Another brick in the wall

“Schools are killing creativity.” Say what?! My first reaction was: “Easy, Tiger. You’re a bit over the top, aren’t you?”

It wouldn’t be safe for Sir Ken to make statements like that in the presence of any of those many teachers spending hours and hours slaving away teaching music, dance, speech and drama or art. Sir Ken might get a marimba mallet across the knuckles. Or – to really serve him right – a frontrow seat at the next interhouse play festival.

But maybe we should put the question of creativity in schools to that oft-neglected source of feedback – parents. I raised it in the pub after golf. The reaction was interesting, to say the least. “Schools are killing creativity?” asked Ben, the used-car salesman, disbelievingly. “Well, they aren’t doing a very good job, are they? They didn’t stop my daughter taking up the violin, did they?” he continued morosely.

Those of us who had been there, done that and invested in the earplugs, winced in sympathy. However, Albie, the insurance broker, said: “It could be worse.” “How could it?” demanded Ben. “When she’s practising, even the cat shoves its head under a cushion.” “That’s nothing,” said Albie. “My son has joined the school band.” We looked at him, mystified. What was wrong with that? “The pipe band,” he said, by way of explanation. Understanding dawned. “Not, not – the bagpipes!” we said, aghast. “Oh yes,” he said bitterly. “The pipe master told him he has to practise morning, noon and night.”

He took a moody sip of his beer, then added: “Our neighbour, who’s put his house up for sale, was nearly in tears. He said that he would prefer not to have to limit prospective buyers to only those who are stone deaf.” “You think you’ve got problems,” interrupted Andile, the wholesale businessman. “I would be grateful if I only had violins and bagpipes to contend with. My son spends his time taking guitar lessons at school.” We looked at him in puzzlement. He explained: “He wants to be a rock star. His band practises in our garage. At ten thousand decibels. The entire neighbourhood has put their houses up for sale.” “Violins, bagpipes, rock bands – if only that was all I had to worry about,” said Johan, the construction expert. “My son is in the school play.” Again we were puzzled. Acting is at least relatively quiet, assuming the play isn’t a stage adaptation of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.2

“The problem,” explained Johan, “is that he loves it so much, he’s decided to become an actor after school. Did you know that at any given time, 90% of all actors are unemployed? I went to talk to the school career guidance counsellor. She said his aptitude test showed that his Venn diagram circles intersect in the expressive arts set. She said I should encourage him to live his dream. I said, “Lady, his Venn-circle dream is intersecting badly with my Venn-circle nightmare.”

He gloomily ordered another beer. “I had planned to turn his room into my man cave. Now, who knows whether he’ll ever earn enough to leave home!” The silence following this heartfelt outburst was broken by Andile: “Why don’t schools confine creativity to the subjects our kids need to earn a living?” he asked. “Like business studies, or accountancy?” I thought I had them there: “How do you make accountancy creative?” I asked, with just a touch of sarcasm. They stared at me before issuing a hostile riposte. “Don’t teachers fill in tax returns? Not letting the taxman know what your business earns requires real creativity!”

One has to ask the question: is it schools that are killing creativity? Even Shakespeare’s father probably buttonholed the local Stratford-on-Avon school headmaster: “What are you guys teaching kids these days? Young William wanders around the house disclaiming about what to be, or not to be. If he goes into a career in poncy theatre plays, I’ll blame you…” 

Bruce Pinnock enjoyed a long and illustrious teaching career, eventually retiring from St Alban’s College in Pretoria, Gauteng.

References: 1. This controversial statement was made in 2006 by famous author, educator and “creativity expert”, Sir Ken Robinson. See: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_ schools_kill_creativity and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sirken- robinson/do-schools-kill-creativity_b_2252942.html.

2. See: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072271/.

Category: Regular Columns, Winter 2017

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