Put Your Pencils Down

By Daniel Isler

A little girl sits down in her class to draw a drawing. The teacher approaches her, and asks her: “what is it that you’re drawing, love?”

The girl answers: “I am drawing a picture of God.”

The teacher, confused, answers: “But nobody knows what God looks like!”

“They will in a minute” answers the little girl.

In 2006 (this was seven years ago. Time flies by), Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on education of the arts gave a mesmerizing 20 minutes lecture on TED. This was when TED was still an innovative way to communicate new and groundbreaking knowledge in a fun and direct manner – just a tiny bit before it was adopted by stoned click-the-link-intellectuals, and became a hub for any kind of short lecture, regardless of its significance for human knowledge. This transformation in TED’s status might be yet another example for the message Sir Robinson is trying to deliver in this lecture and in his books. Schools of public education, he argues, had become a mere long process of university admissions. The capabilities and educational desires of individual students are being redesigned in order for them to comply with “market demands”, “academic standards” and so forth. Robinson says that this is not a viable way of educating children in the 21st century. Schools kill the creativity each and every one of us is born with, and standardize us in ways that “delete” some talents that might have been way more important than mathematics or proper writing.

Robinson’s TED video is one of the most popular TED talks in the history of the project, and not by chance. The problem Robinson is pointing out is an ongoing tectonic shift in the way we educate ourselves (and by “we” I mean the west, all this mumbo jumbo doesn’t apply to starving kids in Angola). The need to rethink the methods in which primary and secondary schools are going about with directing kids’ to certain fields of studies has become much more relevant in the age of ADHD and prescription medications for kids. The instant solutions of the system are revealed to be more and more ineffective and dangerous, and the fact that there is no problem to resolve becomes more and more visible. I have a friend that was diagnosed as hyperactive when we were only in the 8th grade. He started taking Ritalin as the school councilor prescribed. He became confused, so he tells today, and felt alienated from the reality around him and disconnected from the vibrant happenings that were going on in the school yard. To make a long story short, he got off the medication, took on his lifelong desire – and became one of the best drummers I know, an A+ student and an all-together a great and free person. I see drugs such as Ritalin as the main projection of the twisted “adult world” on the kids’ world, promoting success in any cost, translating money into self-fulfillment and distorting priorities as they follow blindly the shiny lights of the free-market.

The problem does not begin and ends in the schools or with Ritalin. Since education is a continuous process, the outcomes of this way of standardizing are all the more visible when entering a higher education institution (again, in the West). It is fair to assess that most students sitting in a class did not dream of this way of life or the field they are engaged in when they were 8 years old, or even when they were 17 or 18. As Robinson puts it, all of us are being benignly directed away from the less ‘economical’ fields such as literature and arts, and more to the direction of practical ones, namely mathematics. In my first hand experience it always strikes me as odd, the way a variety of different personalities, dreams and desires are being thrown together in a classroom and are expected to produce the same products and outcomes – namely good grades.


Even within the academic research inquiries themselves, the place where “new knowledge” is supposed to be manufactured, the problem of creativity blocking exists. The academic tools of inquiry are solid and any attempt to challenge them within an existing paradigm follows a “punishment” from the system, which deems the research as “not valid”. And this is without mentioning the problem of quantity of students. In the next 30 years, says Robinson, more people will finish their high school education than in the whole of history combined. This creates a jam in the academy, where students either go in and come out without anything to show for, or just stay in the academic world as a solution.

The question arises, from a point of view of an academic, what do we want to see come out of the education process? Weary and tired students, writing papers about thing they don’t understand and don’t care about? The same research with a different title again and again? Bloggers that write posts about the future of education? Or rather passionate students with hunger for the field of studies that they chose? Kids that are born now will retire in 2070. Can we claim to know what the world will look like? I say, let the creativity flow and flourish. Let kids decide what “does it” for them, regardless of the adults’ point of view on life. Robinson puts it like this: we are not growing into creativity, we are being grown out of it. Let’s stop growing kids out of creativity.

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2 thoughts on “Put Your Pencils Down

  1. Pingback: Aaaaaand… this was 2013! | We should name this soon

  2. Pingback: Let’s Make Time for Games | We should name this soon

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