October 3, 2011


I wrote previously about the academic aims of education. I argued against the concepts of understanding and thinking skills . Next on the list is creativity. This is an intermittently fashionable one, here’s a summary of the “creativity” argument for dumbing down, from 1950:

We frequently hear the charge that under present day mass-education methods, the development of creative personality is seriously discouraged. The child is under pressure to conform for the sake of economy and for the sake of satisfying prescribed standards. We are told by the philosophers who have given thought to the problem that the unfolding of a creative personality is a highly individual matter which stresses uniqueness and shuns conformity. Actually, the unfolding of the individual along the lines of his own inclinations is generally frowned upon. We are told, also, that the emphasis upon the memorizing of facts sets the wrong kind of goal for the student.

Guilford (1950)

Naturally an idea that was widely heard in 1950 is going to be presented to teachers as the latest innovation.  Lately, I hear it is most in videos featuring a man born in 1950: Sir Ken Bloody Robinson whose 1970s deschooling rhetoric, has helped to convince me that, in education, “paradigm” is another word for “straw man”.

Sir Ken is the man who once headed a committee of worthies (including such educational experts as Lenny Henry and Dawn French) who produced a report which appeared in David Blunkett’s dustbin in the late 1990s and made fascinating recommendations like:

Where possible, school governing bodies should designate a member to have responsibility for encouraging links between the school and cultural organisations and to have an overview of the school’ s policies and programmes for creative and cultural education.

As a starting point, we should notice that creativity is something, like many of the other aims of progressive education, for example thinking skills and sociability, where there is little reason to think it can actually be taught as a generic skill in classrooms. At the risk of coming over all Dan Willingham,  there is debate in the academic literature, for instance in Baer (1998), as to whether creativity may  be domain specific (i.e. whether being creative in one area will mean you will be creative any other) or even task specific (i.e. whether being able to creatively solve one problem will mean you can creatively solve other problems). If creativity isn’t transferable from one context to another, or even if it plausible that it isn’t, then we have no reason to accept creativity as a general curriculum aim, only reasons to accept it in particular subjects where it might be appropriate. No subject should be added to the curriculum, and no teaching approach followed, just because it encourages creativity. We actually need to ask questions about when creativity is actually required in an academic context.

To answer those questions we need to clarify what is meant by “creativity”. I can identify four senses in which the word is used, however these are not really alternative definitions, the word is frequently used to mean a combination of these.

1) Artistic ability. If creativity is simply what we show in “the Arts” then there is little to object to about teaching it in the sense of teaching art subjects or getting students to engage in artistic enterprises. I have in the past been concerned that schools get overly concerned with such endeavours, and any teacher who has lost pupils out of important lessons for the sake of “the school concert” can gripe about it, however, art, drama and music are real and potentially valuable subjects and as long as I don’t have to do cover lessons for them and the GCSEs in them aren’t included in the EBacc with the proper subjects, then they have their place. That said it’s probably worth pointing out to the most fervent advocates of greater creativity in education that (in the words of Tom Bennett here):

…the last time I looked, the curriculum was also stuffed with drama, music, dance, writing essays, poetry, design, textiles, expressive arts, and on and on and on. If creativity is being given a raw deal I think it could be a hell of a lot worse.

2) Thinking skills. Sometimes “creativity” simply means the same sort of contentless, unstructured reasoning that was discussed here.

3) Self-expression. Like thinking skills this is a topic which requires consideration apart from creativity, and can be found among my considerations of autonomy here.

4) Imagination. This is probably the key concept that is being addressed when people talk about creativity and the one to be addressed here. It is the ability to bring to mind something different. Psychological tests of creativity often ask open questions and gauge somebody as more creative if they have more answers or if their answers are unlike other people’s answers. We call writing “creative” when it has purposes that involve more than expressing information and where it is considered a virtue to be dissimilar to other similar pieces of writing – i.e. novels and poems rather than bus timetables or weather reports. Now valuing imagination makes sense in many ways. It is an intellectual virtue to have ideas, and great thinkers are usually recognised for something original in their ideas or the expression of their ideas. There are, however, going to be two problems when we try to use apply this form of creativity to the educational setting.

