Creative Constraints

So on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Robert Peston, the Jeremiah of business, interviewed to Brain Science guys at Davos (no not Davros – although I admit the words brain science and Davos do conjure up images of Dr Who). These guys have been looking at how the brain makes decisions, why is there a herd instinct in so many of us and what role does individuality have to play in our society and in the way we make decisions? They said what we already know of course. (“You need £100,000 to do that?”). They said that in times of stress some people will speak up and that the others will look to them for ideas and guidance. However their decisions will also be governed by fear and those who speak up are unusual but – and here’s the clincher – necessary. It is clear in nature that too much of a good thing leads to gloom. If we all thought the same way, like lemmings, we would be doomed. We need our creatives, our independent speakers and non-conformists. They save us from the virus of sameness that can allow us to be wiped out by the same disaster. This is the third time in as many weeks that I have heard this sentiment or something like it expressed. Recently Professor Simon Baron Cohen wrote a paper stating that the “difference” that people with syndromes such as Asperger’s Syndrome, is necessary to the function of society.  In the meantime Sir Ken Robinson has given a speech at TED that is doing the rounds of the educational universe about how schools are damaging creativity. Who knows what the future will bring, what will our students have to face in 2030 or beyond (asteroids allowing)? Whilst the bright and the original are stating very clearly that we need difference and originality, our education system, tied down by successive governments and other similar regimes across the world, are creating dependent herd-like creatures, who want to be told what to say in their essays by the nice teacher with the Powerpoint. If you suggest to groups of 16 years olds (as I do now) that they should discuss a topic, if you take a moment to refer to current events in a tangential way that is relevant to your studies, they accuse you of not teaching them properly. They want to be told the answer that will lead them to the result, they are not interested in learning for learning’s sake, they do not want to take a risk that might damage their results, and neither does government. Teachers and students are locked into a system that must hit targets and pass exams, we are locked into conformity, into churning out industry ready lemmings – who when one person shouts “panic” they all panic, and as for the individual thinker, if they’re a teacher, well obviously they’re a bad teacher, because that’s the trap that teachers are in. If you complain that you don’t like working the system, it is because you are failing the system. The only way to do it, is to sneak in a bit of originality and get the kids the results as well, but that’s a tall order and nobody thanks you for it – especially not in FE – but then let’s not get vulgar.

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