receive. And I'm happy to report that things are looking up - the grandkids are getting a far better, more balanced education for free than the pitiful drivel that was served up to me. Even their creativity is being nurtured.

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My own experience is that despite our education system adopting a more tolerant approach to the arts and creativity, that approach is still flawed because it has an industrial, commercial objective for the student.

Many courses kill the creative instinct because the class is oriented towards adapting the talent for commerce, rather than for art's sake. How could it be otherwise, in a system that is designed to graduate productive consumers, at best?

I think Pecman's story of his experience with a creative writing course, and the Harlan Ellison example he gives us, are exactly what Sir Ken is saying is wrong.

In film courses I have seen locally, tutors raved on about their personal likes and dislikes in motion pictures, without understanding the essentials, the basic creativity, in the art form. These teachers (similarly to critics) know what they like, but they underestimate the importance of the relationship between the medium of the art form and its audience. This holds true for practically all of the arts.

Technically the film students are taught to handle and understand the equipment.

Sure, we end up with people who can, mostly, shoot a scene, or know how to mix a soundtrack, or can physically edit the shots together, but so often the academic objectivity has displaced the spark of creative genius that would have, should have, given the world an auteur, or at least an individual, an artist, who dared to relate to the craft with informed, sensitive innovation, rather than trying to conform to someone else's concepts. The good creative teacher does not ask you to be like them, they confront you with the task of finding the artist in yourself.

I would also expect with little doubt, that in California there are schools of creative film making that are the models of what our Aussie film courses think they are doing, but sadly are not, because they are obsessed with analyzing the way things appear to them to be, rather than understanding the creative interrelationships. Similarly for many of our other arts' courses.

Mentoring the creative talent has been replaced with dissemination of information for its own sake, as if that was enough. It isn't.

If the teacher does not understand the importance of the history of art, and its relationship to human creativity, then the student's talent will be inhibited. You can't teach this stuff on a computer, because the artistic moment is ephemeral, almost intangible except to our own sentient natures, and it needs guidance and loving care from one moment to the next, if it is to be realised.

To sum up, I think schools must encourage the creativity inherent in the right side of the brain instead of concentrating solely on encouraging the left side of the brain to interpret creativity as problems that need solving. In other words (and somewhat simplified for the sake of discussion), we need to teach and learn the difference between analysis and intuition. We need to encourage inspiration.

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Des, I know what you're saying, and I am sympathetic to it. But to play devil's advocate for a moment, I'll suggest something that you're overlooking, perhaps on purpose.

I took music lessons for years. Years and years, as any inchoate musician will tell you happens. I spent hours practicing scales and etudes, working on intonation and a firm embouchure, listening to teachers talking about playing the phrase instead of the notes, talking abut breathing and such. And much of the time I was bored silly and just wanted a piece of manuscript paper with dots on it set in front of me so I could play.

It wasn't really until I was in my 20's that it all made sense. At that point, I began to actually hear the music. I could hear how it was supposed to sound, how the composer certainly wanted it to sound, and, lo and behold, I was able to play in that way because of all the work I'd done leaning how to play in tune, learning how to control the instrument, learning how to shape the sound.

There is a reason fundamentals are taught. You can make art much better with formal, regimented training that teaches you how to express your own innate ideas. Without that training, without learning the fundamentals of lighting and sound management and set design, you can have great creative talent and not be able t express it to maximum effect, not be able to communicate it to an audience so they can assimilate your vision.

You might call this training the quashing of creativity. I don't think so. I don't think life is that constrained. Learning how to do something doesn't stifle creativity, and in fact, does the opposite. The more you learn what is possible, and how to do it, the more the basis for your creativity is enhanced.

Sure, you could have teachers like in the old, old days who'd slap your hand with a ruler if you made your O's too flat. That isn't teaching creativity, that's teaching conformity. A good teacher can teach how it's been done in the past without commanding the student to never color outside the lines.


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Cole, we are not in disagreement here. My post was not about fundamentals not being important, rather it was about them being replaced by teachers who do not understand their value, with their own misguided and inadequate concepts.

I keep seeing young talented people and not so talented people being reduced to the lowest common denominator because their teachers are academics in the worst sense of the word. These teachers have no sense of the history of their art. Worse still, they are boring and opportunistic for their own climb up the academic ladder.

