There’s a lot of debate at the moment about what might be termed ‘creative’ teaching methods. The ‘Mr Men Wars’, you could call it. On the one side, are those who believe that any attempt to make learning fun, or relevant, or engaging, represents a heinous ‘dumbing down’ of educational standards. This side believes that if we carry on like this, before you know it, all our young people will be reading crappy YA fiction and tapping their lives away on their ipads. Instead, we must ensure that they sup deeply from the well of great British literature and the great Pantheon of historical facts.
On the other side are those who don’t see a big problem with having a bit of fun in the classroom, with using modern cultural references, and with motivating students to learn through the application of a bit of creative thinking. Clearly I’m with the latter group (on the side of the angels). In fact, I’m just thankful Gove hasn’t heard about the infamous dog food DT lesson. I would definitely have got slated for that one. I can imagine OldAndrew growling with indignation as I mention it.
Anyway, the Mr Men Wars got me wondering about whether this kind of creativity actually matters. Whether it’s important, both in the classroom, and in life more generally. And I also got to wondering exactly why I’m so in favour of it. Why was it that when I saw all the Twitter avatars changing in support of Russel Tarr, I thought you go teachers rather than look at what those crazy lefties are doing now?
I’d like to begin my answer with one of my favourite quotes. I’m a big fan of quotes. The best ones somehow encapsulate an exact, specific feeling or idea I’ve always had, but that I haven’t been able to put into words. A bit like poetry does. There’s a sense of déjà vu. A sense of ‘I wish I’d said that’.
Here’s the quote:
“Violence among young people is an aspect of their desire to create. They don’t know how to use their energy creatively so they do the opposite and destroy.” Anthony Burgess
This, I believe, it what we see so much of in schools today. Young people who have no creative outlet for their frustrations, and so they take great delight in destroying the classroom atmosphere. It might sound odd, but there is a bizarre kind of power and almost beauty in some of the most destructive and rebellious behaviour.
Anyway, to answer my own question, yes, creativity does matter. And it matters because:
* It makes you feel good. I love writing (I love painting as well, although I’m really awful at it.) There’s something peculiarly satisfying about creating something that wasn’t there before. ‘Look! I made this!’ you feel like saying. ‘This was my idea.’ Surely we want teachers to feel good about their work? Because if they don’t, then how can they possibly communicate the joy of their subjects to their students?
* Creativity allows us to innovate. It means coming up with fresh ideas, or connecting up diverse subjects that don’t seem to go together (as per Mr Men/The Weimar Republic). Innovation is what keeps the human race moving forwards. Without it, we’d still be living in caves and never even wondering what might happen if we rubbed a couple of sticks together.
* Creativity gives colour to the world. Without it, the world would be a dull, dry, flat, lifeless place. Art, music, dance, drama, poetry, stories: I bet you cannot imagine life without them. I know that I certainly cannot.
* Creativity requires a synthesis of thought and a reach for something ‘beyond’ the basic human condition. When people are creative they often come up with something that is far more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes it doesn’t work, which is part of the nature of creativity. But when it does, WOW!
* Creativity gives us an outlet for strong emotions. For those of us from a reasonably well-adjusted background, the emotions we express might be joy or passion. For those from a very disadvantaged background, or those who are very damaged by their experience of life, creativity offers the chance to let off steam. It allows people to give voice to strong feelings, to express what they believe, to make something new, rather than destroying something that someone else has already made.
* To be creative, we have to take risks. We have to put ourselves out there, hand over what we have created, and let others judge. Then we have to be brave enough to cope if other people don’t like what we’ve made. I remember hearing a story about an Oxford University entry paper, where the main question was: ‘What is courage?’ One very creative applicant wrote ‘This is.’ And left it at that.
* Many creative endeavours require huge amounts of self-discipline and years of dedication to achieve mastery. You want rigour? Creativity gives you rigour. Many years ago I trained to be a professional ballet dancer. I can remember one rehearsal, where the lead dancer danced in her pointe shoes for hour after hour. Eventually the blood soaked through the satin and literally began to drip on the floor. And still, she smiled.
* Creativity often brings us ideas that are way ahead of what we’ve managed to think of already. I went to see the Damien Hirst exhibition last summer at Tate Modern. It was the first time I’ve seen his work, and I was expecting to be quite cynical about it, but actually I was bowled over. Do you remember when his cut up animals first exploded onto the art scene? The huge controversy they provoked? Here’s another great quote for you to ponder:
“It is all that the young can do for the old, to shock them and keep them up to date.” George Bernard Shaw
Is it truly the case that there is no space for teacher creativity in the classroom, that the transmission of facts and knowledge in a dry way, along with the acquisition of skills, are all that matters in teaching and learning? Of course not. Are some examples of creativity better than others? Of course they are. But you can only get to those great examples by trying something new. So let teachers be the experimental, risk taking innovators that they are by nature. Please.