Firstly, in much of our intellectual life the quantity of our ideas is unimportant compared with the quality. Having a large number of good ideas in a lifetime is important; watching someone sift through a large number of ideas when you want them to decide something simple is a nuisance. This is why shopping with some people is a nightmare. We might like to say “well, there’s more than one answer to this question”, however, when making decisions we are happy to have only one answer if it is either the right answer, or the best possible answer. There may be other intellectual skills that can be developed by comparing answers; there may be times when it is only by considering a wrong answer that we move to the right answer; there may be times when it is easier to find the best answer by considering lots of different answers. However, there is little to be gained from the generation of additional wrong answers. One good idea is worth a million bad ideas. And it is here where we have a problem with the concept of creativity in the classroom. The better we get at an intellectual discipline, the better we get at avoiding wrong answers. Part of being smart is being able to reject bad ideas. It is not a sign of an excess of rote learning, or misplaced educational priorities if education produces “convergent” thinkers who identify very few answers to a question rather than “divergent” thinkers who develop a wide variety of different answers. There is little point in trying to teach the supposed skill of coming up with many ideas, we do that naturally when we are ignorant.

Secondly, novelty might seem to be a feature of great ideas, but actually this is because it is hard to recognise the greatness of an idea if everybody has it.  The contexts where we reject good ideas because of a lack of originality are rare outside of the entertainment industry or academia. An omelette tastes no worse because you are not the first person to have made one. Even with great intellectual innovations, we don’t tend to reject them if more than one person may have come up with them independently. No engineer ever said “well I used to solve that problem with calculus, but now I’ve heard that Leibniz and Newton both invented calculus, I won’t bother”. Most of the time, our most original ideas are the dumbest ones we’ve had, the ones where everyone else knew better. You might be the first person to try and use tarmac as a sandwich filling, but I wouldn’t want to eat it. I’d rather have an omelette.

Productivity and originality of ideas are signs of truly great thinkers, but they are not reliable indicators of great thoughts. We might expect a genius to have great imagination, but so does the madman. The phrase “he has too much imagination” is not oxymoronic and the advice “don’t go getting ideas” is not perverse. Unlike knowledge, or judgement, imagination is something that is most useful in moderation. It is good in particular contexts (like when trying to entertain) and bad in others (like when trying to give directions). Like many of the other aims of progressive education, like self-esteem or sociability, the creative imagination is not something that we want to see more of from everybody, in all circumstances.


Baer J., (1998) ‘The Case for Domain Specificity of Creativity’ in Creativity Research Journal 11(2)

Guilford, J.P. (1950) ‘Creativity’, American Psychologist, 5 (9)


  1. Funny stuff again – this kind of satire is just what I needed – I especially enjoyed the last line.

  2. Andrew, I really do enjoy reading your thoughts despite the fact I often feel myself ideologically opposed to your world view.

    I really can’t be bothered trying to defend Sir Ken but he does stress that creativity is having new ideas which have worth and a Tarmac sandwich is really not a good example of this asthere is precious little worth in eating Tarmac. No matter.

    That said I must mull over your lack of enthusiasm about teaching creativity, if only as a stone on which to sharpen my own opinions. Keep on truckin’

    • Regarding David’s comment:

      Creativity is related to interest, practice and knowledge — it is not a generic skill in and of itself. That is, I’m not ever going to be a creative plumber, because I don’t know the first thing about plumbing, nor do I in any way attempt to learn it, nor do I think deeply about what little I do know about pipes in my own home.

      I’ve been knitting for years, in a dabbling sort of way, one project and then none for a while, sort of thing. That’s why it’s taken about 20 years before I’ve had my first few creative ideas — that is, solutions to problems that have arisen or a new way of achieving a desired effect. For instance, after talking with more knowledgeable people, who didn’t have an answer for me, I was able to piece together a solution out of the things I did know and the topics they’d thrown about. That would NEVER have happened had I just been sat down in my earliest learning of knitting and told to “be creative!”

      I know that people *try* to teach creativity, but I’ve yet to see any lessons that seem anywere near achieving that goal. I have seen creative solutions arise, usually though in a class or group of people who have broad and deep knowledge of what’s being talked about! It seems to me that knowledge (content) is the key to “teaching” and that thinking and creativity are what arise when you have enough to think about.

  3. Thinking about situations when I’ve been creative, I mean properly creative in the sense of producing something novel that I was proud of, it has always been in an area in which I had significant knowledge and practice.

    At work (managing networks) I can think of a couple of really elegant solutions to problems that I’m proud of, but they were in systems that I knew inside-out from years of daily use, much of it quite repetitive and routine.

    I play sax as a hobby, and similarly my ability to be creative in my little moments soloing in the spotlight is tied firmly to the hundreds of hours practicing technique, studying musical theory and learning the musical repertoire. As Charlie Parker famously quipped “First you master your instrument, then you master your music. Then you forget all that and just play.” He’s talking about the unconscious competence that can only come from large amounts of practice.

