If you are reading this, then you will undoubtably know Ken Robinson’s TED talk from 2006 on how schools kill creativity. In fact, schools are so successful at devaluing the arts that high schools around the world have maintained Art and Music as the smallest departments for decades. But this is a society issue, which Robinson’s talk was always unlikely to have a big impact on. Luckily, Art and Music now have something fighting their corner – automation! “There’s no point doing art, you won’t get a job in that.” Robinson quoted this common argument put forward by the majority of now market-driven western society. Well now we can safely say that current school-goers won’t get a job in nearly 50% of currently discussed careers. It’s worth noting that, low-skill, high-skill, medical, finance, and legal careers are under threat and will not be replaced by new careers. So, where does that leave education?
WORKING WITH A BLANK CANVAS
Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and driverless vehicles are already creating a world where job unavailability is becoming common for millions. This problem will effect more and more each year. This makes a creative mindset more important than ever. It is no longer enough to be competent at completing work and following guidelines. The world and it’s industries are crying out for people practiced at dreaming up new ideas, often from outside-the-box or from a ‘blank canvas.’ They also need people who can then successfully communicate those ideas, mostly in visuals, as you can see from the explosion of infographics in the world. But where in school do students experience opportunities to practice such skills?
THE COMFORT & DANGER OF CERTAINTY
So, it’s unquestionable that English language, Math, Science, and Social science are the top four in the not-so-invisible hierarchy of subjects that exists in schools (also highlighted by Robinson). All four have been tasked with teaching known information and also skills in analysing what appears in front of you. I had a conversation with eight students this week who called themselves ‘average 17-year-old students’ about why they were sticking with Math and Science, regardless of saying they neither enjoyed or had much success in them. Their answers all related to getting through the school day without anything unexpected. They liked the predictability and routine of these subjects. “You get given stuff, you play with stuff, you submit the stuff” one student said. Another pointed out how they’d all given up the creative subjects years ago. The problem I have with this commonly held approach to surviving the school day, is that the certainty they have been trained for is the one thing automation is busy removing from the world.
Note: The process of analysis has always held a high status in schools but because it involves following known procedures with known knowledge, analysis is the prime candidate for automation and off-shoring. For example: U.S. brain scan analysis is already sent electronically and carried out in Pakistan, where it is done just as well but more cheaply.
WHY THE ARTS WILL SAVE THE FUTURE
The disaster in devaluing the arts in schools is directly connected to the educational culture around the fear of being wrong. Students become so conditioned to target correct answers that creative pursuits become increasingly the most challenging situations to be choosing. The creative arts all start with a blank canvas/manuscript/stage and the minute by minute problem solving in producing a ‘non-correct’ product, is exactly what the world and most businesses are crying out for. It’s no longer about society providing jobs and fitting your education to these pre-defined careers. It’s more about the process of starting from scratch and building solutions from one’s own experiences, that makes the arts the most fundamental area in 21st century education. It is time to turn the traditional hierarchy, Ken Robinson discussed, on its head and develop a generation of true thinkers and problem solvers through prominent art education for all.
There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.
Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International Speaker.
Twitter : @EduWells
This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.