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Response to Ken Robinson's "Schools Kill Creativity"

Kyle Liao
Teaching of Writing
Professor Tom Lynch
Response Piece to Ken Robinson’s Schools Kill Creativity video

                Ken Robinson’s insightful TED talk criticizes our current educational system, which he argues places too much emphasis on the math and sciences and not enough on creative disciplines such as dance or music. His assertion that the current model’s goal is to create a University professor is both humorous and alarming, as is the idea that students like Shakespeare and Picasso would certainly not thrive in the current system because of its overbearing authority and narrow structure. It is impossible not to agree with his heartstring-tugging words, delivered with wit and humor, but I wonder at the dangers of accepting the message wholeheartedly.
                A criticism I have of Ken Robinson is that although he makes some great points, the other side of the argument is not offered, and what results is an ironically narrow vision which disrespects some of the practical and essential functions of education. For example, how do we teach students how to respect and work with authority if we follow Robinson’s idea that students like Shakespeare should not be ordered around, stick to a schedule or follow rules otherwise their creativity will be killed? One may argue that students shouldn’t have to learn how to listen to others and should listen to their inner butterfly instead, but this simply isn’t practical – Nicole has a great story about a student from Brown who got in an argument with the director of a playhouse where she worked. Instead of deferring to the director and figuring out how else to flex the situation without being combative, the student got argumentative and disrespectful. Needless to say, he was fired. In our current society where collaboration and networking with others is so important and valued, students need to learn when to defer to experts and when to assume expertise and authority. We all know that unfortunately many households favor authoritarian approaches where imperatives are used; the responsible teacher assumes authority, but does so in an authoritative manner where instead of telling Shakespeare to put his pencil down, we ask if he could wrap up his sonnet so he can rejoin the class lesson. This is not just the teacher treating the student humanely, but modeling how to work with different people who have different priorities and perspectives.
                One point Robinson makes which is thought-provoking is his piece about how the current educational model was created to meet the demands of 20th century industrialization, designed to create citizens with specific skills which would complement the societal workforce. If education is supposed to reflect the expectations and demands of the present society, then isn’t the current model seriously outdated? The new modern society, which is inherently linked to urban life, and we can use Manhattan as a model, demands not specific hard skills but flexible soft skills which can be transferred across a variety of work spaces and professional tasks. This society demands expert collaboration and communication with people of different backgrounds, both culturally and racially. In short, it demands multimodal professionals who have basic functional skills, but more importantly, have the creativity and innovation to envision, reflect and produce. We are also trying to prepare students for the fickle future, where one cannot predict what skills or mindsets will be valued and will thrive. This is why creating students who have a broad range of interests, who can learn and express themselves in multiple ways, and who are critical, literate thinkers is the primary goal of 21st century education. Can learning dance and music help meet this goal? Maybe.