My job is to kill creativity

University professors… are curious forms of life. …They think of their bodies as transport for their heads.

We educate children only from the waist up, focusing on their brain, and that too, only one side of it.

Jillian isn’t sick: She’s a dancer.

If all insects were to disappear from the planet, life on Earth would vanish in 50 years. If all humans were to disappear from the planet, all forms of life would flourish.

These are a few quotes that stood out to me in this brilliant TED talk about education, given by Sir Ken Robinson. If you’re an educator, you owe it to yourself and your students to spend 15 minutes to watch it:

Hello, my name is Mihaela. My job IS to kill creativity.

Here’s how I try to try not to:

I’m very, very cautious, I try to treat it like a fragile and precious rare flower.:

  • I try, as much as I can, knowing I will always fail, to remove fear out of the classroom. But I still have to give grades, so it’s impossible to do away with fear. If you read my blog before, you know fear in education is one important theme on PR Connections.
  • I try to encourage students. I ask them to give themselves a break, not be harsh on themselves. I compliment them a lot. Yesterday I taught strategy. I asked students to create strategies for some case studies. They were hesitant to share, afraid they were wrong. I kept telling them it’s the first ever time they’re doing it, and they only had 20 seconds to think about it. It’s OK if your strategies suck. Guess what, they didn’t. But how many times do we grade students on their first attempt at something? 90%, I’m guessing.
  • I remove students, as much as possible, from modes of writing (research papers) that have conditioned their minds to be numb. I ask them to email or blog assignments instead of writing APA style papers. I ask them to create videos, dance, or perform, their final project. I will be (and I am) a persona non grata in my department for stating this publicly (we live for APA papers, and we do exactly what Sir Ken Robinson says: try to make them all university professors).

But here’s what I think: If you change the medium, you change the way they think. Ask them to write in a new medium, one that they haven’t been conditioned to fear and be constipated about and write like a mindless robot (see Richard Landham on the need to un-teach students how to write) – and guess what: Students’ writing comes to life, you all of a sudden see ideas, thoughtfulness, soul!But many times they choose to write APA style papers. Because it’s too late, because they’re scared to do otherwise, because they can’t think of anything else. So sad.

So, if you’re a teacher or a professor, what do you do to (not) kill creativity?

If you’re a subject of education (and we all were students at some point), teach me: What can I do to protect your creativity, or maybe even encourage it to grow?

[Found video via PROpenMic, thanks to Paul Loop. This post is inspired by the comments I posted on Paul’s post.]

27 thoughts on “My job is to kill creativity”

  1. Ashley, the part where you reflected that fear was holding you back from trying something new brought tears to my eyes. I wish I knew how to get rid of fear in the classroom. I know sometimes it’s a good motivator (maybe people wouldn’t do things if there was no fear) and I also know that as long as there are grades there will be fear. And I have to give out grades.

    Maybe I should start my own university… 🙂

    But most importantly, I’m happy my post inspired you to try something new. I can’t wait to see it!

    P.S. – Steve’s comment spoke to me, too. That’s why I sent out practice questions for the test.

    Marianne, Brittany, all: thank you for encouraging me. What I do is very little, but it’s a step towards an ideal. I couldn’t make another step if I didn’t have your encouragement. Thank you.

  2. This video and blog are so interesting! Although I have always considered endless papers and essays to be mundane, I have never considered how they may kill my creativity. AND THEY DO!

    Sometimes, after writing a paper, I reread it and think, “Where am I in this paper? This sounds nothing like me.” I now realize that in an attempt to abide by writing standards, paper guidelines, and professor specifications, I have lost myself, and usually, all interest in the topic. I have begun to learn topics, but have no opinion on them; understand an issue, but take no stand on it.

    Your class is one of the only classes I have ever taken that truly encourages creativity. The small things, like starting the class with music or asking us to blog our notes, allow us to think outside of the 1.275 inch margins and express our ideas in a positive, safe environment. I think that this contributes so much to our lively and interactive class discussions, which make our class so fun. Thank you, Dr. V.

  3. Dr. V,

    Wow. That’s all I can say. This video was so enjoyable. It was funny and thought provoking and inspiring all at once. It made me want to be a dance and English and a stand up comedian.

    Your blog was so great, too. I want to point out Steve’s post comment, too: “But how many times do we grade students on their first attempt at something? 90%, I’m guessing.”

