Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Do schools kill creativity?

What a stupid fucking question. The media always comes across as surprised in their tone with questions like this.

Of course schools kill creativity. They murder it. They decapitate it in a most heinous and vicious manner.

Schools are about conformity, not creativity.

I took a creative writing class in high school. The teacher was late, and I was reading a book sitting in my undersized desk. All the other kids were cutting up and throwing paper airplanes and running around - things intellectually stunted, cognitively impoverished high school kids do.

When the teacher walked in, she was angry, made everyone sit down, and said "I want everyone to write twenty lines with the sentence 'I will not misbehave in class'..." My first thought was that I was not misbehaving, so that I should not have to write lines. Remember writing lines - punishment writing the same sentence over and over?

My second thought was that this was a creative writing class. Had she asked everyone to write one paragraph on why we should not misbehave in class, I probably would have done it. Even a one page essay would have been acceptable to me.

As I sat reading my book whilst everyone else wrote their asinine lines, the teacher noticed, walked up to me and asked "Why aren't you writing your lines?" I said, "Well, I wasn't misbehaving like everyone else, so I assumed I didn't have to write them." She said "Well, you do". I went back to reading my book. She said, "If you insist on not writing your lines right now, then turn in fifty lines to me tomorrow".

When I didn't turn in the fifty lines the next day, it went to one hundred lines, then five hundred, then one thousand, then two thousand - for each day I showed up without the lines. When I showed up and didn't have the two thousand lines, she sent me to the principal's office. I explained my position to him and he said "Just write the original twenty lines and you can go back to class". I said, "I'm not going to write the lines". He said, "Until you write the twenty lines, you can just sit here outside my office during this class".

So I reported to the floor outside of his office for a week or so - in lieu of showing up in class. I continued to read my book during that hour. After a week or so, he stopped checking on me, so I started going back to class. No questions asked. No lines. No nothing.

The book? It was a book of essays by Henry David Thoreau - including "Civil Disobedience".

Here's the talk on TED that prompted this post...Sir Ken Robinson back in 2006...thanks to Nuit for the find...

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

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