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Re: [xmca] schools kill creativity?

So now I've watched Ken Robinson talk about education and creativity. A lot of what he said was not particularly new to me, but it did raise some interesting questions.

I think he was being a tad romanticist in saying that children are naturally creative. Creativity, I believe, is, like all else that is socially valued, a learned capacity. I doubt that all other cultures share our notion of creativity, though a lot of communities like something new and useful. (Not all.) I think we ought to ask how we do learn to be creative, or say, to develop our creativity. What are the tools and strategies? what are the dispositions and feelings, that support it?

Listening in those terms to Robinson, I noted three points. That we need a disposition that is tolerant of error or mistakes, we need to feel that it's not so terrible if we turn out to be wrong. We need to be willing to take some risks and try some strange things, and perhaps appear to be a bit strange to others.

I think that this point links to something very fundamental about social, indeed eco-social, systems: for long-term survival they (we) need some reserve plasticity, something that works against our becoming too perfectly adapted to the now, too perfectly self- regulating. We need some spanners (as the British say) built into the works and occasionally banging about and messing things up. Unpredictably. If you're a thorough Darwinian, you see this as random variation some of which gets selected for usefulness under unusual circumstances. I'm not that thorough a Darwinian, though that is part of the story. I believe that long-evolved complex eco-social systems have improved on this hit-and-miss approach and incorporate within themselves subsystems that are especially good at relevant, anticipatory, innovation. Creative people, or perhaps better, eco- social subsystems including people in ways that make them look creative when regarding in isolation, are important components.

A second point was about inter-disciplinarity. A topic that somehow didn't catch on a little while back here. Taken broadly, in the context of creativity, I think this means bringing together things that previously had not useful connections. Things a bit oblique to one another, or skew as 3D geometry has the metaphor. Maybe it includes dialectic, rubbing opposites until a spark produces something new. And serendipity: accidentally coming upon a way of connecting something else into the mix. I am guessing that unconscious or not-yet- verbalizable feelings-as-proto-meanings may guide us toward such fruitful accidents (and toward useless ones, too).

Finally, Robinson had a story about a dancer, and people who "need to move to think". The creativity literature (mainly anecdotal or interview based) abounds with stories of bodily feelings that were precursors to intellectual ideas. I know that most of my best thinking, maybe all of it, was accompanied by a compulsion to stand up and start walking or pacing the room. That's perhaps non-specific or symptomatic. Other cases are more particular. Robinson's point was that there are many modes of thinking/feeling (ala Gardner, it seemed), but I would say that ideas which are too new to already have a discourse with which to speak them, still need to have some semiotic medium of being (no Platonic Ideas for me, sorry!), and that medium is often bodily movements, tensions, and perhaps rhythms, melodies, visual images without nameable forms, etc.

What would education look like if we used such principles to help equip people to do differently? And how dangerous would it be?


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

On Oct 1, 2009, at 5:30 PM, mike cole wrote:

Perhaps of some interest.

http://www.ted.com/talks/ ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
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