    That actually gave me goosebumps. And you spoke of things you do in your classroom and it just made me so grateful to have you as a teacher. You really do try to make our classes interesting and give us alternative modes. Like how we had the option to keep a blog instead of the second exam. In some ways I wish I would have worked harder on that blog because it was such a great alternative.

    And reading this blog made me want to do an alternative project for my ethnography study for sure. I was doubting my ability to do it, but after reading this, I realized I’m just afraid of being wrong. I know how to edit videos; I’ve done it before. So I want to do that instead of a paper. 🙂

  4. In the video Ted tells a story about the “three kings” and he explains how kids who “don’t know, will have a go.” He says they are not frightened of being wrong. Often times I wish I had more courage to say my ideas or my thoughts whether it be in class or with friends talking about our plans for the night. I’ve got to admit my ideas are usually at least on the right track if not correct. No matter how comfortable a teacher may make us feel in a situation I think some people are still scared of sharing their thoughts just for the sake of being wrong. The concept of Public Relations is a new one to me. The more I grasp about this subject, the less shy I will be sharing my ideas.

    Dr. V. you are doing a great job in making us feel comfortable and introducing Public Relations to us in a very creative way. The fact that social media is our primary source of grading and learning increases the interest in the subject! When people ask me about the “PR class I am taking” I say it is challenging at first because I am not used to blogging and other social media tools but I am being exposed to so many essential online tools! Therefore, I think you should keep teaching via internet. Also, I love that you don’t assign papers because as much as we are used to writing APA style and paragraph after paragraph, it really does get old!

  5. This video says everything I’ve been thinking during my 4 years in college! I feel like so many of things we learn in school prepare us for certain careers of the education system’s choice, not our own.

    Some people have commented about children always having creative ideas about what they want to be when they grow up, and have so many interesting goals and ambitions. Not that I don’t have goals or ambitions, but every time I think about what I want to be when I grow up, I think “Well I’ll have to go to school for that.”

    I wish that we could take our own natural, creative abilities and choose a career based on those instead of having to follow a structured curriculum. Teachers always say that they want students to think deep and come up with creative ideas. That’s all good and well as long as students stay in the lines.

    Even right now I keep re-reading what I’m writing, and going back and re-writing, checking to make sure it’s proper. These kinds of habits are so ingrained in me now that I wonder if I’ll ever be able to write freely without worry of misused grammar or structure.

    One tip I have for you Dr. V is to let your students choose how they want to present their knowledge and understanding of class material to you.

    I think telling students to write a paper with specific guidelines limits their ability to fully express their knowledge of a concept. Some students aren’t good at writing papers but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand the material. Maybe they could better convey their understanding through some other medium. What if instead of writing a paper to convey that we understand a concept, we made a PowerPoint presentation, or got up in class and explained the concept using a performance or skits as examples? Just something to think about!

  6. I loved this post! It really is quite enlightening. We’re so used to writing papers and taking traditional tests that we really are afraid to try something different and new. Each time you talk about photovoice and performing our final project, I realize how accustomed I am to doing things the “normal/typical” way. It’s sad that I’m so worried about getting a good grade that I don’t even think about trying something new. I know I’ll probably make a good grade if I write a paper so why wouldn’t I write a paper? I can think of plenty of ways in which doing something different would benefit me, but like you’ve been saying, there is just too much fear in the classroom.

    I think you’ve done a wonderful job of bringing creativity back into the classroom. I like listening to the music (in 311) and being able to take what we are learning and quickly apply it (creating strategies, tactics, etc.) I feel like I really can share my thoughts and ideas and that they won’t be shot down immediately because they’re “wrong.” It’s interesting how you related changing the medium with changing the way of thinking. I’m sure that I wouldn’t have written nearly as much about this topic in my notebook as I have on this blog.

  7. No, you are not preaching to the choir. Unfortunately, most professors are not like us and are content teaching the status quo. That has never been good enough for me or you…this is why you get responses from students like that above! Good work!

  8. It is refreshing to have a teacher that does ENCOURAGE our creativity instead of stifling it. We are being introduced to new forms of expressing our ideas, and yes, it is scary. I sat on twitter yesterday and typed out multiple different @’s to various people and in the end wrote nothing because I was worried what I was writing was not twitter appropriate or formal enough. It is nice to hear that it’s ok, in fact encouraged to try new, more creative avenues for expressing our ideas.