    I sense that your point is along those lines: creativity is something that emerges, perhaps with a little encouragement, once you’ve gained a level of competence. Competence comes from practice, study, familiarity.

    The people most famous for their dazzling creativity, whether it be great artists and composers or great scientists and inventors, combined their creativity with the sort of technical competence that tells of much repetitive practice. We wouldn’t have Beethoven’s 5th Symphony if young Beethoven hadn’t spent many hours practicing scales, and even the process of composing a great symphony is itself at some level a tiresome job of writing down thousands of notes of pieces of paper. Creativity expressed through hard-won skill and knowledge.

  4. I think this a really interesting idea to get into; that ‘creativity is something that emerges, perhaps with a little encouragement, once you’ve gained a level of competence. Competence comes from practice, study, familiarity’ as you put it Neil.
    The opposite idea – that as long as you’re creative and ‘off the wall/outside the box/etc’ you will one day throw a particular field on it’s head with your insight is almost the X Factor approach to learning: doesn’t matter if you have little craft, knowledge or skills, as long as you’ve got a dream… I think often in Western society we like to emphasise those times when an inspired amateur has achieved success (think of Tarentino in his video rental shop) when the truth is much more the Beethovans of this world.

    I take drama workshops to schools, so obviously I feel ‘creativity’ in that way is beneficial to children. However I get frustraited when people (teachers/funders/other practitioners alike) feel drama is magic fairy dust to be sprinkled over the curriculum and magically make it exciting. Drama(atic art) is a learnable set of skills like anything else – it’s starting points of human expression making it useful as a learning tool as well as an enriching subject in it’s own right, but you could argue it is no more inherently creative than geography or maths.

    I would like to think I’m drawing to a point, but I think you’ll have to settle for those hasty observations. In other news my love/hate relationship with Sir Ken continues…

    • “we like to emphasise those times when an inspired amateur has achieved success (think of Tarentino in his video rental shop)”

      Interesting example to pick: Tarantino was just one of tens of thousands of video shop employees who dreamed of being a director, but in fact was one of the very, very few actually constructively using his time in that shop as an opportunity to educate himself – mastering his instrument and his music while he had the chance. Tarantino didn’t win an X-Factor-style competition – he spent hundreds of hours learning his craft by critically observing the product.

      Of course, hundreds and hundreds of hours of repetitive practice/research/education isn’t an appealing story… I’ve learned that much.

  5. Have you ever looked into ken’s claim that ‘most great learning happens in groups’? I’ve never experienced or seen this phenomenon, but maybe I just don’t know how to manage group work! Is there any solid research to support this?

    • Groupwork does not stand out from the research as particularly effective.

  6. Governments have decided Creativity is something we need. Creativity = economic success. I suppose, today, we should look at Steve Jobs, as an example of a ‘creative’ person, he was a creator of economic, technological and ‘design’ success. When he moved from Apple to Pixar it was his way of thinking that drove that company to be genre breaking and defining too. Back to Apple he encouraged mavericks, non ‘management’ types. He was anti-focus group and trusted his intuition, his ability to think ‘creatively’.

    Creative thinking is not domain specific but Creative practice as in the arts, sciences etc. probably, is more so, though there are many examples of people whose creative thinking extends to highly successful creative practice in more than one domain, Brian Eno for example, Jonathan Miller, oh, and a certain Leonardo da Vinci… Polymaths one and all.

    Should we ‘teach’ creativity? Yes. But not by starting lessons with ‘creativity’ as a learning objective. Maverick teachers who break the rules should be encouraged back to teaching; the Trivium should shape teaching and learning, and some creative thinking tools (like: http://kreoco.com/ ) could be used to encourage students and teachers to think beyond the 3 part lesson and at what level everything is.

  7. I was shown this cartoon by my principal at a staff meeting. He is new and wanted to show us that he was on top of current educational reform. It also filled in a few minutes.

    I thought it was clever the way it guided the argument to its conclusion. It seems to give a false number of choices (a false dichotomy?) and facts that seem to be unlikely or debatable. The speed of delivery and the funny pictures seemed to silence the room. Any criticism of the video was viewed as the usual cynical response.

    I have often marvelled that education speakers show a few funny cartoons to hide their lack of content in their speech. A few “Larsen” cartoons. A bit of a laugh. A few introductory remarks and … “well that’s all I have time for”.

