It’s 10 years since Ken Robinson’s infamous talk on how schools kill creativity. In it, he mentions the entrenched hierarchy of subjects with Math and English at the top and Dance and Drama at the bottom. So … has your school changed? No? Mine neither. Change is hard but it’s time to take another look at what Robinson’s message was and maybe try to add a more practical perspective on why young people need this change to happen asap.
The Hierarchy generations
The current teaching profession was born and developed in a world based on long-standing hierarchies. These orders of importance were how the world operated and they had been fixed for hundreds of years. The world unfortunately still subconsciously behaves on the basis that, for example, the mind is more important than the body, and men are more important than women. To ask the current generation of teachers to significantly shift an engrained mindset is a big ask. Society still assumes that universities do the most important educational work and thus we allow universities to continue to drive the purpose of school. But Robinson highlighted ten years ago that earning a degree was becoming less connected with guaranteed success and fewer young people every year were convinced that academic success was worth working for.
Subject ego trumps learner
The problem we have with this change is our understanding of why schools exist. The industrial approach to education has school communities (teachers, students, parents, and business) focused on the output from any aspect of school. English produces essays, which must be important because writing is all around us. Science looks at results and graphs and these have always looked important. Art produces paintings and these are just a nice-to-have and so Art must be of less importance. The factory model has always been preoccupied by production and teachers plaster their classroom walls with what students have produced.
By maintaining a focus on product, we loose focus on the process of learning and development and thus what each subject area in a school has to offer all individual learners regarding process and mindset. Young people do not see
school attendance as a matter of self-development but as a series of requests from teachers for output that matches exemplars. Robinson discusses the creative arts as important but his message is for schools to focus on the creative opportunities in all subject areas and preferably across them. The importance placed on the output of learning content has led schools to lose touch with students’ individuality and what they expect of themselves.
Why SOME subjects are MORE like gaming THAN OTHERS
When a subject’s content is held in such high esteem, a feeling develops where there’s little need to be creative or worry about what the students could add to the situation. This results in young people who wait to be issued material and challenges, at which point they will attempt to process them as requested and instructed. Like gaming, things appear in front of you and you are provided with tools with which you process those things and success is decided by a comparison between your processing of the situation and the pre-designed perfect example. Computer Games and most lessons are mostly centred on the stuff and the tools. What’s invisible in the mindset of both gamer and traditional classroom student is the self. What’s most important to me at this moment? What would be the best thing to challenge myself with? What are my needs at this time? These are questions that students do not generally ask during English, Maths, Humanities and Science.
self is part of the arts’ modus operandi
Dance, Drama, Music, and Visual Art ask “Who are you?” and “How do you operate?” as a matter of course. This is a regular practice that the current “top 4” don’t do enough of. In a world where employment will not be offered to possibly 50% of western society in 20 years time, we need to build confidence in young people in exactly who they are and what their strengths are in open situations. Confidence to invent, innovate, and contribute without requiring someone else to provide a starting point or even a job.
Ken was correct and as he predicted in 2006, he’s even more correct today. Knowing and confidence in what one has to offer the world is the key requirement in a rapidly changing future and the arts offer this to all. We’d be safer with them at the top of the hierarchy, regardlesss of what they output.