Why Creative Writing is important – especially for children

I visited a particular school to give a talk on creativity to the teachers. An English teacher remarked afterwards that she ‘had tried creative writing’, but had given up on it and returned to what she was ‘doing before’. I didn’t have the opportunity to explore with her this odd statement. I don’t have the data to know if such seemingly bizarre views are widespread or not.

What did she think ‘creative writing’ was?

Perhaps she thought it was something outside English teaching. Is it possible that some educators focus on the mechanics of a subject, in this case how to read and write, rules of grammar, use of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns and nouns and sentence comprehension without the context of a use for the mechanics?

I’ve seen it in my education, in the sciences, where formulae were taught in isolation from the experiments that founded them and the people in history who thought up those experiments in the first place. It was as if science education had to strip away the ‘unclean’ of the human stories of discovery to leave the holy perfection of mathematical proofs, physical laws and formula. I found this boring throughout mathematics, physics, chemistry and even biology.

The missing ingredient in each case was human creativity. The importance of it had been stripped out, the story of it had been stripped out and the value of it had been shunned and ridiculed: if you studied science you were not creative. Creativity was something nampy pamby artists did.

Is ‘creativity’ in the national curriculum? You could argue for and against. It certainly isn’t an easy question to answer because creativity has become such a difficult thing to define. It’s not a subject. It can’t easily be tested and measured. It’s come to be something that must float around the curriculum like a feeling, something that should be encouraged, but with few guidelines as to how. But it shouldn’t be pandered to because it doesn’t get grades.

I get the feeling it’s been sidelined when it should be the focus. Subjects should be: Creativity PhysicsCreative ChemistryCreativity and Biology and…. Creative Reading and Writing.

We shouldn’t even have English lessons except for those that can’t speak English and those that explore English Literature specifically.

We need to teach the mechanics, yes: how to hold a pen, how to read, how words work just as in science we need to show how to hold a test tube, how to light a bunsen burner and how to use mathematics as a tool.

But we should not confuse use of a tool with understanding. All tool training does is produce technicians. It’s great that you know how to hold a test tube but it doesn’t make you a scientist, and without being a scientist, which is the marriage of experiment and imagination, you are just above useless.

So, you know how to spell? You can answer questions on grammar? You can repeat someone else’s literary criticism of a text? You’re a technician. You can fix my text as a garage mechanic can fix my car. The garage mechanic can’t design a car. They can’t improve a car. They can’t build one from scratch. They can only ever work on someone else’s.

This is why we need Creative Writing. So that our children don’t only work on other people’s texts, they create and build their own. They don’t read a text looking for the prescribed analysis, the expected reaction in the test tube in the lab – they are out there in the field, experimenting with new texts, questioning old texts and long held beliefs if only for the reason that they can.

We need to teach our children to be out there adding to the pantheon of human creation and endeavor, not dissecting dead men’s words on a slab.

And that’s why Creative Writing is important.

Here’s info on a Creative Writing Programme for schools: www.outofyourhead.co.uk

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Creative confidence – totally lacking in today’s schools?

I’ve done talks at a fair few schools recently. I’ve written about what I’ve found before (see here) and some of those same concepts of a lack of creative confidence keep appearing. It all makes me wonder – is it worth it? Should I be bothering at all?

When I ask the audience (of 14 to 18 years olds), “what would you do with a billion pounds?” they manage to answer it, just, but in such a low level way.

“Buy a car” was one boy’s answer.

“What sort of car?” I asked.

“I dunno”

“What about one of those small bubble cars?”

“No way!”

“What then?”

After a big pause he said, embarrassed, “A BMW”

“Ah, one of the small BMWs”

“No way, a great big one.”

“So, you do know” I said. “Why didn’t you know that you knew? Why didn’t you write down ‘A big BMW’?”

One other girl said, in all seriousness, she would by “A book”. A billion pounds and she’d by a book.

“What book?” I said.
“I dunno”

Reading this you’ll probably laugh and say ‘that’s teenagers for you’. But I’m not sure that it is, or rather that it should be.

