George Lucas Educational Foundation

Ken Robinson's creativity curriculum

Ken Robinson's creativity curriculum

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Ken Robinson is famous for a video that has attracted more than 10 million views. On this video (a TED presentation) Robinson attacks the factory-type school and argues that we should give less attention to academics, more to creativity.

First of all, we've already gone a long way in this direction.

Second of all, some very smart people say that you cannot teach creativity. (What you can do is give people a lot of skills and knowledge, which then serve as a foundation for creativity.)

Third, as a practical matter, there is only so much time in the day. If schools do what Robinson wants, they will devote less hours to the traditional curriculum. Question: is any student in America getting too much traditional education? That's highly unlikely.

Instead of increasing creativity (whatever that is exactly), what we really need is much more creative ways to teach the basic subjects. I'm all for that. But I'm very suspicious of diluting what we've already diluted far too much.

Here is a discussion of Robinson's ideas: "Kin Robinson and the Factory Method of Education."

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Paul Reali's picture

Perhaps the author would care to name even one very smart person who believes creativity cannot be taught. Oh, sure, there might be one; there's always one. Rather, let's look at the abundant evidence that says it can, beginning with Scott, Leritz & Mumford, Creativity Research Journal, 2004, Vol. 16, No. 4, 361-388.

Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price

If we have to take a number out of a hat, I will agree with you that 30 minutes is a good number. Maybe even 15 minutes in one subject and 15 minutes in another subject. But a total of 30 minutes a day where there are few rules and kids can go off in any direction.
I like the precision and discipline of 30 minutes. The trouble with Ken Robinson and all of his rhetoric is that his so-called creativity curriculum will slop over, like a spring flood, into everything.

Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price

The person who said it most emphatically - that creativity can't be taught - is John Saxon. I was very impressed by his confidence in this statement. He was a great teacher of math and many other things. He wrote many textbooks. His approach was to start with little tiny pebbles and keep piling them up until you have a wall. The wisdom and common sense of this approach is completely obvious when you look at studying a language. That's the only way you're going to learn French, one word at a time. Strangely, however, when teachers start looking at other subjects, they suddenly think there's a magic button. Typically there is not. There's hard work and some magic.

My comments are made against a background where many children in public schools are virtually illiterate in every direction. Here is an article I just read by a high school math teacher in Spokane. "Most of my current students are extremely poor in basic arithmetic skills. They cannot add, subtract, multiply or divide with any accuracy or confidence without the use of a calculator. They have virtually no competence or fluency with fractions, decimals or percents. This deficiency has been worsening over the past eight to 10 years."

High school! He's describing high school students. Now, if the people responsible for all this failure start talking to you about "creativity," you know they are just frauds. They want cover for doing more of the same old stuff that doesn't work. I have such contempt for these people. And it's the reason I distrust Robinson. His pitch has the effect of aiding and abetting all the bad theories and methods loose in the schools.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)

I'm following this conversation with interest, although I'm late to jump in.

I tend to agree with Ken Robinson.

One of the sites of disagreement is that we think that the pro-creativity advocates and the traditionalists want different things. Both want kids to master the fundamental skill. Nobody is saying "let's get rid of the basics." The point of contention is how we get there.

Progressives: authentic learning, engagement, collaboration, experiential learning.

Traditionalists: seat work... Students listen. Teachers teach. If everybody does their job, it will all work out.

We've had a few centuries of the later. Really. I'm in a lot of classrooms. It's the same old stuff. Perhaps, we could lean more in the other direction.

Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price

American education has been saying "let's get rid of the basics" for 100 years. Problem was, the professors needed to pretend to put something in the vacuum. Circa 1950 the gimmick was called "life adjustment." That sounded practical and fit the tenor of the times. I can show you a quote from that era where a principal said that learning to read was no more important than learning to bake a pie. Really?!?

Now we have a multiplicity of things to fill the vacuum: creativity, projects, critical thinking, networking. You know the drill. When I hear Robinson talk, I get the sense that he wouldn't miss the basics at all.

(TF, you sound comfortable with the conventional wisdom about what works; but if you want contrarian wisdom, ask me. See last 20 articles here: @educatt )

S. English's picture

I really like your post. I am now trying to figure out a way to present a curriculum change to my director and my fellow teachers. I really believe that students should be able to be creative and sometimes the curriculum's that are in place they stop a child's creativity. I was going to ask my director with the ideas that i have to cut down on the center time. Do you think that cutting down on center time to have more teacher and student time will but into student's creativity? We have 45 minutes of center time and 15 minutes for small groups and in the small groups we work on different skills like counting and sorting and other skills the students will need in kindergarten. What are your thoughts.

Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price

I don't know enough to comment on the details you mention.

I want to say, first of all, creativity is not snuffed out by a little boredom. It may be inspired by boredom. What progressive educators call creativity usually means letting the cats roam around the neighborhood. What's creative about that?

Second, my instincts favor teaching solid content but doing it in creative ways. I just got this email where somebody condensed history of the planet into two minutes. You could show this every few days as a tease to build interest. Then stop on particular frame, and talk about it.

A teacher left a comment on one of my articles, saying that he used the movie Memphis Belle to teach American history. He divided the class into Americans and Germans and had them analyze the tactics of these raids. He had it all worked out. It was quite brilliant. Similarly, I think you could teach much of the American Revolution with the movie The Patriot. Give them 15 minutes at the start of each class, and then explain every interesting detail in that 15 minutes.

I think this debate is often disingenuous. It's not the lack of creativity in the kids. It's a lack of creativity in teachers and teaching. They are not trained in ed school to be creative. Go back and look at that problem!.

S. English's picture

I totally agree that some teachers are not creative enough. When teachers are not creative this can also make the students in the classroom the same. I am creative but I am also flexible for my students. If I see that I need to do things in the lesson to better reach my students I am willing to do that. I think that sometimes teachers create these lessons and they try to stick to each and every word they put down on the paper but as educators we have to know that there are times we will have to deviate from that lesson and roll with the lesson where ever it may take us.

Richard James III's picture
Richard James III
Author of the Adventures of the Elements

Engaging the imagination is an optimal method for learning. It does not require much of a prompt for students to be creative about what they are learning. For instance, writing a creative story about any subject matter in school develops numerous skills such as writing in addition to the subject matter.

I have witnessed kids reading the Adventures of the Elements book series learn more about chemistry and science than their peers and students in grades far above them. This same concept can be applied through students writing a superhero story about their favorite element, penning an adventure story about a period in history, etc.

Of course, this same approach can be used in coding a game or creating a short film. The key is applying education to what students like such as movies and gaming. In other words, make education entertainment - edutainment. Therefore, creativity is the answer in so many cases.

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