Re-Learning Creativity

Ten years ago, the most popular, most watched Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson was released. Even though an avid Ted Talk fan, I had actually never seen this speech until my new Finnish friend and I bonded over our love for the nonprofit, and he introduced me to this video — his favorite. Out of all varieties that Ted Talks cover, from abstract concepts such as leadership and motivation, to vital educational disciplines such as communication and business, to even random objects like cars, water, or robots, with animals everywhere and in between, it is interesting that the most attention grossing Ted Talk is titled, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” I find this to be ‘interesting’ because, out of all things that unite people around the world, it would seem that the strongest connection we share as intellectual humans (as to be assumed from this Ted Talk’s success in the abundance of other topics) is education.

After watching this video, I had to watch it again. I would reflect on the topics Robinson covers, and then I would watch it yet again. Although I recommend for you reading this to watch his speech and absorb his style of approaching this information, I will explain Robinson’s opinion in brief. Robinson introduced his personal understanding of the definition of creativity to be “the process of having original ideas that have value [resulting] through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.” With both humbling humor and fierce intelligence, Robinson informed his audience that school systems, as we know them to be today, were the initial consequence of meeting industrialism demands in the 19th century, but they have since become a universal hierarchy accepted as a “protracted process of university entrance.” In a nutshell, the Ted Talk revolved around Robinson’s claim that “We do not grow into creativity; we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.”

This Ted Talk, like all of the other videos provided by the nonprofit organization, offers profound insight into a taken-for-granted and blindly accepted area on a large scale. It is undeniable that our schools prioritize certain academics over others, and whether in America or in Germany, we naturally find academic systems that favor theories over theater and calculations above color charts. Not surprisingly, though, scholars know that learning enhancement can be measured when students have the ability to express themselves through music, dance, and art; and likewise, any school can see the negative effects on students when the arts are cut from curriculums. While I understand the social ranking of mathematics over Mozart in academics, I also see how the strict standards of our school systems unintentionally implant the stigma that, in Robinson’s words, “mistakes are the worst thing [a student] can make.”

Luckily for us students, there is an opportunity that encourages, inspires, and ultimately instills creativity back into our schooling systems: studying abroad. Robinson saw education systems as mine shafts, digging around until finding the commodity that is deemed socially worthy and then exploiting the resource. But, studying abroad has shown me a world where the worth of such commodities are defined differently by every culture and the exploitation of knowledge is a positive human interaction. Studying abroad has introduced me to an education outside of a classroom’s borders, a place where mistakes are actually my best teachers. 

In the end, I do believe that creativity is indeed affected by our education; but, it isn’t a trait that is completely masked by our school systems. Instead, creativity fades when we become so comfortable in our systems of discipline that we lose the ability to react to the unknown.

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