Creativity: What Are Our Kids Learning?

The major problem with our culture is the lack of a classical education and the ingestion of accelerant drugs. There. I’ve said it. Accelerant drugs is a term I made up. I’m talking about everything that revs us up too soon and too fast, from speed to diet pills to coffee or sugar–whatever makes you angry, roadrageous, and mean. When we are any of those things, we cannot learn.

Our future depends on learning.
A long time ago, education’s purpose was to show children that other people thought differently, behaved differently, and spoke differently. The purpose was not to extol one’s own culture, but to learn how to work in coalition with others. How to get along with others who don’t think like we do.

Once the industrial revolution hit, education branched off into vocational training–for those whose lives were to be spent in factories and at machine trades, and the upper classes, who studied languages and philosophy to learn how to think.

www.brown.eduSomewhere in the 1960s, we hit a roadblock. If a subject didn’t have an immediate practical application, it was frowned upon. That quickly led to a “path” of learning. By seventh grade you were on the college track or on the vocational track, and you took courses accordingly.

And now we are paying for it. Children aren’t going to school, they are going to test-preparation classes. We aren’t teaching them how to think, or even what to think, we are teaching them to pass a test so schools can look like they are doing their job, which seems to be taking knives and guns away from armed kids.

We are way beyond “no child left behind,” what we are doing is leaving a nation behind.

Right from the beginning, we are training creativity out of our children. We want them to color in the lines, and make sure the sky is blue, please. We teach them that there is only one right answer to every question. We take away the arts, music, dance, and replace them with organized sports that don’t allow for individual creativity, but praise competition and winning. Our educational system today is not appropriate for the 21st century. It is narrow, destructive of creativity and human potential, and squashes the one thing that will bring us safely into the future: original ideas that are practical and work. In a word, creativity.

Everyone is born creative. To paraphrase Picasso, the problem is not in creative children, it’s in remaining creative as we grow up. Instead of asking, “Is this the only answer?” we ask “Is this the answer that we need to know for the test?”

When a teacher is explaining something, the best result would be “Huh. That’s interesting. Wonder what would happen if. . .” Instead, the question at the end of a raised hand is, “Will that be on the test?”

Wally Olins, Founder, Wolff-Olins says, “Competitive advantage does not come from the Internet. It comes from leveraging creativity. ” Maybe it’s time we remembered what education means. It comes from the Latin and means “to bring out of” and not “to stuff into.”

For a great take on creativity and education, watch Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on education. It’s not only bright, it’s very funny.


–Quinn McDonald had a classical education and thinks she’s still creative because of it. That, and she isn’t afraid of making mistakes. See her work at See her ideas on art journals for people who can’t draw at