    I too can draw funny pictures and have used it as an easy way to escape serious preparation. I guess that’s what creativity is all about, drawing pictures.

    Whatever happened to serious debate.

    Thanks for the blog Andrew.

    • The problem seems to lie in the idea that education is not creative, is that true? How were Shakespeare, Galileo, Leonardo, The Beatles etc. made less creative by their education?

  8. As always a fascinating discussion which for me raises more questions than answers.

    Can creativity be taught?

    Requires precise definitions of both creativity and teaching but given tht most would not come to common agreement about either I will give my thoughts.

    Is creativity a product of nature or nurture or both?
    Is creativity simply a collection of procedures/processes which anyone can learn but in which there will be a range of proficiencies?
    Does teaching include giving an individual opportunities to practise and improve proficiency and to provide feedback?
    Does teaching creativity require a proficiency in the teacher?
    Does teaching creativity require me to pass on my proficincy to someone else?

    I don’t have answers to these questions. Creativity for me is about innovation and when I teach economics I know that the market does indeed give a premium to innovation. I think I can “teach” some tools which will aid the mechanics of the development of innovative ideas and the handling of the information that ensues. Something in me tells me that everyone can naturally have creative ideas and that proficiency will come from practising/developing competence in the art which I might or might not be able to help with.

    One thing is clear. I will need to do a fair bit of research to come to some sort of informed view, and this thread illustrates for me the increasingly complex nature of the art/science of teaching. The more I understand about teaching, the more i understand how little I know and indeed how little anyone knows, and the more I wonder to what extent that matters.

    Another great discussion.

    • Creativity can be taught, in a domain specific way and also as an approach beyond domains… We are all born creative and some of us have it knocked out of us by pressures to conform in our lives and respond in a way that can’t see the creative possibility of constraints…

      Teaching needs a variety of approaches, styles, teachers etc. which is why I hate the ‘managerial’ approach trying to turn teachers into automatons regurgitating the 3 part lesson all the time.

      Creativity can flourish through different experiences, which is, also, why any Baccalaureate worth the name needs to recognise breadth and include the ‘arts’ etc.

  9. I saw a brief video of James Dyson talking about the Dyson vac motor. Was his solution creative? He saw a problem and engineered it out… because he is an engineer.

    • An engineer who is creative

      • I’m an engineer. I and every other engineer in the world saw the same problem as Dyson, i.e. the loss of suction in domestic vacuum cleaners due to their using bag filters to separate dust from air. I and every other engineer in the world knew about cyclones for separating dust from air – Dyson didn’t invent cyclones.
        What Dyson did was, first, have the idea to solve the one with the other. Second, to pursue and refine the idea through thousands and thousands of prototypes. And third, and most important, to defend the intellectual property.
        If he’d done only the first one, we’d all still be using bag vacuum cleaners.
        If he’d not done the last one, you’d never have heard of him.

        • Creativity includes praxis, discipline, repetition, determination, bloody mindedness etc. as well as ‘original’ thought…

  10. As this is a blog about secondary education, I really don’t know why you’re bothering to write about creativity. By the time they’ve reached you, we primary school teachers have hammered the last semblance of creativity out of children by teaching ineffective national strategies and then over-supporting children through their SATs. This proves to students that by the time they’re 11 they don’t need to be creative, motivated or independent, they just an over-anxious year 6 teacher to tell them the answers.

    Roll on secondary school.

    • Hmmmm. At the risk of being provocative:

      a) Every primary classroom I have ever seen in the last ten years has tables in “islands” not rows.
      b) All the worst fads we get in secondary e.g.: BLP, WALT, WILF, assertive discipline, P4C, SEAL, A.P.P. etc.have been embraced in primary first.
      c) Golden time.
      d) Large numbers of kids turn up to secondary unfamiliar with basic phonetic spellings, times tables or number bonds and expecting to be able to sit and chat in lessons.

      I take your point about SATs, but it really isn’t creativity that primaries seem to be lacking.

      • Creativity is most certainly not about sitting around and chatting!

        • Never said it was. I just pointed out what seemed to be lacking in students immediately after primary, and it is the basics of learning that are missing not some abstract, unteachable quality.

          • Creativity is not unteachable.

            • So you keep saying, but actual arguments for that position don’t seem to be forthcoming.

            • I’ll post an argument for the position that ‘creativity can be taught.’

              However, the margins of this blog are not sufficient for my reply, so I will post it further down :)


      • You’ve seen WILF in secondary? What do 16 year-olds say to that? Our eight your-olds are embarrassed by the concept.