The question is of course testing imagination and barriers to thinking about what we want and what we deserve.

One teacher questioned my approach of attempting to ‘inspire the students to think big, break out of artificial boundaries and claim their future’ saying that they were quite capable of that and really what they needed was to knuckle down and concentrate and that my message negated hard work and academic study.

What would be the point of booking a speaker on Creativity and Brilliance for them to say “you’ve got to get your head down and study” – that’s the schoolsjob. I have to assume they’re doing her job and I can build my message on top.

It was announced this week on the news that on average 70 graduates apply for every graduate job. Companies will not even look at anyone who has less than a 2:1 degree. My theme is not that hard work and study are not important, the opposite in fact that you need to perform even better than before, but that great qualifications are no longer enough ON THEIR OWN. And that creativity is what will be the deciding factor if everyone has the same high standard.

So are children confident with their creativity? Are they able to unleash it and use it to be brilliant, to better solve problems and further themselves and their careers?

I’m not so sure. When I do any of my creativity games at schools, fun tests to see who’s paying attention and who recognises boundaries to their creativity, they all fall for it, everytime. They’re all so eager to please that they don’t have any thoughts of their own without thinking about the answer they think the teacher (or in this case me) is looking for. When I do the same routines for business we have good fun with the games and occasionally people see through them. But when the children stand there in my orange hula hoop, terrified to step out of it in case they ‘do it wrong’ I feel that imagination, thinking big and identifying boundaries is needed by them more than any generation I’ve ever worked with.

This raises the question of how far I can go without appearing to tread on teachers or the system’s toes. I don’t think I do, but anyone who has a particular bee in their bonnet may feel that I do.

If you see me do the hoop thing you’ll see that I say we need to get rid of the artificial self imposed limitations that constrains us but we are still bound by the walls of the room – the real boundaries and we need to know what those real boundaries are in order to be fully creative. I use sport as an example: without following the rules you can’t play the game. I make a big point of saying that everyone has unbounded ‘creativity’, not ability. What we all chose to do, what we’re all eventually capable of, is different. Only an idiot would say “you can do anything”.

If you look at the lyrics of my closing song it says: “You’ve got to do everything that you can” not “You can do anything that you want”. There’s a key difference there.

Schools by their nature have to operate like sausage factories. My message is anti-sausage factory, it’s an add-on to what schools do, it’s what they can’t do. At the end of the day, I’m talking about creativity, not about being normal. I’m talking about standing out and standing up, not about being the same. To do that I have to be a maverick, I have to be a loose canon, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing the job right.

We’re dealing with a changing world. The only thing we can be certain of is that things will change, and at a faster pace too. I think that systems, like schools, don’t like that and try to fight it.

My message is that if we can teach our children one thing, it needs to be that they are able to cope with change. We need to make sure they learn how to learn. And that’s what creativity is.

My opinion is that the schools may not want it, but our school children certainly need it.

(Read more here)

For more see:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

In my presentations to both school and business audiences, I ask who is an artist and who is a scientist.

The idea of course is that my proposal is that to be creative we have to be both scientist and artist. We need to be able to embrace both logic and chaos, both critical and possibility thinking.

At a school recently I spoke to an audience of 14 year olds. I asked the question,’who here is a scientist’. Note this is after I have explained what a scientist is in simple terms – someone able to question, to make judgements, to experiment to search for the truth. Out of a group of sixty, five hands went up (two of those were teachers). I’d already warmed them up so I knew they were capable and confident in raising their arms to earlier questions.

Does that surprise you? Perhaps not. But the name of that school had as it’s suffix “school of science”. Science was its specialism and yet know one who attended it was a scientist? Why? My theory is that none of the pupils considered themselves ‘a scientist’ or ‘an artist’ or anything else because those are labels applied only to worthy adults. They hadn’t noticed that if you do science, you’re a scientist. If you do art, you’re an artist. Their version of the situation was that they are pupils. Boring, unimportant, useless and irrelevant pupils. Their job, their identity was to be a pupil. You might well say, what’s wrong with that? I feel it’s so limited and constraining that it’s dangerous.

