education does not destroy creativity

There is a certain irony that the most popular TED Talk — Do schools kill creativity? — is seriously questioned in a TEDx talk over a decade later. Ken Robinson’s talk on creativity has had over 55 million views. Basically he says that our schools suck the creativity out of children.

“Picasso once said this, he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.” —Ken Robinson

With only 2,000 views to date, Elisabeth McClure, a researcher with the LEGO foundation, presents a case that counters Robinson’s views on creativity — Are children really more creative than adults? McClure starts by stating there is no evidence that the cited Land & Jarman study on creativity was ever published and may never have happened. NASA has no record of it.

McClure defines creativity as much more than imagination, which she says children have a lot of. Creativity is a combination of Originality and Appropriateness. Children have a lot of the former and adults have a lot of the latter. Both are needed to create. I cannot see how one can be described as creative without having created something.

Most children have not created something new, even though they may have the most imaginative dreams. McClure concludes that we should combine the originality of children with the appropriateness of adults and learn from each other. So, children have more divergent thinking, but without focus it does not result in creativity.

An example of combining divergent and convergent thinking is the method that Apple uses, as described by Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer — curiosity + resolve. It’s like being a playful child then bouncing back to a focused adult — continuously. “Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought”, said Albert Einstein. We may all be born artists but we will get nowhere without working at our art.

Why are we so open to the idea that children are more creative than adults? I think because it’s easy to believe. As adults we have had to grow and focus. We may have put our imagination aside. We may feel we have lost some of the curiosity of childhood. But we have to be careful about what we believe. As lifelong learners, we have to question our beliefs and ensure they reflect reality. This is just one case of letting our beliefs define how we view creativity. Humans are constantly looking for something to believe in. Let’s work on making sure it’s real. Education does not destroy creativity.

7 thoughts on “education does not destroy creativity”

  1. I appreciate the idea of creativity arising from the combination of originality and appropriateness. I find that framing a powerful question (i.e., that is rooted in the context while also openly framed) is a key tool for how to invite this combination of original thinking and appropriateness. I imagine a good question as banks of a river.

    • Yes, I liked Elisabeth McClure’s approach, even though too often the 18 minute TEDx format overly simplifies things. I am glad I watched this one. Usually I ignore TED and TEDx videos.

  2. This guideline from the American Psychological Association, Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners: A Key to Motivating Students ( ), suggests connections between children’s and adults’ creativity; i.e. adult creativity grows out of supporting children’s imagination, ( in a supportive environment of nurturing adults. So school (among a host of influences) seems important if not crucial in supporting children’s creative development, and lack of an appropriate learning environment could likely affect adult creativity negatively, supporting Robinson’s talk. McClure’s recommendations could be described by such a school/supportive environment.

  3. I also want to point out that McClure works for Legos, who are involved with selling their learning products to school systems. Legos Learning is also associated with Pearson, a large and well-known, for-profit learning organization.

  4. Hi Harold, great to see another great post. I don’t think children are more creative per se – I think they are less inhibited and have less far to fall when something doesn’t work. This post from Medium (of mine – a few years ago) is still relevant today and while I often dispute the “pedagogy vs andragogy” concepts, in this context I believe it is pretty relevant. Let me know your thoughts! Note when it was written so it was with passion.


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