Killing creativity with education


Educators are starting to realize the need to teach students how to think. Creativity has been squashed for so long in the traditional 19th century education model of: listen, read, memorize, regurgitate, repeat. Of great concern is the need to develop a generation of people who can synthesize old knowledge and original ideas into something new. Conferences, books, courses, webinars, and blogs about education are discussing this topic, but not a lot of action is being taken.


Disciplines are hierarchical and separate (Rainie, 2011) creativity is often relegated to the arts silo. Rainie asserts the need for conversations between disciplines within academic institutions in order to transform education into a system useful for the 21st century. 

Let’s examine instructional practices. Even in progressive schools in which “cross-discipline studies” occur (for instance, between History and English programs), the basic unit of instruction remains the discipline (e.g. Math, Science, Foreign Languages, etc.). We do not find schools organized according to themes, problems, or areas around which knowledge might be organized. In the larger society, problems do not show up demarcated by discipline (Bidga-Peyton, 2010).

Sir Ken Robinson thinks that the current system of education kills creativity:

Schools kill creativity

Schools kill creativity

We know that education is largely stuck in the past, and we have identified the goal, but how do get there? If we cannot overcome the fear of failure and do not know how to be innovative, we need to ask the experts. Artists have the creativity and are not afraid to use their imaginations. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin


Bigda-Peyton, T. (2010, September 20). The problem of education: can a 19th century model succeed in a 21st century world? [Blog post]. An Economy of Meanings: the official blog of some really neat ideas. Retrieved from

Rainie, L. (2011, October 18). Libraries and learning communities [Video and slides]. Pew Internet: Internet Librarian Conference. Retrieved from

Robinson, K. (2006, February) Do schools kill creativity? TED: Technology, education, design. Retrieved from


Creative adult. Retrieved from

Education system. Retrieved from

School thought bubbles. Retrieved from


9 thoughts on “Killing creativity with education

  1. I whole-heartily agree! If students were allowed to be creative, every learning style would be accepted. All these fabulous new technology trends were dreamed up by the person who thought outside of the box. Thank goodness some survived the school system!

  2. Jolene,
    Have you read Linchpin by Seth Godin? It’s along this same vein…how the education system is set up to train cogs for the industrial revolution and is completely out of date for what we need the system to do today. Our students need creativity and critical thinking skills and to be encouraged to continue learning and exploring long after they are “done” with school! 🙂

    • Caitlin,
      I have not read Linchpin, but I have heard of it. It sounds like I need to add it to my To Read list.
      Thank you,

  3. Jolene:

    I went to a suburban high school, Evanston High, more than 20 years ago. Instead of taking separate classes in English and history we could choose a cross disciplinary program which combined English and history, called combined studies. It was a great program but I think we had it only because the school was wealthy and well supported by the community.

    At San Francisco State, where I went to college, we also had a cross disciplinary program called NEXA which was taught by professors in the humanities and sciences and included classes like cosmologies and worldviews. These are a few examples of education moving in the right direction.

    • Excellent! I love cross-disciplinary programs. There is one cross-disciplinary program at the high school where I work, but it is the exception. Maybe 8-10% of the students are in it. I really do not understand why more educators do not take the initiative to work with other departments.

  4. Thanks for this post. I agree as well! It pains me to think how we are forcing kids to sit still at desks and listen when maybe they should be up exploring and making things. I can’t recall the citation but I recall an article about boys and their need to be up moving, playing, etc when school age.

    • I know that article of which you are speaking, but memory fails at this moment. I think there needs to be a balance. If you have ever been to a presentation or participated in a workshop based on the teachings of Robert Marzano – -he GETS it. He recognizes the need for even adults to change from sitting to standing, or small group work, to question-and-answer approximately every 10 minutes.

  5. Nice post. With a son in the 4th grade who would rather be reading than conjugating verbs its a struggle. I know my son has to learn the basics and he needs help with some. It is amazing how creative he is in solving video game puzzles or building worlds in Minecraft ( It is a different world and learning environment.

    • There is definitely a need to learn how to conjugate verbs, but it could be taught with more creativity in most classrooms. I have a friend who is a teacher who is extremely creative – he says he feels like like has to entertain his students. But, guess what – his kids LEARN! Of course it takes time to come up with creative lesson plans, but think of the time saved from re-teaching.

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