Their objective is not to encourage talent but to inflict their own persona, their own low standards on the student, and all for the sake of what has come to be known as an "Arts Industry". That phrase is an oxymoron to me. The moment art becomes an industry it gets bogged down in bureaucratic red tape, and talent survives despite the school rather than because of it.

Your description of your own tuition is what I wish was happening in so many arts related classes. In my experience it sadly, is not.

To try to clarify, I am not saying that training quashes creativity, I am saying that the training has in many instances been abandoned by some teachers (and institutions) who do not have an understanding of the benefits of the fundamentals that both you and I agree are part of a learning curve. It has become fashionable, to ignore the fundamentals let alone understand them, and our creative artists are the poorer because of that.

More importantly, the opportunity for young people to explore and understand their talents and chosen art forms are being denied or at best, reduced to mediocrity.

I repeat my earlier statement, "The good creative teacher does not ask you to be like them, they confront you with the task of finding the artist in yourself."

Unfortunately I have seen many tutors who have no idea what that means.

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"The good creative teacher does not ask you to be like them, they confront you with the task of finding the artist in yourself."

There is, I suspect, a shortage of truly exceptional teachers, and maybe it takes a very special teacher to be able to train young artists without squashing their creativity.

A poor or mediocre teacher can still teach mathematics adequately, or geography, perhaps, given a support structure which monitors him and prevents the worst effects of his mediocrity. But a teacher without a spark of inspirational genius attempting to teach art is going to kill the artist in his students.

As well as calling for better arts teaching, we need to be calling for better teachers! Unfortunately teaching is not adequately respected in western society, or adequately rewarded, to attract the really inspirational teachers our kids deserve.

My grandkids have benefitted from some pretty good teachers because they happen to have excelled in the same areas as the teachers have excelled. Not everyone is so lucky.

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A couple of comments from my own experience. In the course of twenty some odd years of education and training, I can remember only a couple of the people who taught me: most because they sucked, but only a very few because they truly shone as examples of what a good teacher could do. I can point to two teachers in elementary school who were able to inspire me to do my best and who nurtured creativity. In high school, I had a science teacher and the guy who taught the drafting and architecture courses who were able to do the same.

For the most part, my high school math and Spanish teachers were examples of the worst of the lot. If the student didn't understand, in their minds, it was because of a deficiency in the student, not their lack of abilities as a teacher and inspiration.

In college, there were a few more examples of what a good teacher should be like. I had two teachers in English who were outstanding. They focused on developing writing skills, not the rote mechanics of the language, and were very good at it. I still remember the two professors who taught me business law because they made you do the work and learn the ideas and concepts behind the written law. The could also be flat brutal to those who were unprepared, but they were less interested in whether your opinion differed from theirs than they were interested in whether or not you could muster a convincing and logical argument supporting your position.

Most of my technical teachers in engineering were pretty much non-standouts, but I had a calculus and differential equations professor who made all those reams of calculations interesting. The same could be said of my statistics professor.

On the other hand, the absolute worst instructor I have ever had taught accounting when I went back to school for a business degree. That guy was a waste of the space he took up in the classroom. Worse, he was actually counter-productive in his teaching style.

So I think it's fair to say that teachers, regardless of locale and specialty, are subject to the same bell curve distribution that the rest of us fall on somewhere. There are a select few who are outstanding teachers who are capable of truly inspiring their students, a somewhat larger group who are good in some ways, followed by a large group who are merely mediocre at best.


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So I think it's fair to say that teachers, regardless of locale and specialty, are subject to the same bell curve distribution that the rest of us fall on somewhere. There are a select few who are outstanding teachers who are capable of truly inspiring their students, a somewhat larger group who are good in some ways, followed by a large group who are merely mediocre at best.

That's pretty damn scary, don't you think? What if it were surgeons? Would we stand for it?

The intake process for wannabe teachers needs a good hard rethink. In fact, in most places there is no intake processing--if you want to be a teacher, all you have to do is sign up for some courses leading to "certification." How bizarre is that? Can anyone identify the quality controls within most certification programs? They are practically nonexistant. We place our kids in the hands of complete unknowns.

James Merkin

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