Getting Educated Out of Creativity

According to, as of today, Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”,  has been viewed 37,293,940 times. Sir Ken’s impeccable delivery, combining personal narrative, humor and spirit, is captivating; ultimately however, it’s the urgency of the message, that brings you back.

At a Tedx Youth event in 2010, Priya Ganesan, speaking eloquently, honestly and with conviction, shared a similar message. (I originally shared her talk a few months after it occurred, in a post on this blog, and with students, asking for their thoughts.) Although Priya’s reach is minuscule in comparison to Sir Ken’s, her message is as genuine and her call for change similarly rings clear.

Creativity is not adding a pretty background to a Power Point slide. Ken Robinson defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value.” Howard Gardner, emphasizes Robinson’s value specification, by formulating that a “product is creative if and only if it changes the way others in the relevant field think and act”, (p. xiv). defines creativity as, “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination. No matter how one defines the term, creativity incorporates:  problem solving, divergent thinking, exploration and innovation. Creatives are ultra sensitive to situations; when finding something nonsensical, they ask, “Why?”,  investigate and then ask, “What if?”.  Creatives create change.

Our traditional model for schooling was founded in Industrial Age needs and values: rule and direction following, structured constructs and group norms. Although societal needs and values have dramatically changed, the long established structure of “doing school” has remained.

Yes, testing and teaching for testing impedes creativity, because finding the one right answer does not involve creative thought. However, I think there are other, maybe even greater paradigm shifts which need to occur in order to truly support students creativity and innovation. First, schools need to allow students greater control of their own learning. In most cases, states, districts, administrators and teachers decide what students will learn, how they will learn and what they will do to prove that they learned what they needed to learn. There needs to be a greater emphasis placed on guiding students through various processes for learning, no matter what it is they want to learn. Second, the act of normative grading impedes creativity because, meeting grade requirements stifles students’ desire to think on their own. In addition, creative thought is fostered by intrinsic motivation, (think Genius Hour) and grades are an extrinsic motivators. Third, we need to allow students to “fail forward” and give them the opportunity to keep trying until they figure it out.  Fourth, as Ken Robinson professes, “Our task is to educate the whole being.” Literally, our students have five senses, two hands and two legs; the more we allow students movement, and hands on learning, the better. Less literally, we need to consider fostering other, less academic, experiential learning experiences, for example:: life skills, survival skills, gardening, mechanics, drama,dance, knitting or even meditation.

Technology fosters creativity, because it gives students a means and the incentive for creative thought. For example, students may create a solution, (or prototype for a solution), for a found problem, by using design software and a 3D printer;  they may create local solutions to global problems, through their collaborations with students in another part of the world;  or they may create a video game that teaches younger students a particular concept or understanding or an app to meet an empathized need.

However, if learning experiences include overly restrictive requirements, or lack choice, meaning and purpose, no matter the technology, the opportunity for creative thought will be lost.


Gardner, H. (2008) 5 Minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business Press.