Does Education Kill Creativity?

Does education kill creativity?

With the school year now upon us, it’s got me thinking about the role education has in shaping us, particularly our creative selves. Not just music and art, mind you, but in thinking creatively, taking risks and, above all, being unafraid to fail.

Given this broader definition of ‘creativity, would you consider yourself a creative person?

Born Creative

According to Sir Ken Robinson, international speaker, education specialist and TED-talk alum, we are all born creative.  It is education, he argues, with all its structures and conformity that diminish our capacity for it.  And with subjects like music, art, and dance getting short-shrift in western education, it is no wonder that as we age, our desire to be original in our thinking – to take risks, to be unafraid of being wrong or making mistakes – can diminish over time. This thinking can hold us back and, while making us more compliant, it can also stifle our curiosity and ultimately our ability to learn as we grow older.

For Robinson, “we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it, or rather, we get educated out of it.”

Creativity & Resiliency

But what does this all mean, anyway? Why be concerned about whether we are creative or not? According to international speaker, TED-talk alum, and PhD, Brene Brown we should be (see her TED-talks here). In her recent address to a group of professional ‘creatives’ of visual artists, graphic designers, and others, she outlines our need for creativity as an integral way of building up our resilience. As Brown explains in her book, Rising Strong (2015), creativity is not just a nice idea; it’s a key part of helping us learn to pick ourselves up when we’ve fallen down. Creativity builds up our self-esteem and confidence. In short, creativity helps us imagine a better tomorrow.

Now What?

But, what does it mean to be ‘creative’ anyway? Does this require we all go out and buy a paint-by-numbers set? Should we be doodling during staff meetings or intentionally daydreaming in class? Maybe; but not necessarily. I think that what Robinson and Brown are getting at, is that in order for us to be whole, healthy and happier people – the kind who look for solutions, not just problems; the kind who see the possibilities, and not only the obstacles; we need to exercise all parts of our brain, not just the rational, logical left-side (or is the right? I get my brain hemispheres confused – call it a creative shortcoming 😉 ).

In short, creativity helps us thrive in this world, not just survive.

But while I don’t wholly subscribe to theories of ‘self-actualization’ – essentially that if we can believe it, we can achieve it – there is some merit to the ‘power of positive thinking’ as first outlined in Norman Vincent Peale’s Christian classic of the same name which I have read and fully appreciate. For me, God is where I anchor my identity and future; God is the ultimate ‘creative’ from whom I learn daily.

So as I reflect upon my own schooldays, particularly in shaping my creative sensibilities, I am certain that in some ways they cultivated key creative pursuits such as music and art, offering opportunities to learn that I might not have had otherwise. In other ways, however – if I am honest with myself – my education stalled my creative thinking in favour of a certain kind of conformity of thinking and even of tastes and habits.

Fortunately, as I age I am finding myself returning more and more – in spite of Ken Robinson’s assertions – to my old childhood passions and curiosities, such as art and creative writing, with the same wide-eyed curiosity as I once had. So perhaps education does not kill creativity; maybe it just sets a portion of it aside into hibernation until it is ready to be used. Perhaps there is a creative life after education, after all.

What do you think? Does education kill creativity? Does creativity play a role in your life? If not, how might you invest a little time to finding creative outlets to help you become more whole and more resilient in this season in your life?


Photo credit: Ryan McGuire

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  • Reply
    Nathalie CookieetAttila
    September 17, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    For me, YES, education killed my creativity. During my (more than) 5 years at university, it’s what happened. I don’t really know why but I feel like it was a place with too much conformity… and I am more a “free spirit” kind of person. Now that I have my diploma, I feel like I can be creative again. I even started a blog and I love it! 🙂
    Of course, education is SO important but it’s something way too controlled, with many rules and conformity. I am glad I have an education and I am glad I have creativity again!
    Great article! I like the topic 🙂

    • Reply
      September 17, 2015 at 7:05 pm

      Hi Nathalie,
      University is definitely a great time to discover new ideas and explore. There is much to learn and much to integrate into our ever-evolving worldview. It can also be constricting in certain ways and I think it’s a tricky balance to figure out which things to incorporate and which things to discard as we grow and change and develop our mind and character. I loved my university experience and agree with you about it’s enormous value in our lives!

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