We've all agreed on the really extraordinary capacity that children have, their capacities for innovation. And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly. So I want to talk about education and creativity. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.
I heard a great story recently, I love telling it, of a six-year-old girl who was in a drawing lesson. The teacher said usually this little girl hardly paid attention, but in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated and she went over to her and said, “What are you drawing?” and the girl said, “I'm drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, “They will in a minute.”
Picasso once said that all children are born artists. The problem is remaining an artist as we grow up. I believe passionately that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it. So why is this?
Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects—every one; it doesn't matter where you go, you'd think it would be otherwise but it isn't. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on earth. There isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I think maths is very important but so is dance. Children dance all the time if they're allowed to, we all do. We all have bodies, don't we? Truthfully what happens is, as children grow up we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.
If you were to visit education as an alien and say what's it for, public education, I think you'd have to conclude (if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this, who does everything they should, who gets all the brownie points, who are the winner the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn't it? They're the people who come out on top. And I used to be one, so there. And I like university professors, but you know, we shouldn't hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement. They're just a form of life, another form of life. But they're rather curious and I say this out of affection for them, there's something curious about them, not all of them but typically, they live in their heads, they live up there, and slightly to one side. They're disembodied. They look upon their bodies as a form of transport for their heads, don't they?
In the next 30 years, according to UNESCO, more people worldwide will be graduating through education than since the beginning of history. More people, and it's the combination of all the things we've talked about—technology and its transformation effect on work, and demography and the huge explosion in population. Suddenly degrees aren't worth anything. Isn't that true? When I was a student, if you had a degree, you had a job. If you didn't have a job it's because you didn't want one. And I didn't want one, frankly. But now kids with degrees are often heading home to carry on playing video games, because you need an MA where the previous job required a BA, and now you need a PhD for the other. It's a process of academic inflation. And it indicates the whole structure of education is shifting beneath our feet. We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence.
We know three things about intelligence: One, it's diverse. We think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement.
Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. The brain isn't divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.
And the third thing about intelligence is, it's distinct. I'm doing a new book at the moment called Epiphany which is based on a series of interviews with people about how they discovered their talent. I'm fascinated by how people got to be there. It's really prompted by a conversation I had with a wonderful woman who maybe most people have never heard of, Gillian Lynne. She's a choreographer. She did Cats, and Phantom of the Opera, she's wonderful. Gillian and I had lunch one day and I said, “Gillian, how'd you get to be a dancer?” And she said it was interesting, when she was at school, she was really hopeless. And the school, in the 30s, wrote her parents and said, “We think Gillian has a learning disorder.” She couldn't concentrate, she was fidgeting.
Anyway, she went to see a specialist in an oak-paneled room with her mother and she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school. In the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said, “Gillian I've listened to all these things that your mother's told me, and I need to speak to her privately. Wait here, we'll be back, we won't be very long,” and they went and left her.
But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk, and when they got out the room, he said to her mother, “Just stand and watch her.” And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school.” Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.
I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth, for a particular commodity, and for the future, it won't serve us.
We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future—by the way, we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.