Speaking at schools recently I came upon scenarios and attitudes that I didn’t expect and that, although subtle, are more damning to the future of the children (and therefore our society) than at first they appear. I started off the talk with a simple warm up question: What would you do if you have a billion pounds? I make sure I tell them what a billion is as it’s so out of our ordinary experience. A billion is a thousand million. It’s a lot of money. That large Euro Lottery rollover win recently was only £30 million. So a billion pounds will buy a lot of stuff.
The question is really one of aspiration, imagination and to a certain extent goal setting. The answers I hope to see are big, bold, creative thinking ideas, hopefully as far-fetched as the question. What actually happens is underwhelming. There are a always a few good ones, ‘buy a football team’ or ‘buy a mountain and run my own skiing centre’. There a a few obvious and vague ‘give some of it to charity’ – with rarely a specified charity or amount. But from a group of sixty children, the vast majority fail to think of anything beyond the dull, ‘go shopping’. For what? They don’t know. Bare in mind the task is done in small groups, privately, written down with no onus to share publicly. It is not fear of being seen to be foolish that stops them (which does stifle imagination and creativity dramatically).
What appeared to be the cause of the astonishing lack of, well, anything, was perhaps a roadblock in being able to answer the question at all. After talking to some teachers I came to the conclusion that the children couldn’t answer the question because they were unable to guess what answer I required. They were using their brain power to try to figure out what I wanted from them, to pass the test, to be give correct answer. They had been trained at school to absorb information and then regurgitate it in a particular fashion to please the system. Their whole being was geared up to pleasing or satisfying the system. They were trained in the didactic of right and wrong, true or false. They had to give the truthful, correct, winning answer. Imagination, creativity and interestingly, personal opinion, desire and future thinking didn’t come into it.
This, in my mind is dreadful and a sad indictment. Is it true that our children are having their imaginations undeveloped as we condition them to give the required answers that are easier to mark and to filter for statistics and charting? Have we created sausage factories, churning out conditioned little parrots with no thoughts of their own and no ability to think of them? Without nurturing hopes and dreams, without encouraging imagination and opinions we are setting up children to lives of mediocrity at best and years of misery through low self confidence and worthlessness at worst.
I asked the question, “Who here thinks they are capable of being a creative genius?”. As you’d expect, out of 60 only four hands went up (as two of those were teachers). So I asked a control question, “Who here thinks they are a complete dullard who wouldn’t recognise a good idea if it bit them on the nose?” An astonishing 60% put their hands up.
I asked the teachers a question we should ask ourselves, “What are we teaching these kids?”