Demos Daily: Born Creative

With the BBC announcing one of their largest education packages to date, well-known figures such as Danny Dyer, Sir David Attenborough and Sergio Aguero are being brought to the frontline as the nation’s leading teachers. Since schools closed, children in the UK are learning in very different ways – unlike anything known in recent history: watching the curriculum on the television, being taught by parents and learning in their own homes and gardens, away from their friends. But most importantly, children and parents are looking at education through a whole new lens. With these temporary changes, there is an opportunity for children to explore their creativity in ways they haven’t necessarily been able to previously. Once this is all over, will we see more creativity and variety injected into the school system, or will things return to business as usual?

Back in 2010, we explored the importance of creativity in education, particularly in early years. Read Born Creative here, and the foreword from author Michael Rosen below.

Foreword

In a way, it is strange to be talking about creativity. Why should we be in a position of having to justify something that is at the heart of human thought, activity, endeavour and emotion? The explanation can be found in the documents and rationales that have bombarded teachers over the last 20 years. This was the ‘instruction model’ of teaching, caricatured (pleasingly, I’ve always thought) by the description ‘the jug and mug theory of education’: the child is the empty mug, the teacher is the full jug, the jug is tipped into the empty mug – hey presto, education has happened. Though there is a huge body of theory and practice to show that by and large we don’t learn and arrive at making meaning and understanding in this way (particularly when we’re young), in the last 20 years there has been a persistent use of jug and mug. This was typified by imposing sequences and ‘units of learning’ along the lines of factory production – each child was seen as a thing to which a new chunk of taught material could be added, assessed and left behind.

There is of course another model of learning, which suggests that we are all – from the moment we’re born – reflective, interacting beings make meaning. If you watch a very young child holding and using a ball, you get a good picture: there is a flow to and fro between what the child is perceiving through sight, touch and sound (assuming these are each functioning) with what the child is thinking, with what the child is saying and with what other people are saying or have said. The child doesn’t learn how to handle a ball along one route of thought (e.g from sight to brain to hand-movement). It involves all these processes interacting; so, yes, it involves responding to the stimuli but it also involves responding to one’s own response. This is what we do all the time: think and reflect and learn from how we behaved and thought previously.

All this means that learning is complex. It isn’t a piece of one-dimensional travel along one axis. We make advances and retreats. The retreats may well be in the long run advances; some advances may be cul-de-sacs. These free-flowing processes can be inhibited in many ways, one of which comes from giving people a fear of failure. If you are afraid to travel about in the multi- dimensions of learning, you will be prevented from getting to the next step.

Where does creativity fit in here? In order to learn we need to be in a position in which we are open to receiving ideas, processes, sensations and feelings – the gamut of human experience; we need to have been allowed to respond to these experiences in ways that aren’t inhibited through being told that this or that response is wrong or insufficient; we need to know that the response can come through thought, talk, action, activity, solo or collective; we need to have time and space to reflect on our responses – at least some of the time in cooperation with others. In these circumstances we will be creative in thought and action. We will advance in whichever field of human activity we can think of.

Far from being woolly or non-rigorous, this kind of creativity requires a good deal of organisation on the part of a leader, a teacher, a chairperson or whoever. It also requires sensitivity to difference, a strong sense of democracy – everyone has to be given their fair share of time, and attention from everyone else. The lines of communication between the group should not just pass between the leader and individuals in the group – there need to be as many lines sideways between the participants. There also needs to be a sense that there are many ways of getting things ‘right’, rather than a simple binary of ‘right or wrong’; people will benefit from an awareness that they have caused pleasure in others through what they have said, made or thought. Where appropriate there is ‘outcome’ – things or ideas or statements, or movements or sounds (or whatever) are produced and presented to others. Creativity also requires time for people to reflect on that ‘production’ or process.

None of this is a luxury. It is essential for the advance of humankind. We are beset with massive problems concerning at the very least questions of climate, poverty, disease and war. We will never escape from this cycle through top-down instruction. Of course, it is possible to be creative about destruction – the twentieth century was particularly clever in this respect. In other words, creativity for the benefit of the human race has to be inclusive and cooperative. Whenever I work with people – no matter what their age – I try to run a checklist through my mind: are these people investigating, discovering, inventing and cooperating? They don’t have to be doing all four all the time, but is this event, this process, this ‘workshop’ involving at least one of these? In an ideal moment, it’ll be all four. What can I do to increase the amount of whichever one of the four is not happening here? In my experience, things start to happen when all four take place in a group of people.

Michael Rosen, October 2010