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New Year, Big Challenges

As we embrace this back to school season, I find myself thinking about the classroom, our students and the many expectations we place on their education and what they will be able to know and do as a result of it. Along these lines, I came across a recent series published by NPR featuring several renowned guest speakers giving profound Ted Talks on education and specifically on building a better classroom.

In a recent interview with NPR, Sir Ken Robinson, world renowned expert on education and innovation, argues that building a better classroom requires that we first look at education and its fundamental design. He argues, for instance, that education suffocates creativity. I’ll highlight three critical points he makes in his talk and then invite you to share your comments.

Education has a tall order

Sir Ken Robinson establishes the critical importance and vested interest we have in education by noting that it is charged with being the mechanism by which we are to prepare students for a future “we can’t yet grasp.” He provides the jarring thought that a student beginning school in this year will retire in 2065, a time we have no clue how to imagine or predict.

This point is echoed by what we see across research and news sources. The reality is that while education is tasked with the tall order of preparing our students for the unforeseen near and distant future, college / university majors and degree offerings are facing monumental and unprecedented changes in demand and applicability in the job market. For instance, what was recently considered a clear path to a predictably successful career, a degree in architecture, is now statistically reported as being in the Top 5 of the 13 most “useless majors,” having the highest degree of unemployment, nearly 14% among recent graduates (Carnevale, Cheah, and Strohl, 2012).


From this idea of education preparing students for a future we do not yet know, Sir Ken Robinson goes on to correlate this reality with the profound importance of supporting and not stifling creativity in the education process.

Education must prioritize Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson exhorts: “Creativity is as important in education as literacy. And it should be treated with the same status.” He goes on to explain that creativity and literacy are not opposites, as he alludes they are often treated in education. He contends that not only are they both critical parts of what education must teach, but that they are actually complementary capacities, with literacy (as the ability to communicate, interpret language and make meaning) encompassed in the many capacities that flow from our creativity.

This theme resonates with the response to the question on the value of a Liberal Arts education in this economy, espoused by Christina Hull Paxson, President of Brown University; in her statement that such education is “Essential”, and that “Liberal arts educations produce innovative, creative and adaptable leaders. (Bloomberg, 2012).”

"The Value of Liberal Arts Education"

Education must safely permit mistakes

Sir Ken Robinson describes this as an issue of mistruth in the education process, whereby students making mistakes is seen as the worst thing they can make in the process of learning and creativity. He clarifies that he certainly does not equate making mistakes with being creative, but he establishes the reality that an attitudinal sentiment that is never prepared to be wrong will also never come up with anything original. Rather than allowing for mistakes in the learning and creative process, he argues, both schools and even our workplaces actually stigmatize mistakes. The end result is that we educate people out of their creative capacity.

Perhaps saying that education has a tall order is an understatement. The challenges that face us in education are both complex and deep-seated, rooted in a system originally designed to respond to an Industrial era, a time from which we have since greatly evolved. If you can find 30 minutes in your schedule or even in your commute, listen to the full story here:

How Do Schools Suffocate Creativity?
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"How Do Schools Suffocate Creativity?"

Comments? Thoughts? Please share them below.

Rachel Cubas
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Assessment Specialist


Bloomberg. (2012). Big Questions, Brief Replies. New York City: Bloomberg Business Week.

Carnevale, C. B. Cheah, and J. Strohl. (2012). Hard times: College majors, unemployment and earnings. Washington, DC.: Georgetown Univeristy Center for Education and the Workforce.

Robinson, S. K. (2012, June 22). How Do Schools Suffocate Creativity? (A. Stewart, Interviewer)

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