        I agree that primary classrooms are guilty of being rather fad-centric. I could apologise, but I won’t – it’s not all my fault.

        I think there are two things about creativity
        – firstly it is similar, maybe even synonymous with independence – it is a characteristic that can’t be taught but can be allowed. A well-planned curriculum can allow students to remain creative or independent, but teachers can’t increase it.

        Secondly efforts to increase creativity by teaching actually decrease creativity. This is because creativity is all about being able to link together the facts you know and use them in better ways – if you waste your time teaching creativity, you decrease the time you can spend teaching students more facts, so there are less facts to make links between.

        • Independence, or rather autonomy, is likely to be the subject of my next blog post. Unless I get provoked into doing one about shouting first.

          I think you are right about the distinction between what can be allowed and what can taught here. Teachers have a tendency to encourage these things where appropriate just to keep the lesson interesting for themselves. It doesn’t mean that they are good for learning in general.

          And don’t get me started on WILF…

          • I’d press further and say when senior leaders (like me) demand creativity, they send their teachers into a cold sweat. If creativity is one of those things that you can allow or disallow, if you demand it then you have immediately stopped ‘creative’ thinking. Likewise if government demands creativity, they stop senior leaders being creative. It’s one of those things that should be generated through personal interest, not national agenda.

            • The Trivium will help increase independence and creativity… John of Salisbury knew this in the 12th century!

            • I agree – you don’t achieve the goal of enhancing creativity by making it into the next big thing. You teach the basics well. Confidence in the basics gives students and teachers the potential to be creative.

            • Assertion is not an argument.

            • :-)

  11. In response to the challenge of providing an argument for the position that ‘creativity can be taught’.

    If we define creativity as ‘the use of the imagination or original ideas’, then this use can be practised, techniques favourable to its development can be introduced and it is being ‘taught’.

    I explicitly teach creativity when I haul students through the process of producing design ideas in my D&T lessons, (sorry, Andrew, not a proper subject, i know, but it’s all I have to go on…), where Guildford’s ‘alternative uses’ task and the concepts of left/right brain activities, among others, help to stimulate the creation of original ideas, free from the constraints of familiar ways of thinking and doing.

    There are three points that I want to raise in relation to this.

    The first is that I agree with Steve Philip, in that primaries completely hammer out the ability to explore ideas outside rigid, comfortable parameters. It is a nightmare trying to get students to draw designs not based on hearts or pac-man. The few students who can, soon realise that they are drawing attention to themselves and stop. There is something not right there, when a twelve year old child is too scared or unable to let their imagination go. Steve Philip’s point about over-supporting and telling them the answers is definitely part of the problem.

    However, on to my second point, which is that I agree with teachingbattelground, in as much as you cannot teach children to be creative by having that as the lesson objective. Having more ‘creativity’ in primary strategies is not going to solve this. Instead, I would propose that we have less prescription and bureaucracy, with more teacher autonomy. This would remove the need for teachers to over-support, allowing students to actually learn stuff, rather than just being told stuff. I have no idea how this can happen, though.

    Thirdly, I accept that teachingbattleground has written this as a teacher of a proper subject, probably English, (on a personal note, I have an engineering degree, but would not have got an EBacc. Don’t get me started…), where teaching specific skill relating to the practise of creativity is probably not as relevant as it is in D&T.

    Finally, because I know you’re expectorating at the fact that I’ve suggested that maybe creativity-mongers such as sir Ken might have a point, let me add the caveat that creativity is delusional dribbling if not backed up with actual, concrete (and wood, and metal, and plastic…) subject knowledge.

    Only when you know what you’re talking about can play with all the elements in a problem to produce an elegant solution. Okay, you can have an idea of a solution, then go and find out what you need to know in terms of specific data, but to even get to that stage you do need a foundation of knowledge.

    Sorry if this has been a long one, but you do pick your topics, don’t you?!


    • “If we define creativity as ‘the use of the imagination or original ideas’, then this use can be practised, techniques favourable to its development can be introduced and it is being ‘taught’. I explicitly teach creativity when I haul students through the process of producing design ideas in my D&T lessons, (sorry, Andrew, not a proper subject, i know, but it’s all I have to go on…), where Guildford’s ‘alternative uses’ task and the concepts of left/right brain activities, among others, help to stimulate the creation of original ideas, free from the constraints of familiar ways of thinking and doing.”

      Did you read the main blogpost? There is reason to doubt that any activity encourages creativity at anything other than that activity.