  9. Dr. V- you really do a great job of making us feel comfortable enough to speak up in class and help us keep up with the new way society is shifting. I’m about to blog about this really interesting video that I was introduced to that I think really hits the nail on the head of everything that we’re learning in your class (check it out- really neat!). Thanks for keeping us up to par on our constantly shifting, technologically advanced society through your teaching methods!

  10. I watched this video clip a few days ago and have not commented until now because I have been stewing over the information. I have finally collected my thoughts.

    I went to school for 13 years at a small, private, college-preparatory school in South Carolina. Although I feel like I learned a lot while I was there, classes were very structured and always taught the same way. Now in my second year of college, I am quite surprised to find that everyone of my teachers has a different method of reaching his or her students.

    I wish more of my teachers could relate to Dr. V and Sir Ken Robinson in that every student is different. Each one is creative in his or her own way and needs to be taught with this in mind. Creativity and expression are never going to be the same between two students, and I am thankful this is finally being understood. I have never before had a teacher ask how I like to learn. I feel that because of this, Dr. V can reach me deeper than any professor has before. Although the material is hard, she has taken learning out of the classroom. I feel like I am no longer simply memorizing definitions and writing papers; I am actually learning about my future career and networking with professionals, and that is priceless.

  11. Thank you, thank you, for the comments and nice thoughts.

    Kristen, you wrote: “and the leaders are the ones who take their skills and use them to try and bring out the leaders in others” – that’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. I hope I remember and live it for the rest of my life

    Yes, we do grow out of creativity. I used to write (fiction, poetry) – I used to love writing. Now I fear it. I’ve been working for years to get over this fear, and honestly, this blog has helped a lot.

    Teach me how to teach you.

  12. This is a really great video! It’s so interesting that he says that we grow out of creativity. I’ll be honest- when I was a child I seriously thought that I was going to be a professional artist when I grew up. Clearly that did not happen (and I personally think that I am no good anymore!) But it is so true that kids aren’t afraid of being creative and being wrong. However, I don’t agree that children should be taught dance with the same intensity that they are taught math, history, science, or English. My mom teaches Reading Recovery for an elementary school that recently switched its focus to the arts- she was cut back to half time. Because of this, there are students now in the first, second, and third grade that are not reading on their grade’s current reading level and now they will not have the opportunity to catch up by means of an additional reading class.
    I DO think that the arts are important and that creativity IS often “educated out” of us- but where do we draw the line between knowledge that is necessary to live within our society (reading, math, writing) and knowledge that comes from something beneficial (the arts)?

  13. Wow, i feel like everything Sir Ken said is what I have told parents, friends, and anyone else who will listen for the last 3 years; higher education has become nothing more than a worthless piece of paper with a numerical gauge that delivers a false sense of productivity. I love to write, but even when we began this class I found myself blogging, proofreading, re-writing, checking, then posting…although I am really neurotic about my finished products I cannot tell you how nice it was to hear that it was ok to have a spelling error here and there. I honestly think that everything great about education has been drained from the system, more often than not people do not study what they love, they study what will deem them successful via post graduation financial statements. The notion of creativity is becoming less and less prevalent in education due to outside pressures. A fine line needs to be drawn between the perfection imposed by academia/the business world and allowing students to explore their creativity in ways that will benefit their education substantially.

    So, in light of these new developments, here is my first creative idea:

    From Dr. V’s Post:
    “But how many times do we grade students on their first attempt at something? 90%, I’m guessing.”

    So for Monday’s test, I think everyone should agree to complete it in their own special way, and seeing as it is the first one, everyone will be awarded 125 points no matter how far out their answers are. Thursday will then be dedicated to reviewing/celebrating our creative endeavors collectively as a class….

    All kidding aside, thanks for making class fun and different Dr. V, as much as I know everyone loves a lit review, this really is refreshing

  14. I found his quote, “if all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life would end. If all the humans disappeared on the earth, within 50 years all life would flourish…” most interesting because it really is true how as humans, we have a gift.

    I also, however, am a firm believer that your gifts are what you make of them. There are leaders and followers out there, and the leaders are the ones who take their skills and use them to try and bring out the leaders in others…because even though some may be more gifted in different areas, we all have been given the gift to think and be creative.

    Therefore, I think since you lead our classes your job is to make us think and give us the confidence to expand our thinking, and by blogging and using technology and being as current as possible you have done that for us, so I don’t think there is much left for us to criticize about you. In fact, I think more professors should take the same approach, because it really does allow an easier way for us to express ourselves, without the stress of a classroom — since for many public speaking is their worst fear.

