Do Schools Kill Creativity? [Video]

Schools Kill Creativity
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Recent education debates center on testing and classroom development, and in higher education, on MOOCs. But is the real issue that schools kill creativity through standardization?

Schools Kill Creativity
“Empty Classroom” | Max Wolfe | flickr

In this 2006 TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson talks about the role of creativity in our modern economy. In particular, he points to how schools prioritize academics, and certain types of academic programs, over creative activities.

The TED Talk is about 19 minutes. It’s entertaining, yet gets to the point that our education system needs help.

The main point made in the video is this: by the time children leave the educational system, they are afraid to be creative. Being creative means screwing up, trying out new and old ideas to see which ones last and, as Peter Elbow would say, making a mess.

But our system is designed to create dutiful workers. That will put this generation at a huge disadvantage, according to Sir Ken. Our economy is moving away from training workers to conform and towards a creative economy. If students are taught to fear mistakes and stifle their creativity, they won’t be successful. In effect: schools kill creativity. The system isn’t designed to foster personal creativity or new ideas.

These quotes from the talk represent his argument best:

“What we do know is that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.”

“We are educating people out of their creative capacities.”

By the time students become adults, “they learn to be frightened of being wrong.”

Finally, Sir Ken says it’s a mistake to honor academic ability over creative activity. Our insistence on higher education has led to degrees that look nice on paper (and are often required for the work force) but that don’t produce better results:

“suddenly, degrees aren’t worth anything and has led to academic inflation…[degrees are] no longer a key indicator of intelligence.”

Universities are trying new ways to fight academic inflation, but the results aren’t great. MOOCs are interesting, but they aren’t the right answer.

In true TED Talk fashion, Sir Ken doesn’t give a solution to the problem. He leaves the question open. What should we do to “fix” education, or is it even worth fixing?

At the very least, we should recognize that creativity can’t be taught as a skill, nor should it be stifled. Teachers should allow for student creativity, and mistakes, in our educational system.

Kevin Eagan (@KevEagan) is a freelance editor and writer living in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. Critical Margins is his place to share his interests. You can also check out his professional website,