The late Sir Kenneth Robinson (March 1950-August 2020) was a British author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education and arts bodies. He was Director of the Arts in Schools Project (1985–89) and Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick (1989–2001), and is now Professor Emeritus at the same institution. In 2003 he was knighted for services to the arts and education.
He once visited a school where he observed third graders in an art class. When asked what she was doing, one girl explained that she was drawing God. Her teacher responded “That’s impossible, Sarah. No one knows what God looks like.” The little girl replied, “They will in a minute.”
These are among my favorite observations by Robinson.
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Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the most extraordinary results in human culture.
Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. It is a process; it’s not random.
The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued.
School systems should base their curriculum not on the idea of separate subjects, but on the much more fertile idea of disciplines… which makes possible a fluid and dynamic curriculum that is both interdisciplinary and intradisciplinary.
You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them. Stimulate and nourish their curiosity.
The arts, sciences, humanities, physical education, languages, and maths all have equal and central contributions to make to a student’s education.
Formal education often has little (if anything) to do with learning.
Passion is the driver of achievement in all fields. Some people love doing things they don’t feel they’re good at. That may be because they underestimate their talents or haven’t yet put the work in to develop them.
The answer is not to standardize education, but to personalize and customize it to the needs of each child and community. There is no alternative. There never was.
Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not – because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.
You can’t be a creative thinker if you’re not stimulating your mind, just as you can’t be an Olympic athlete if you don’t train regularly.
All children start their school careers with sparkling imaginations, fertile minds, and a willingness to take risks with what they think.
You create your life, and you can recreate it, too. In times of economic downturn and uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to look deep inside yourself to fathom the sort of life you really want to lead and the talents and passions that can make that possible.
Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them; they’re not just lying around on the surface.
If you’re running an engineering or finance company, all companies depend on ideas and ingenuity. I think the principles of creative leadership apply everywhere, whether it’s an advertising company or whether you’re running a hospital.
Learning happens in the minds and souls, not in the databases of multiple-choice tests.
Creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy, and I actually think people understand that creativity is important – they just don’t understand what it is.
Now the problem with standardized tests is that it’s based on the mistake that we can simply scale up the education of children like you would scale up making carburetors. And we can’t, because human beings are very different from motorcars, and they have feelings about what they do and motivations in doing it, or not.
You can be creative in anything – in math, science, engineering, philosophy – as much as you can in music or in painting or in dance.
If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.
What you’re doing now, or have done in the past, need not determine what you can do next and in the future.
I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.
We live in worlds that we have forged and composed. It’s much more true than any of the species that you see. I mean, it seems to me that one of the most distinctive features of human intelligence is the capacity to imagine, to project out of our own immediate circumstances and to bring to mind things that aren’t present here and now.
Whether or not you discover your talents and passions is partly a matter of opportunity. If you’ve never been sailing, or picked up an instrument, or tried to teach or to write fiction, how would you know if you have a special talent for them?
There’s a wealth of talent that lies in all of us. All of us, including those who work in schools, must nurture creativity systematically and not kill it unwittingly.
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To learn more about Ken Robinson and his work, please click here.
Here is a direct link to his TED program, one that continues to be the most popular ever. Thus far, it has been seen by more than 100,000,000 people.
His book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education, co-authored with Lou Aronica, was published by Penguin Books (April 2018).
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