Creativity at School

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

Abraham Lincoln

When we talk about creativity at school, distant memories from our childhood emerge: art classes, theatre, music… the smell of glue and gouache paint. Memories of songs and nursery rhymes miraculously unearthed from distant music sessions. Seasonal frescos hung above the coat pegs, Mother’s Day and the usual procession of more or less inspired crafts.

To rely exclusively on these materials and their glorious outcomes to foster creativity undermines its importance. It raises the question of which subjects are taught and the quality of their content, of how useful they will be in the future and how they contribute towards fostering self-sufficient adults.  Does this creativity depend on a few artistic subjects or does it achieve its ultimate goal? We all have an interest in education, an opinion, something to say, but above all, we have we have our own. Why don’t we dare to question the models inherited from our parents and dare to rethink … everything!

Sir Ken Robinson* says that creativity is as important today as literature and that we should treat these two subjects equally. He aims to demonstrate that the traditional educational system is obsolete. In his lectures he criticizes this educational system as it is based on academic aptitude. He says there is a reason why all these systems have appeared. They were created before the 19th century to satisfy the need for industrialization. This model is perpetuated today to calibrate individuals as they transition towards university.

All education systems around the world are hierarchical, he says. At the top are mathematics and languages. Next come the humanities and the arts. Art itself has its own hierarchy: At the top are the visual arts and music, followed by dance and the performing arts. Many brilliant, talented people think they are not brilliant and talented, because the areas in which they excel were not appreciated or they are stigmatized as being less important. The reason people leave school is because their energy and passion are not valued.

We must leave this linear industrial educational model to move towards a model that aims towards human fulfilment. The school system locks the child in a model that reduces self-worth to what he knows, instead of preparing children for life and to fulfil their destiny.

Ken Robinson says that we all live in two worlds: a world that exists whether or not you exist. Our education systems are focused on that world.

But there’s another world that exists only because you exist. It came into being when you did. The first world is considered important by the school system, although it is the second world that should be fostered and put to good use. School should evolve so that each child can make the garden that is within him flourish and grow.

In her advocacy for an education that is adapted to human functioning, Céline Alvarez ** brings to life the work of Maria Montessori by describing the best moment to acquire certain skills. These sensitive learning periods occur in the early years of the child’s school life. They can be reduced to three basic points: • To acquire a good working memory, that is, the ability to retain a command. • To have control of emotions and the ability to stay focused on its tasks. • To have flexible cognitive functions. That is the ability to find solutions by oneself, self-correct and creative problem-solving skills.

Executive competencies are considered, as she says, as the biological foundations of learning. Successful children have good executive functions. These children who do better go to better schools, are less prone to become addicted to drugs, are healthier, manage their stress better. They have balanced social relationships … Several studies indicate that good executive functions would predict overall success more accurately than IQ tests. The Harvard Child Development Centre has declared that providing children with the opportunity to acquire good executive functions is crucial in their development and one of the most important responsibilities of the society. These studies show that children have a flexible “window” of learning in which his capacity to acquire good executive functions are at the highest level occur between the ages of 3 and 5. The age we call “I want to do it by myself”.

Children show us their willingness to acquire these skills. This happens when they want to do things on their own. When the child wants to put his shoe on alone, he will have to use his working memory (how has he shown me?), He will have to use self control to concentrate on his task and to ignore others and finally, if he does not succeed, he must make use of his cognitive flexibility to find a solution. To disregard the idea that the child wants to do things alone during this moment is to disregard the acquisition of these skills based on the assumption that he will not succeed… It is to ignore the fact that human intelligence is in construction.  We thus find idle children, temperamental or agitated in class who have not used their energy and attended to their need for doing things because we do everything for them. The example that comes to mind is the child that we dress, comb and carry without giving him the opportunity of becoming independent.

There is no need for extraordinary activities to build executive functions. Céline Alvarez says that we must encourage the desire to do things independently on a daily basis, involve children in responsibilities from an early age by providing constant, kind support.

If creativity is the ability for an individual to imagine, construct and implement an original solution to a problem, it is a logical counterpart to autonomy, the ultimate goal of learning. Our teaching takes into consideration the stages of child development. To constantly question our educational and pedagogical practice is to think or rethink the skills that we need to make sure children receive in a constantly changing world, where autonomy is paired with adaptability and creativity to help our children become fulfilled adults.    * Ken Robinson, academic, lecturer, education specialist.  ** Céline Alvarez, teacher, linguist, passionate about cognitive sciences wrote “The Natural Laws of the Child” after conducting an unpublished study in a kindergarten class in a sensitive area in France.