A while back, Will shared 16 Habits of Highly Creative People and Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk of how creativity is squelched by education. Robinson is funny, but it’s not a funny topic. “With a wry sense of humor, Sir Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the element and those that stifle that possibility. He shows that age and occupation are no barrier, and that once we have found our path we can help others to do so as well.”

Robinson’s book *The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything*, takes “a deep look at human creativity and education.” It was published in January 2009 and comes to us in paperback this year. If that is not light enough to carry on your train ride to work — or if you drive — try an audio version.

**In his follow-up TED Talk,**** **Robinson makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning — creating conditions where kids’ natural talents can flourish.

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*Related*

Radiolab showcased a very interesting conversation between Malcolm Gladwell and Robert Krulwich about why Gladwell dislikes Gifted and Talented Education Programs entitled, “Secrets of Success” (July 27, 2010): http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/

Gladwell argues that love and practice are what fuel talented people not innate, God-given ability. I love what he has to say about this, even if Krulwich jokingly calls Gladwell a “genius denier.”

It’s another voice to the talent conversation.

Cheers,

Kella

I could not agree more with Sir Ken Robinson’s observation that education–at least at the K-12 and early college level–stifle creativity and even critical thinking. Of course, there are exceptions, but any general rule of observation will include exceptions. When I had participated frequently in online discussions on Math Forum last year and earlier this year about mathematics education, I have also come to realize how K-12 and early college mathematics education suck the creativity and enjoyment out of mathematics and replace it with a dehumanizing and almost purely mechanical version of mathematics. My eyes were further opened when one of my previous students had said in her class introduction that she was never good at mathematics because she “leans toward creative subjects.”

Reading that really stung me because any mathematician worthy of the name will agree that mathematics is a highly creative subject. Consider Archimedes’ method of exhaustion for approximating the value of pi or Riemann’s work on the Riemann hypothesis or Hadamard’s and Poisson’s proofs of the Prime Number Theorem or Cantor’s work on infinite sets and a host of other highly creative ideas in mathematics. When I had further considered how my own math education went in K-12 and how hosts of other teachers and researchers in math education mention similar stories, I realized that I could not blame the student for thinking that mathematics is not creative because traditional math education sucks creativity out of mathematics. What is so creative about parroting solutions in the textbook and by the teacher all the time and never being asked to come up with your own ideas for solutions to problems or your own ideas to continue exploring to see where they lead?

There is a stark contrast between how creativity in mathematics is presented in upper-level undergraduate math courses for math majors and in graduate math classes versus how creativity in presented in lower-level math courses. No wonder I had learned to love mathematics much more than before when I had taken these courses myself! I consider it a shame that even I didn’t really know what mathematics is all about until late in college and in early graduate school when I took several opportunities to work as a mathematician. You definitely need creativity to work on problems for which you cannot find a solution by parroting what a book or professor or teacher says and thus must need to invent a solution yourself.

Not only is creativity stifled, so is the ability to think for oneself. Many other subjects in K-12 are also becoming purely mechanical and full of memorization of facts. Being intelligent is equated with knowing lots of facts. But I’m sorry, everyone: Intelligence is the ability to use what you know to solve genuine problems, to make your own conclusions, to test others’ arguments and thinking—in short, intelligence is the ability to think for oneself. People can know lots of facts but have no idea how to think for themselves. Yes, facts are useful and are necessary for thinking, but what good does it do for that math major who can quote many fancy theorems in mathematics but clearly cannot solve any problem not found in a standard textbook? What is ironic and shameful is that one of the mathematicians on Math-Teach told me that finding students who can work all the problems from standard textbooks is good enough for him.