More on “Killing Creativity”

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The video above is simple and powerful. It speaks to us educators in a number of ways. The number of ways we should allow for more creativity in our classrooms – not just in language but in those most basic things we teach in the hidden curriculum – being human.

girlI will list my own practical ways teachers can be a lot more “creative” in their classrooms (and not just the usual stuff about throwing in more art or creative writing….), but first, let me sound off a bit (after all, it is my blog!)

I’ve been teaching a long time and I’ve been observing a lot of classes – the one thing I note, deeply note, is our profound dysynch between what we preach and what we practice. And I believe that is the case in almost any school in the world.

We say we want to create and develop loving, caring, critical thinking, sensitive citizens who are “comfortable in their skin”. That is, happy with who they are and full of boundless energy about the person they might be. HOWEVER, we engineer these souls. Yes, we do. Our skills stamp and cut to cookie size. We impart messages that aren’t human but culled of all blood and marrow. They are souless and stereotypes of the human imagination.

Do you follow Hobbs’s guiding Principles of Re-education. Do you follow them? We have to try harder.

We tell stories about good and bad. Good wins and bad doesn’t. Not true. We ask students to study hard and achieve. Then we compare them and put many into the dustbin of our histories. We tell students to love and be kind. Then, we show how we control them in the front of our classrooms and how we ask them to “do” this way – no other option. Standards, have tos, marks, routines – these are the mark of educational systems run to the end of bitterness and inhumanity.

Others have said and written much better than I about the “factory” system which is modern schooling. Check out Ivan Illych or John Taylor Gatto. Or even reach up in your library to Rousseau. I’ll leave it at this – we have to do more. Ken Robinson said as much in his outstanding talk, “Schools kill creativity”.

So that’s where we stand.

I remember when I was a grade 8 student. I loved public speaking, loved sharing knowledge. Around our house were lots of books on communism and insurrection (it was the early 70s, a hippie commune of draft dodgers). I chose as my topic, “Guerrilla Warfare”. I’ll never forget being laughed at and from the front of the classroom. By my teacher also. They all thought I was speaking on “Gorilla Warfare”. This is not just a story, this happens every day in our schools and classrooms. We must do more, from where we stand.

I’m not a radical – but how within the present system can we help a boy like that in the video. Suffering Asperger’s, probably labeled and clinicalized (my word – means made untouchable, white, clean, inhuman). How can we do more? Here are a few of my suggestions.

1. Create community. Classrooms don’t allow freedom of expression and to be, for the most part because they aren’t a group. A unit that has each others back. That supports and nurtures whatever differences are found. Create community in your classroom by sharing your own teacher travails. By letting students recount their own stories and struggles. By spending a lot of time, the initial weeks, getting the students to know each other. Try these trust building exercises – they REALLY work.

2. Make language learning about expression. Not memorization nor accuracy. Never devoid language of its anchor, the self. Personalize. Always relate and center your class around self expression. Students will get to intimately know each other, be with and share each others “being”. Try some grammar poems to do this!

3. Do something BIG together.
Ever see the movie “Pay it Forward”? I’ve put a clip below. Get your class together to do something GRAND and seemingly impossible. Plant a garden and take care of it. Raise money. Take a photo of your class a day and then at the end of the year, make a film. Maybe even make a Project Peace video! Change the world – yes, that’s what I said, Change the world.

4. Reward the needy, reward them lots! Today in my last class of micro teaching – there was a tie. So no team could get her one prize (a book). What did she do? She did something magical. She chose one struggling student and gave the student the book mentioning, “Cindy is trying so hard and can really can use this book – she needs help in her studies. Big round of applause for her in support!”

5. Plan your curriculum around questions. Question based curriculum if your school will let you do it, is the way to go. Here’s a presentation I made of questions I collected from students of a friend’s class (thanks Connie!) who responded online about the questions they wanted answered. Questions are the fertilizer of the mind – they lead us to be thinkers and individuals. The greatest individual is not like Socrates surmised, ” the one who knows he doesn’t know.” – the greatest individual is “the one who wants to find out.”.

6. Mix it up. I use Kagan’s wonderful, inside – outside (modify and do with a line if your class isn’t big enough). Let all students spend time learning and sharing with the rest of the class. You will be surprised how big a difference this will make. Our classes are all to a tee, segregated. Don’t let yours be, make the class a free place to roam. That goes too for bringing students to the board or using it anytime. That goes too with letting them use the computer when they want. That goes too with letting them go to the washroom when they want. That goes too with letting them “pass” when they want. Give them freedom and they WILL respond with Tillich’s profound “courage to be”.

I could go on but will stop here.

Just think of the gazillion more ways you can foster creativity, talent and individuality. Please, Make a Difference!

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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5 Responses

  1. Diane lauer says:

    The true gift of teaching is the power and radiance of the human connection. Every once in a while I am paralyzed by the knowledge that my actions will be etched on the memory of another human. As educators we really do hold lives in balance. I so connect with your ideas, creating community as kind of the big theme for the list of strategies, change the world together – do something big, center your teaching around questions.

    Thanks for writing this inspirational post this morning. I can’t wait to share it!!

  2. monika hardy says:

    thank you for a lovely post.

    what an incredible opportunity we have each day.

  3. ddeubel says:


    Yes, you said it well – we touch eternity. So much is about that community we build, isn’t it?

    Lately, I’ve been writing these kind of “humanistic” posts – but I have no regrets. We have to get these things out there and remind each other.

    thanks for your kind comments, they awaken me across the sea, this evening.

    And Monika, – yes, each day, a new day, a new lease on life and opportunity….

  4. Harold Shaw says:

    This is the direction that more and more teachers are trying to head, but there are so many obstacles in the way for many of them. I hope to incorporate some/many of the ideas/practices you have described and copied this to my Evernote file of classroom tools that I will be using this year.

    Thank you for the thoughtful posting.


  5. ddeubel says:


    Thanks for the kind comment. It is a message we have to remind ourselves of continually and I guess I wrote this because I myself needed to be reminded 🙂 I just finished a session with a group of teachers all in tears that the course had come to an end and it got me thinking about my old classrooms. The ones I’ve failed in and all those lost moments with children…..

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