      And the left/right brain stuff is pseudo-science of the first order.

      • From my favourite cognitive scientist:


      • I am still interested in how some people are creative in more than one domain, they seem to transfer their creativity easily as a habit of mind rather than have to ‘re learn’ how to be creative.

        • I’m not sure what’s to be explained. Even if ability in all creative endeavours was independent then we’d still expect that some people would have ability at more than one endeavour.

      • Good point.

        *goes and reads post*

        Yes, You are right; there is debate and reason to doubt. It’s nice to be continuing that debate here, isn’t it?

        And so, in the spirit of debate, I would like to address your fourth definition of creativity, that of imagination.

        I would agree with you that it is an intellectual virtue to have ideas, and that there is little point in coming up with more wrong answers.

        “One good idea is worth a million bad ideas. And it is here where we have a problem with the concept of creativity in the classroom. The better we get at an intellectual discipline, the better we get at avoiding wrong answers. Part of being smart is being able to reject bad ideas. It is not a sign of an excess of rote learning, or misplaced educational priorities if education produces “convergent” who identify very few answers to a question rather than “divergent” thinkers who develop a wide variety of different answers. There is little point in trying to teach the supposed skill of coming up with many ideas, we do that naturally when we are ignorant.”

        However I disagree with the above, in that the things we teach children do not always have right or wrong answers, and that exploring these shades of grey by producing a large quantity of less useful ideas permits analysis and identification of what constitutes a good idea in a given context.

        It is only when you know what a bad idea might look like that you can avoid producing more of them. It’s part of the learning process.

        For instance, I design a table – I come up with a couple of ideas based on the materials I have available, the time, tools, money and space at my disposal. I have converged my thinking on a couple of ideas, so that I may assess the differences between them and choose the more favourable one. no problem.

        But that’s me, with a quarter of a century of putting-things-together-to-make-other-things behind me. A child needs to understand that the best idea you have isn’t always the first one you have, and that producing these ideas can and must be practised in order to gain an understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

        My point is not that it is not ‘good’ to be able to think convergently, it is that there is so much emphasis on this in education that it is very difficult for students, when it is necessary to think divergently, to do so.

        So, in summary, I stand on the side of ‘creativity can be taught’, due to my own subjective, anecdotal, non peer-reviewed, non-standardised experience.

        I respect your right to believe the academic literature that you have read, but in this instance you have not convinced me.

        However, this is a great post, and I am definitely on your side in the fight against management speak, which seems to be on a mission to take every word in the language and pervert it into meaning ‘something that you have to do all the time just because the boss thinks it sounds good.’


        PS: left/right coming up next…

        • I’m sorry, but I’m just not using left/right brain as a solution to all society’s ills, so I just don’t care about reading people’s research on the matter.

          The context I have used it in is with the Betty Edwards drawing method, http://www.drawright.com/, which I have found to be very challenging and liberating when you are confronted with students whose art lessons have taught them that they cannot draw.

          It’s just a tool to help me do my job, and it works for what I use it for – I don’t mind if it’s not backed up by science, or if left/right is actually 14 different places or whatever.

          The drawing techniques help you look at objects in a different way, which is useful for my students. The left/right thing is just a way of talking about ‘ways’ of approaching problems, that’s all.

          Next, however, I’ll be teaching them how to predict their exam results with tarot cards, and that using crystals and dreamcatchers can help with revision. Maybe.

        • I’m a bit lost here. I did say that:

          “There may be other intellectual skills that can be developed by comparing answers; there may be times when it is only by considering a wrong answer that we move to the right answer; there may be times when it is easier to find the best answer by considering lots of different answers.”

          Which leaves me puzzled as to why you seem to be hanging your argument on this point that I have already acknowledged. My argument was that with expertise the need for wrong answers is diminished. You seem to be agreeing that with expertise and experience wrong answers are avoided and there is no benefit to additional wrong answers. So I’m not sure what you are disagreeing with here.

          Is there anything you are saying here that I have not already mentioned and explained my argument against? Perhaps you should go and have another read of what you are replying to?

          • Hmm.

            *goes and has another look*

            My scroll button is getting rather worn out here!

            Your quote above comes directly before the text that I quoted.

            My understanding (correct me if I’m wrong, this is just how it seems to me), is that you are saying ‘there MAY be other skills, etc., etc., BUT this is so unlikely that there is little point of teaching the supposed skill of coming up with many ideas’.

