Memorandum submitted by Carolyn Black
Why do I care about creativity in education?
Although I now work as a curator and project manager, I come from a practising arts background. Like most art-trained people, I have been taught often, have taught others often and have a lifelong passion for learning. I'm lucky, but it shouldn't be down to luck, should it? Also, like many other arts-trained persons, I found my school days frustrating, boring and uninspiring. That was then - but now there is potential for change and it has begun to happen. I've seen my own children go through the changes of the education system - the increase in emphasis on scoring points, passing exams, cloning of not only the education system but of the individual too.
The outcome is evidence that these rigid systems stifle and restrain and luckily Creative Partnerships and similar initiatives are examining why this has happened and seeking to change it. I now attempt to positively contribute to these changes by including an educational remit in all I do when planning projects. I genuinely believe that it is contact with artists and creatives that provides a role model of free-thinking and enthusiasm and passion for life. No SATS exam is going to inspire great thoughts or discoveries! I was lucky - I made up for my lost school education by studying as an adult and I therefore believe it is never too late to amend these things, but we have to value them first.
Arts education is more than learning to play an instrument, or drawing or reciting poetry - it is about freeing up the person to feel safe to experiment in an environment which celebrates and encourages them to delight in life, rather than be afraid of it. We are all able to support and promote this process - as parents, as teachers, as artists, as members of a community - because we can all be part of it. It is our responsibility to make sure we do enable people to enrich their lives and it is the Government's responsibility to support society to develop confidence and pride in our culture through creative thinking and risk-taking.
My only real reason for having a valid opinion to offer is that I am a human being. But in measurable terms, it is helpful for you to know the following key facts about me:
· I didn't learn much at school
· I loved learning out of school
· I don't like putting people in boxes or being put in a box myself
· I studied as a mature student and loved it
· I taught in adult education and was evangelical about adult learning
· I ran workshops for young people in schools & youth clubs for all ages and social groups, cross culturally
· I made artworks about learning processes as they fascinate me
· I later set up education programmes for others and taught in formal institutions, which I found frustrating
· I learned to create learning environments that were different to those in institutions
· I remember clearly the feeling of not being good at learning without physically 'doing' it.
· I firmly believe that by 'doing it' it has meaning and purpose and understanding is the outcome - not rote learning
· That a supportive environment creates endless potential in people
· And hardest of all for traditionalists to understand - often the gain for the individual is immeasurable - but it changes people for life.
· The most rewarding words I ever heard were (from an adult learner coming to my art class - actually, several said it) "I may not be the best artist in the world now, but you have changed the way I see the world. Thank you."
As outlined above, everyone possesses creativity, we just need to access it. I have had the privilege to see how creativity can make a real difference in peoples lives. The following is a recent example:
Imagine a workshop....... with eight 7 & 8 year olds working with one audio artist (Duncan Speakman), a classroom assistant, an outreach officer (Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust) and some simple audio recording equipment. The small group size allows a real relationship between the children and others to develop over the 2 sessions of working. The work was to learn to listen whilst in the forest, to stimulate their own imaginations about what sounds could be built up together to make a story, the acting out and recording of the sounds and working with each other to achieve this. In doing so they learnt (without them noticing!) how to:
· Listen to the place
· Listen to each other
· Understand the place in a different way
· Imagine things beyond their experience
· Share their stories with each other without embarrassment
· Use quite complex equipment
· Trust each other
· Collaborate to extend each others skills
Some of the children were very shy, yet as a team even the most nervous child spoke clearly and confidently into the microphone. That child also brought his parents and grandparents to show them what he had done, he was smiling from ear to ear, and they were clearly delighted at how the experience had brought him out of his shyness.
Creative Partnerships funded this work, as they did other projects working with underachievers from local schools. As a charitable Trust we have very low income and have to fundraise for all activities. We want to continue these projects and hope we will be able to do so.
But what can the Government do?
Surely education should be at the centre of all Government initiatives? As our society has evolved from being manufacturing centred to service industry focussed, the skills-base needed is changing constantly. With global communities there is potential for everyone to benefit from creative thinking. We have more tools at our disposal than ever thanks to technology, Western society is more financially stable than ever before, yet we still have problems with our young people. There is a constant sense of underachievement, particularly in young males - but maybe it is not them that are failing us, but us failing them, as a society. There is clear evidence that active and enquiring minds occupy young people and makes for a more rewarding experience of all subject areas, not just the arts. Increasingly cross-curricula learning methods are gaining a strong profile. Society has changed and so must our learning processes. Differences between social groups and genders are narrowing constantly, which is a positive thing, but may be leaving a sense of disorientation during this period of transition. Young people are in freefall and at risk of losing their personal sense of identity. Creativity is always about the individual first. Ask 100 people to draw the same tree and no drawing will be alike. Just as none of the people will look alike. We should celebrate the individual, not crush the life out of it by creating a homogenous society.