Shoutout to one of the blogs I read, Flavorwire, for posting interesting articles on writing and education. I am not sure how I got around to watching Sir Ken Robinson on TED Talks Education on YouTube, but I have been having a delightful time. The intersection of learning, education, and creativity is a topic I love to explore. It helps when the speaker has a short laugh, sense of humor, and delivery akin to Eddie Izzard, my favorite comedian.
If the intersection of learning, education, and creativity is a topic that interests you, I recommend you watch these talks by Mr. Robinson’s:
- How Schools Kill Creativity
- Bring on the Learning Revolution
- Changing Education Paradigms
- How to Escape Education’s Death Valley
In his talks, Mr. Robinson makes a solid case that the development of the educational system in America arose during the Enlightenment in direct response to the needs of American industrialization during the 1800’s. Like a factory churning out widgets, we group our children in batches by age (i.e., their manufacturing date), move them along regardless of where they are individually, with an emphasis on only teaching skills that business rewards. On top of that, we undervalue our teachers, have had laws made that try to remove the variability in methods (i.e. standardization of testing, the No Child Left Behind Act), and fail to spark real learning and education in children. Instead, we treat them like their childhood is a disease from which they are suffering (i.e. identify them as suffering from ADHD) and drug the hell out of them.
I think I would have had more problems in elementary school if I had not been on phenobarbital, a barbiturate routinely given to treat epileptic seizures in children in the 1970’s, until I was 12 years old. I can only imagine that it made me less fidgety than other children possibly were feeling at the time. I learned to divert my energies into my studies and to getting good grades.
One of my first and enduring memories about my life was that I was not imaginative. I was not creative. I would never be as creative or as good in my creativity as “other people”. I was taught that building a life out of creativity was something you only did if you were not smart enough to do anything else in life. Isn’t that terrible?
What I wanted then and throughout my adult life has been to build a creative life. As an adult, I repeatedly turned away from myself, from what I wanted, from what I thought I wanted to do with my life, and away from creativity. I was determined to find a way to apply myself to an office job because that was where the stability and the money was.
It was also where the misery was, for me at least. I never wanted to work in an office. I could not imagine myself not working in an office. I never wanted to have bosses and be told what to do. I could never imagine that my own internal thoughts and desires were sufficient directive to do what I wanted. I waxed and waned between anxiety and terror. What if I wasn’t any good?
In the meantime, I threw myself at work. Force words, terms, actions, and knowledge into my head so that I could learn to do something practical. Dependable. Objective. So that no one would point at me and be able to say, “See what you did? You wasted your life! All that smarts and all you did was paint? All you did was write a work of fiction? Why are you wasting your time with unimportant things?” I imagined a person in my head, using my mother’s voice, or the voice or a sister, telling me I was wasting my time. If my time was a waste, I was a waste. If I was a waste, then I did not deserve to be here or do anything worthwhile, because what I thought was worthwhile was to be reviled.
I struggle with creative work. I struggle with writing. I have a story to edit that overwhelms me with all that needs to be done. I will attend to it because I have finally gotten it through my fortified skull the one lesson I earned through my own misery: that no amount of respect or money will make me happy. Only I can make me happy when I chose work that is meaningful to me. To create, to make, and to write are what I love more than anything else. If others have made a life built on those things, then so can I.
I am not too late. I am here now. I have learned by rejecting the ideals of an educational system that teaches us only certain things that we love, that only certain people, matter. What we do, who we love, and how we treat each other are all things that matter deep within our selves.