            What I am saying is that ‘there ARE other skills, etc., etc., AND therefore there is lots of point in teaching the skill of coming up with lots of ideas’.

            [sorry for the capitals, I can’t seem to get italics here]

            Yes; I clearly agree that with expertise and experience wrong answers are avoided. Yes; you have acknowledged the points that i am hanging my argument on. Yes; being told to ‘be more creative’ in our lessons doesn’t help matters. Yes; evidence points to left/right brain being pseudo-science. Yes; I’m spending too much time responding to this post.

            You have acknowledged the point that there may be uses for creativity and creative thinking, but I feel that the case has been understated.

            I believe that creativity can and should be taught, but that it is not a panacea for the whole ‘problem’ of education, neither it is the whole ‘porpoise’ of education.

            So, i guess I could say that simply as ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’.


            • The point about the “other skills” involved in evaluating ideas is that teaching those skills is not teaching creativity. I have never said that there were no uses for creativity, so the idea that creativity might help in the teaching of other skills is not really relevant. The question is whether creativity itself can or should be taught.

            • Um.

              In the space available, let me just reiterate that i believe that the teaching of these ‘other skills, etc., etc.,’ from your quote above IS the teaching of creativity, (NOT that creativity can help to teach these skills, etc).

              I believe creativity CAN, and should, be taught.

              [again, sorry for the shouting]


            • Which part of the word “other” don’t you understand?

    • English teaching demands creativity in writing, rhetoric and in appreciation of creative work, literature etc.

  12. Loved this blog entry. I do not think you can teach creativity, just like you cannot teach someone to be ‘original’. I can allow creativity in my lessons, and encourage children to take risks on occasions. But they can’t do that until they know a certain amount or can look words up in a book!

    We at our school are having a right creative-fest and it is all rubbish. I cannot believe how much intellectual postering, and redefining goes on with these terms.

    • OK, so ‘Risk’ is a component of creativity… Can we agree that there are elements of creative thinking/doing that can be inculcated?

      • To do so we need a clear definition of creativity and good reason to think it can be taught. I think there are skills within disciplines that might help the act of creating. This is quite different from teaching a generic creative ability.

  13. I thought a few words from someone that uses a lot of creativity in their living may be useful here.

    I’m a digital producer which means that I’m half project manager, half creative director for big projects in the advertising and TV industries.

    The *single* biggest thing that’s held me back in my career is having a lack of faith in my own new ideas. It’s taken me years to get over this. I’m now 35 and after 15 years in my career have only recently fully crossed this bridge.

    Instead of telling people my ideas I would waste huge amounts of time worrying about whether they were good enough or not. Basically being scared of getting the “wrong answer”. But you know what? It never is. A rubbish idea often told to someone else might spark off an idea for a better one.

    My school never encouraged me to come up with anything new, apart from a few teachers who really tried to teach me to think for myself.

    It’s vital that we teach our young people that they can come up with new things, and express them before worrying about if they’re right or they’re not. They will soon find out for themselves if they are.

    Also, Andrew – you’re wrong when you say that quantity of ideas isn’t important. The more ideas one has – *and more importantly that one has the confidence to express to others* – the easier it gets, and the better the ideas get.

    It’s true that creativity can only happen when one has a certain amount of technical ability – however I totally disagree that creativity can’t be ported from one discipline to another.

    The best ideas I’ve ever had have come from doing exactly this – taking an idea from a film I’ve seen and wondering if it could be applied to a web based project for example.

    And before you argue that this only applies to me because I work in the creative industries, I have exactly the same conversations with people that friends who work in banking, business consultancy and the charities sector. They all use creativity every day – and the ones that are most successful are always the ones who have the confidence to come up with new ways of doing things.

    We absolutely must encourage our young people to have the faith in themselves to do this.

    • I never said ideas cannot be transferred from one discipline to another, I said that there is no evidence that showing creativity in one discipline results in showing it in another. Watching a film is not showing creativity, and so is no kind of counter-example.

      The rest of what you say seems to be assertion without argument, and doesn’t seem to address the actual points made. How can quantity of ideas be so important when we expect the most able to have fewer ideas than the less able? Why has psychology failed to establish transferability of creativity for 60 years? These are the key points.

      Incidentally, it is simply not good enough to claim that all ideas are worth a hearing. Yes, there are situations where we want people to have the confidence to express their ideas, but there’s no getting away from the many situations where we don’t want people to keep having ideas and where the person that vocalises every stray thought is a nuisance and a threat to getting things done.

