Traditional Education Models May Discourage Creativity

If this past year has brought us anything, it’s shown us that the world can drastically change before our eyes–and we need to be ready. Creativity is key here—how we cope and think of ways to thrive in an unstable or abnormal event. 

Sir Ken Robinson poses the question: Why are we educating children to prepare them for the future, when we have no clue what the world will look like in five years? This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t prepare them, but perhaps we’re preparing them in a faulty fashion. 

Robinson is merely highlighting the way in which so many educational institutions are applying a traditional education model which, in turn, may stifle creativity. And it’s creative thinking that allows students to be “prepared” for the unknown—the reality is, no one can be entirely prepared. But we can give students tools to look at any particular situation with open minds. An open perspective, and the ability to come up with several potential solutions, is a critical skill today. 

Traditional education vs. modern methods

Although the traditional education approach may not be intended to suppress creative expression, it often has this effect. This teaching method usually focuses on learning by memorization, and working explicitly in a future-driven path. On the contrary, modern teaching methods center around student understanding, exploration, and thinking. 

Some say that traditional teaching is teacher-centered (focused on instruction and recitation), while modern teaching is student centered (focused on exploration and innovation). 

While continually memorizing facts and theorems may benefit students in academic performance, traditional teaching can neglect the value of critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making skills. 

When you look at the bigger picture of education and its goal, it seems counterproductive that educators don’t teach students in a way that prepares them to have skill sets and knowledge which equips them in a world that is continually changing. 

The arts are dying. Is Creativity going with them?

Over the last few decades, the arts within education have been reduced drastically.

All across the country, public schools and traditional four-year colleges are facing cuts in the funding for art programs. Unsurprisingly, this is disappointing for the students who have artistic aspirations. 

Are educational institutions forgetting about the value of creativity? 

Creativity improves student performances and outcomes

In a 2011 article in Creative Research Journal, data showed that although IQ scores have risen since 1990, creative thinking scores have decreased significantly. 

In an education class I took, we learned about the importance of unstructured playtime for adolescents. This time allows young students to gain independence, and develop in so many ways—cognitively, physically, and emotionally. In order to be equipped to enter “the real world” students need more than drilled-in arithmetic lessons and the dates of every historical battle. 

They need freedom, creativity, and acceptance!

In a 2019 report, Gallup investigated the extent to which creativity is fostered in the classroom, its value, relevant obstacles, and technology’s role. Their results showed that:

  • Creativity in the classroom yields positive outcomes for students, outcomes which are further magnified when teachers use technology to its full potential.
  • Technology’s use in the classroom is frequently limited to activities that are less creative (in other words, its full potential is not utilized).
  • A culture that’s supportive and collaborative combined with training and the freedom to try new things are major factors in helping teachers bring creativity to the classroom. 

Creative intelligence is dynamic, and so are we

Sir Ken Robinson states, ‘’creative intelligence is dynamic, it’s diverse and it’s distinct.’’

As such, he goes on to discuss the way in which creativity is bred from the interaction of viewing the world in different ways. When I heard this, I started thinking about the irony that,:  as our society becomes more accepting and open to seeing each other in diverse ways, educators have become somewhat less open to students thinking in different ways. 

From a young age, many children are taught to think in dichotomous ways: right vs. wrong. 

Now, as technology continues to surge, students are urged to view their educational journey as a list of checkpoints. Rather than teaching students to think for themselves and value novel ideas and thoughts, traditional teaching methods almost rewire students to think inside of the box. With the magnified importance of standardized tests and STEM, many educators now encourage students to go through the schooling system, checking off boxes as they go:

  • Get good grades
  • Get into a good college
  • Get a sustainable–and realistic–job

The thing is, even if we’re developing more acceptance for each other, technology still is a huge factor in driving us to be competitive–at least in the career sense. 

As it surges exponentially, we’ve recognized that technology may be reaching a point of power where it can take over our responsibilities—and, for some, careers. So instead of being excited to express their true aspirations and beliefs, students may be pushed to pursue a field about which they have no interest. In doing so, we become more competitive–with one another and technology. 

Do we want to be this competitive?

The reality is that most of us actually don’t perceive power, prestige, and wealth to be the most important parts of life.

 A Gallup survey on American perceptions of success determined that there is a large discrepancy between how we perceive society to view success and how we, personally, view success. The discrepancy being that to most Americans, individually, their success is marked by a combination of factors–quality of life, work, character, health, and more.

It seems that we are forced to feel competitive–”forced” being more literal or metaphorical, depending on your financial situation, home life, and other personal factors. 

Yet, it seems we still hold dear our inner needs and desires to lead fulfilling lives, which, according to the survey, goes beyond wealth, status, and competition. Rather, many of us hope to have authentic social relationships, a job which satisfies and/or challenges, and genuine passions. 

We stigmatize mistakes

According to Sir Ken Robinson, stigmatizing mistakes is directly related to stifling creativity. As he states, “… the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.” When we associate shame with mistakes, we’re far more uncomfortable making them.

So what should we do to turn this around? In order to debunk our perceptions around mistakes, we must begin rethinking the concept of mistakes. This requires shifting our mindsets entirely. If you start thinking about a mistake as natural, and human, then you can begin to actually make something of your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes—it’s a cliche, but a true one. 

Mistakes lead to creative solutions

Mistakes are actually the key ways that people come to many brilliant conclusions! 

Take, for example, Alexander Fleming. In 1928, Fleming, a bacteriologist, was on his way to go on vacation and left behind a pile of dirty petri dishes. When he returned, upon discovering that most of the dishes had been contaminated, he noticed an area in which bacteria hadn’t grown. Fleming isolated the mold and identified it as part of the Penicillium genus, and realized it could be used as a powerful bacteria killer–the result was the discovery of penicillin

Another example: In 1985, Wilhelm Roentgen, a Physics Professor in Bavaria, was trying to determine whether cathode rays could pass through glass. Incidentally, he realized that the rays could pass through human tissue, and the X-ray was born.   

Whether we like it or not, mistakes are a breeding ground for innovations. And if we stifle creativity, we’re by virtue, stifling mistakes. In order to let students reach their potential, they must be able to take risks and feel okay making mistakes.

Celebrate curiosity and creativity

With this increase in competition, there is less time to do all those leisure–and likely creative–activities that we wish we had more time for. Think painting, yoga, reading, playing games. But, really, I’m talking about anything that allows you to transcend your typical thinking. 

It is within this time that we can stray from working inside the lines, and celebrate curiosity and creativity—which it seems, is restricted by the traditional, instructional, teaching methods. 

It seems that creativity, and our drive to pursue it, go hand in hand with living a life in which you allow yourself the time and space for raw, unfiltered thinking.


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