Does public education kill creativity?

Sir Ken Robinson ponders the damage that our current incarnation of public education does to a child’s creativity in this humorous twenty minute video.

I’ve transcribed a couple of sections here for your reading pleasure, if you can’t find the time to watch the spot it its entirety.

    Creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status . . .

    Kids aren’t frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original . . . and by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. We run our companies this way; we stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst things you can make, and the result is that we’re educating people out of their creative capacities.

Robinson, a Brit who moved to L.A. five years ago, doesn’t fail to point out that basically everywhere you go with a public education system you see the same hierarchy, where mathematics and literacy are at the top and the arts are at the bottom.

    We all have bodies, don’t we. Did I miss a meeting? Truthfully, what happens is, as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side. If you were to visit education as an alien and say ‘What’s it for, public education?’ I think you’d have to conclude, if you look at the output . . . I think you’ve had to conclude the whole purpose of public education through the world is to produce university professors . . .

    In my experience professors, not all of them, but typically they live in their heads . . . They’re disembodied . . . They look at their body as a form of transport for their heads. You know; don’t they. It’s a way of getting their head to meetings.

Sir Robinson goes on to point out that there were no public education systems before the 19th century, and that said education was created to meet the needs of industrialism. He further notes that academic ability has come to dominate our idea of intelligence. The end point being to get into the university. Intelligence is diverse, he rightly points out, as well as dynamic.

I’ll finish by exhorting you to watch the video; there’s a lot there that I haven’t transcribed. Pay close attention to the anecdote near the end of the video talking regarding Gillian Lynn, who choreographed Cats and Phantom of the Opera.

I found the video via Diving Into the Clay.

Adding: One last quote: “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip mined the earth for a particular commodity, and for the future it won’t service. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.”


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

4 Responses to Does public education kill creativity?

  1. Jim Janknegt says:

    As an artist, I always struggled with math in school. I had to take algebra twice I enjoyed it so much..NOT. Fortunately, I did not have to take math in college. I doubt I could graduate from college today with the way requirements have changed even for fine art degrees.

    My daughter also struggles with math. I attempt to tutor her. Ha ha!!

    She often wonders why she has to learn all this math and I can’t say I blame her or can I give her a satisfactory answer. As far as I can tell in the 36 years since I took algebra twice I don’t think I have yet to do any additional algebra. I do use basic math when building stretcher bars and frames for paintings and in building projects or cooking. God bless all the engineers and other folks who need to use all that higher math but why can’t the math teachers leave us creative types alone!!

  2. pNielsen says:

    I was an inbetweener. I did well enough in all my classes, but was bored. I wasn’t challenged (in high school). In retrospect, I needed a more hands on approach. The book learning, the lectures were fine, but they were also one-dimensional.

  3. Pingback: Is ADD really just “Creative Kids Syndrome?” « The Aesthetic Elevator

  4. homeschoolnewbie says:

    This is not news to anyone who homeschools….

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