    • It is not *vital* that we teach young people that they can come up with new things. It is vital that we teach them how to read; interpret their reading; punctuate accurately; bridge past 10s and 100s; recall times tables – the list goes on.

      Schools have enough difficulties doing these things. Telling schools they must teach creativity is like telling a grapefruit tree it must produce more citrus fruit – it is too broad an aim to ever be successful. For those schools that are doing well they will keep on doing well (producing more grapefruit) and low and behold they will have more citrus fruits on their tree (none of them will be oranges though.) Schools that aren’t doing so well will beat themselves up so much that they can’t produce oranges or lemons and will end up producing nothing.

      The lack of creativity in young people is a societal problem, not a school problem.

  14. Well we can assert that teaching anything is good or bad. Where is there ‘evidence’ that teaching creativity is ‘bad’? Do children need to ‘know’ things before they are creative (see above) or is this a bit ‘chicken and egg’? Human beings use components of creativity throughout their lives, why ignore this in their schooling? When you ask children/people to make, for example, connections between disparate objects, ideas etc. you are asking them to be creative in their thinking. When you ask children to explore intuitively an issue or topic, you are asking them to be creative. When you ask them to take a risk with an answer, to not worry about being ‘right’ you are asking them to be creative…. Is this ‘bad’, wishy-washy teaching? I think not. Creativity is a catch all phrase for some fundamental ‘ways of being’, ‘habits’, thinking, doing, making etc. that can and should be encouraged. Good teachers have always done this. BUT to make it into a debate between ‘progressives’ and ‘traditionalists’ marginalises it’s use. Creativity has been taught for hundreds of years, it is not a ‘new paradigm’.

    • The evidence is that teaching generic creativity may not be possible, not that it is bad, although when people call for impossible things to be done it can go very badly.

      The rest of what you are saying still seems to be missing the main arguments or just asserting the opposite. We can classify some of the things we teach, or some of the habits our students develop as “creative”, but it still doesn’t mean we are teaching creativity. To notice this is not to ignore creativity, or to suggest that nothing learnt in school helps one be creative, but to doubt that anyone is teaching a useful, generic skill of creativity.

  15. “Creativity includes praxis, discipline, repetition, determination, bloody mindedness etc. as well as ‘original’ thought”

    Hmm reminds me a bit of this:

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    I’m with sonofrojblake in my experience of working as an engineer on the resolution of design deficiencies and the improvement of performance of electrical electronic equipment the work was mostly a process of iteration. Very few inspired ideas here just the application of knowledge and experience. In later life working on project work the job was very much on working to agreed timecales and budgets. There were issues and problems, of course, but again they were normally solved by using established procedures, knowledge and experience. I wonder how many people would like their appendix removed by a surgeon doing a spot of creative surgery.
    I would suggest to any prospective engineers that they pay close attention to mathematics and physics, they will certainly need a good grounding in these subjects at university. Any spare time and I strongly recommend mastering a second appropriate language.

    • Of course Lewis Carroll was a Mathematician who made a creative leap into the world of children’s literature whilst keeping Mathematical theory to the fore. Inspired idea?

      So yes, it means what I want it to mean… But what do you want it to mean? Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum? Where would medicine be now without creativity? (Classic example Fleming’s accidental discovery of penicillin?)

      Yes to Maths and Physics very much so!

      I think well known physicist Lisa Randall would agree with me:


      And, yes a second language is superb… Why not a third? But what are you saying? Creativity is a bad thing? Surely not…?

  16. “And, yes a second language is superb… Why not a third? But what are you saying? Creativity is a bad thing? Surely not…?”

    No, not necessarily, I think the world would be a very austere place without, by example, Monet, Greene, and Bach.

    • But Creativity is not just about ‘Great Minds’, it is an every day occurrence in every day lives and good teaching recognises and uses this. Logos and Rhetoric, in particular… the sublime, the beautiful all crushed on the utilitarian hammer of League Tables, Lesson Objectives, Spoon Feeding, Exam oriented, Modular misery that is modern education…

  17. […] look. That’s called cheating.” Far from having to teach kids to be creative (which some would argue was pointless anyway), all we have to do is stop teaching them not to […]

  18. […] From me, expert on nothing, Creativity […]

  19. […] look. That’s called cheating.” Far from having to teach kids to be creative (which some would argue was pointless anyway), all we have to do is stop teaching them not to […]

  20. […] And don’t look. That’s called cheating.” Far from having to teach kids to be creative (which some would argue was pointless anyway), all we have to do is stop teaching them not to […]

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