Schools Training

Adjust Your Bifocals: Has 20th Century Education Abandoned Creation?

29 AUG 2014
Career Path : Education News

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
– Ken Robinson, TED Talk.

Business Insider published an article titled “American Schools Kill Creativity”, referring to a TED Talk (featured below) by educator Ken Robinson on the plagued condition of the North American school system. Both pieces argue that in an attempt to factory farm students into the perfect prototype for the work world, we are actually stifling the potential skills a child could develop.

Structure is Killing the Expansion of Thought

Very rarely we encourage children to become a filmmaker, a dancer, or a playwright, because these are seen as dead-end streets that offer no money. A doctor or engineer is where the money is at—which is why our school systems rely so heavily on science, mathematics, and structured formal papers.

If you look into the past at all the great thinkers, it’s curious that the education system is not based more off their ideals. Benjamin Franklin we all know is responsible for such creations as the bifocal and the lightning rod. Of course, Franklin did not solely study eyewear and electricity. He mapped ocean currents, created a city newspaper, composed music and had an active role in politics. He had unconventional methods of research and as a man curious about everything, he did not limit his medium for learning. As a result, he is considered one of the best inventors and thinkers in modern history.

We are shaping the education of children around the model that there is a right and wrong method for learning, and children who sway outside that model must be fixed. Everyone graduating high school must be capable of reiterating complex ideas through the medium of a five paragraph essay. Unfortunately for many, this is not how their brain captures information—and they suffer for it. Today, 20% of teenage boys in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD. In an attempt to determine why the last fifteen years have seen an increase in students with the disorder, it has been discovered that high rates of ADHD diagnoses correlate with the severity of a U.S. state’s penalty towards failing standardized tests.

Benjamin Franklin would argue that failure is the method to success. If this is so, then why are parents and teachers so afraid of students failing?

Tenure System

Part of the problem may lie in the tenure system, used for teachers and professors in both Canada and the United States. Teachers are put on a probationary period—usually around two years—before they are hired full time (granted tenure), in order to ensure their teaching is successful. Success in this case is measured in the form of positive standardized test results. As a result of the tenure system, and fear of losing tenure, teachers have become less flexible in honing creative lesson plans, and are less tolerant of failure in their students.

“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison.

The question is, can we learn through different methods within our own capability, and still comprehend the same idea? This is not to say that essays are not useful—they help students develop argumentative and proofing skills, and encourage the expansion of thinking.

However, what if a student was to explore the theory of evolution by writing a play? Perhaps an essay thesis can be conveyed through a painting. What if a complex mathematical idea was learned through building a model? These opportunities could create an open door for a student’s world of understanding—and potentially decrease the 8.5% high school dropout rate in Canada.

Forcing learning to be words on paper for a computer to scan, only shows that education has become an industry with no time to focus on difference. While standardized education may have proved useful in the Industrial era it was designed for, this direction is becoming less and less practical in today’s more opportunistic career realm.


All of this is not to say that an education received in North America is not valuable, because it is. Students here are free to learn about any topic in the world, which cannot be said for many other education systems. What the system deeply lacks is student engagement—a desire to learn.

We must understand that a standard education in North America will not be standard everywhere else, and globalization has made independent thought more crucial than ever. Creativity is a worldwide language, and this is becoming more and more important for the education system to acknowledge.

What is your opinion on the approach of North American education?