Children adopt this label of nondescript ‘pupil’ as their identity. Then they reach 14 or 15 and are told to choose a route to a job. They used to call it ‘Which Way Now’ with a poster of some inane Radio1 DJ with his headphones on, as if he was some expert in career development. We ask them to choose another label. Do you want to be a doctor or a tv presenter? There probably were a few other rubbish choices. To be a doctor the pathway is fairly clear: you have to be good at everything and then go to medical school. Almost every other profession is less clear. How do I become an archeologist? How do I become a philosopher? Those ‘options’ weren’t on the poster. How do I become head of marketing for a major international corporation? No-one knows. The options are so limited. The reason they are even more limited is that the ‘chooser’ has to make such a leap from generic pupil to sophisticated label. There’s such an obvious chance hat the pupil says ‘forensic science sounds interesting, but I’m not that type of person. I don’t know anything about it.’ Of course they don’t have technical knowledge, but the attitude or ideals probably was there, at one point but was suppressed out by genericness.

I went to a large mechanical engineering exhibition when I was seven with my Dad whose company was exhibiting large machine tools. It was called MACH’78. On arrival you were given a name badge which had your name, occupation and company embossed it just like a credit card. How exciting to get my name on such a object! They asked me for my name and typed it into a computer. I was about to give my occupation and company name when they printed the card. Under my name it read: ‘Schoolboy’. I was incensed that my identity had been reduced to something so trivial, and short-lived (I saw my attendance at school as a temporary condition). Perhaps I hadn’t really got it clear in my head exactly what I would have put had they asked me but that’s not the point.

I was lucky. My imagination wasn’t dulled by such things. Perhaps a large group of children do still flourish in the same way. But from what I’ve seen at schools I’ve visited, we’re doing a big disservice to so many.

What do you want to be when you grow up? What an annoying patronising question.

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Do our schools programme us to fail in business?

What is the point of the education system? Is it to prepare our young people for a productive and happy life in society? That would be nice. Is it to allow every child to be the best they can be? That would be a great goal. Is it just to keep kids off the streets (as many believe)? Sadly, it is possible that the education system has no goals at all.

But it once did have a goal. It was set down in the Victorian Industrialist era to prepare children to work in factories. That purpose was never replaced with anything more suitable. That’s why we were all educated in a room full of children all sat in rows. We were all told to shut up, don’t talk to your neighbour, don’t look to see what anyone else is doing, just concentrate on your own work and face the foreman at the front. Above the foreman was a clock and when a bell sounded we were all allowed outside and when a bell sounded again we all came in. Just like in the factory. We were given a smattering of almost useless general knowledge and the education system’s job was done.

The problem with having a goal such as this means that we were all trained to behave in a certain way in the world of work, for a world that no-longer exists. Being told that to ‘conform is good’, that to ‘keep quite is good’ and ‘not to copy is good’ all have latent side-effects. Those behaviours give rise to beliefs that strangle creativity and leave us unprepared for a changing world in three ways:

1. If you conform in business you don’t stand out. Ok, you don’t risk making mistakes, but being risk-averse means you become frightened of failure and that means you’re unable to grow. Instead we’re taught that failure is bad.

2. If you’re in business and don’t talk to anyone else you will hate networking and fail at building relationships and teams, the secret to success in society. Instead we’re taught that you should work by yourself in silence.

3. If you’re in business and you don’t look to see what the competition is doing, if you don’t copy the best ideas and improve on them you end up being left behind. But we’re taught that we have to be totally original (which is impossible) so we fail.

As adults, by realising this, we can turn back the clock and reinstate our creative selves that were persecuted and locked away all those years ago. Perhaps times have changed slightly. Perhaps there are individual schools that have greater, more honourable goals. But the ‘system’ has no such goal except to produce ‘results’ by testing and ranking pupils and schools. For our children we can and should examine how they are being educated and ask the simple question – what is the system for.

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