Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Constraining Creativity

Michael Gove seems increasingly set on going head to head with the entire teaching establishment over the creation of a new teaching methodology. At the core of this is his belief that in order to better establish creativity you first have to create a "core" of learning based on rote and linear teaching. This despite good evidence that this type of teaching actually doesn't serve as a good grounding in creative thought.

The Guardian's comment piece on it is necessary reading, since it not only serves as an excellent critique of the policy, but also a strong exploration of what is means to be "creative":
The important issue here is that when he talks about creativity, Gove seems to mean what he says but to misunderstand what he's talking about. His views also suggest some serious misconceptions about teaching and learning in general. So what is creativity, and how does it work?

I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Creative work in any field often passes through typical phases. Sometimes what you end up with is not what you had in mind when you started. It's a dynamic process that often involves making new connections, crossing disciplines and using metaphors and analogies.

Creativity is about fresh thinking. It doesn't have to be new to the whole of humanity – though that's always a bonus – but certainly to the person whose work it is. Creativity also involves making critical judgments about whether what you're working on is any good, whether it's a theorem, a design or a poem.

There are various myths about creativity. One is that only special people are creative; another is that creativity is just about the arts; a third is that it's all to do with uninhibited "self-expression". None of these is true. On the contrary, everyone has creative capacities; creativity is possible in whatever you do, and it can require great discipline and many different skills.

I imagine Gove would agree with all of this. But his conclusions about how to promote creativity are very wide of the mark. On Question Time he had a lot to say about what's involved in being creative. He insists, for instance, that children have to learn the necessary skills before they can start to be creative. In English, he says, "creativity depends on mastering certain skills and acquiring a body of knowledge before being able to give expression to what's in you … You cannot be creative unless you understand how sentences are constructed, what words mean and how to use grammar."

In mathematics, "unless children are introduced to that stock of knowledge, unless they know how to use numbers with confidence, unless multiplication, long division, become automatic processes, they won't be able to use mathematics creatively … to make the discoveries which are going to make our lives better in the future".

Even if you're musically gifted, he says, "you need first of all to learn your scales. You need to secure a foundation on which your creativity can flourish." This all sounds like common sense. But like a lot of common sense it's wrong or, at best, a half-truth.
The problem with this sort of policy is that it makes a certain type of sense, so long as it isn't subjected to rigerous critical analysis. Creativity requires a broad base of knowledge to be sure, but it also requires an ability to make intuitive leaps between different topics, to create a fluidity of understanding.

It feels far too much like the Government's education policy is based on the same sort of shaky research as their policies on austerity.

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