I hate to say it, but Grit might have a point...

>> Saturday, 23 October 2010

I've been putting off writing this post. Why? Well, because I suspect that if my virtual friend Grit reads it, she will probably - in the nicest possible way, of course - say 'told you so!' And the worrying thing is, she might be right.

So, what am I burbling on about?

Earlier this week, I checked on the afore-mentioned Grit, and was fascinated when she directed me to this animated version of a speech given by Ken Robinson at the RSA (that's The Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce if, like me, you had no idea who they are) where he argued very convincingly that the current form education takes - one first conceived 200 years ago - is no longer working for children assaulted on all sides by far more entertaining forms of input.

I watched it (and recommend you do too), and was fascinated. But secretly I was hoping that it wasn't really true, especially the bit where he talks about the systematic reduction of children's ability to think 'divergently' and creatively that happens more the longer they spend in formal education.

Then, 2 days later, it just so happened that I was scheduled to go into Boy #1's class to work with them on creativity. The format was this: I was to read the class a story I had written for my children a couple of years back, and then talk to them about how they might come up with their own ideas for stories they were putting together in a book as the class.

Well, they loved the story. (It was about birthday parties, so of course they loved it...) And then we started to talk about them making up stories for themselves. Now, I don't know about your children, but when my two role-play at home, the sky's the limit. They could be anywhere, be or do anything; fording a stream of boiling lava, jumping from ship to ship in a freezing ocean, fighting monsters in space. That is, I have to say, my experience of most 7 year-olds, and certainly of the ones from Boy #1's class when they come over for playdates, or when I see them racing around in the school playground.

However, something seemed to happen which limited their imagination the moment we started to talk about actually writing stuff down. It didn't happen to all of them, I have to say, (funnily enough Boy #1 was just as capable of imagining himself as Ben Tennyson in writing as he is in play) but it seemed as if for some children the only things they could envisage putting on paper were ones grounded completely in reality. No matter how hard I tried to persuade them that in a story anything could happen, they simply couldn't make themselves do it. It didn't matter that they might be superheroes in their spare time, or adventurers exploring the Amazon when they go for a walk in the woods; when it came to putting pen to paper in class, they could only write what really happens.

Even the secret that I shared with them - that amazingly, the story I had read to them had come completely from inside my own head, that elephants can't talk, and don't go to birthday parties (don't ask) - didn't seem to be able to break down the wall of 'we're in school now; so that means we can only deal with the tangible and the rational'.

Which I have to say, considering that I was supposed to be dealing with 7 year old children with over-active imaginations and at the height of their creative powers, I found pretty depressing. Although not quite as depressing as the close-down response from their otherwise excellent teacher when I foolishly mentioned my impressions to her.

But Grit, please don't say it...


heather 23 October 2010 at 14:48  

I was told by a six year old once when I told her to use her imagination" I don’t have one of those and I don’t want one! "

Rachel M. 23 October 2010 at 19:18  

I'm pretty sure you will make Grit's day when she reads this.

Justification for one's life work is a gift.

Expat mum 23 October 2010 at 19:32  

I love Ken Robinson. He came to speak at our school last year and I was thrilled to hear him say that the school actually manages to put into practice a lot of what he tried to convey. Yay - and thank goodness those school fees are paying off!

bettyl 23 October 2010 at 23:14  

Hear, hear!! It's very sad, indeed, that kids are not encouraged to imagine! Moving to NZ, I have found that the school system here is even worse than in the US for fostering any sort of creativity and learning.

TheMadHouse 24 October 2010 at 11:47  

I am learning that grit is a wise woman indeed!

Grit 24 October 2010 at 14:14  

it is very generous to concede a point, pm, and i am humbled.

every child is different, and they respond in their own unique way to different environments and people; with the huge potential they have for thinking in all directions, it is astonishing to me they build a common sense of anything at all. that is to their credit too.

wherever and however they are educated, i think it's just important for adults to listen to them, and talk with them.

(and respect where it's due... on some days, when the kids come out with 90% rubbish, they're still gaining on me.)

Frog in the Field 25 October 2010 at 08:28  

Blimey! My girls have over active storytelling capabilities then! The teenager has finished her second book, mini Frog wrote a terrific story about going into space with all the puppies and the kitten.
I do think as parents, being so busy and with modern toys, we don't encourage our children to be creative enough (I just have a weird teenager)

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings 26 October 2010 at 01:00  

I know. I know. The other day Jonathan and I were watching Spongebob and I said "eew. that looked painful." Jonathan sighed, as if he couldn't believe how dumb his mother was, and said, "Mama. he's just a sponge. He's fine."


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