  15. Dr. V…

    I found this video and your post very interesting. I really enjoyed listening to Sir Ken Robinson and was very intrigued by what I thought to be fresh and original thoughts about creativity and education. He is a great speaker, so engaging to his audience! I loved his definition of creativity, the process of having original ideas; and I was really enlightened by being presented with the idea that we are growing out of creativity. I have never really thought quite like that before, but that is a truly sad notion to me.

    I thought the points that Sir Ken Robinson made about schools, educational institutions, and their role in encouraging children to grow away from creativity were valid, and I can imagine how they would be convicting and thought provoking for those specifically who are in the academia career field.

    I do want to encourage you Dr. V with your efforts to drive fear out of the classroom. I think to a degree with grades and other sources of pressure that students deal with, it is impossible to eliminate. However, I recognize and applaud your encouraging mindset that attempts to stimulate our creativity and growth as a human being. However, I believe that learning is truly a process for all of us. It is a life-long and continual process.

  16. Dr. V.,

    I think that by having us blog and be on Twitter is a wonderful way of teaching us new skills and creativity. The research papers that fill up all of our time for other classes can be so mundane, not to mention daunting, with all of their rules to follow and research to do. Blogging is more creative and allows us to express our opinions without fear of saying something wrong. It allows us to more easily express our ideas, and is closer to the kind of writing we will do when we are out in the real world with a real job.

  17. It really struck me when Sir Ken Robinson said we grow OUT of creativity. I thought this was particularly interesting because as a child or young adult you always think that you will grow up to do what you love and all of your creative skills will flourish. Yet, when I entered college I took a “safe” choice in learning, I thought I wanted to be a dentist. The information overload in the Biological Science major and the lack of room for creativity soon prompted me to leave this major and pursue one that allowed for more room to breathe.

    I have caught myself many times in and even more outside the PRinciples class getting thrown off-guard with the though of brainstorming, inventing, and creating ideas and making them so public. But, I am finding this very rewarding! I love the fact of not being constricted to a certain format whether it be powerpoints, lectures, worksheets or papers alone. Therefore, thank you Dr. V, thank you for giving my brain a break and helping me break out of the icy box that I am so often enclosed in through education!

  18. Mark, thank you for your comment. I’ve got to say, though, as much as I teach you useful things in the PR Principles class, I hope to help my students grow into successful people, not employees.

    I know you need a job, and money is part of being successful and free.

    But, being an employee means being a subject to a different kind of authority trying to shape you into someone you may or may not want to become.

    I hope to help you grow (or at least not stifle) your creativity not (only) because I’d like you to get a job, but mostly because I’d like to empower you to reach your potential as a free, happy, wise human being.

  19. As a student in a university not headed for a life of academia, I can verify so much of what Sir Ken Robinson said from personal experience. This struck my mind’s chord while I watched the clip: I’ve observed, lately in particular, so many of my friends and peers who could not tell you what they’re passionate about or even what they’re good at. And I always wonder when it was in their life that they stopped knowing. Children always know, at least, what they want to be good at. Our current education system truly is shaping lives into a mindless struggle for approval (grades) and reward (money).

  20. This video is a very unique way of understanding our modern day education system. It touches on all the areas of the education process, and presents ways to improve the quality of education.

    I found the discussion on growing out of creativity to be very interesting. Just as Robinson states in his discussion, if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. However, the education process teaches students to follow a specific structure, and once that structure becomes ingrained into students minds, it becomes difficult to break free of it.

    I could not agree with Dr. V. more in that changing the medium, and allowing students to express their ideas without having to make sure they are within the guidelines of the APA format encourages them to be original.

    Often times, originality is lost through the social identity theory, but by creating a platform of discussion on ideas through mediums such as blogs and twitter students feel more inclined to put their ideas out there.

    By removing students from traditional research papers, it teaches them to think spontaneously as they will have to do in their jobs. Through changing the medium in which students learn and participate, students will learn more applicable skills to their profession, and the purpose of public education will no longer be to produce university professors, but to produce successful employees.

  21. Lauren, time and time again I see that we think alike. Am I preaching to the choir? I don’t know, but it’s so nice to have company and support while swimming upstream. I can’t wait to meet you in person!

    Paul, thank you for starting the discussion in the first place. Yes, I do a lot of un-teaching in my classes, but I struggle to make it work within the institutional constraints.

  22. This is a really fascinating take on the ‘creativity’ question and I am intrigued by the ‘un-learning’ of things.

    I went on a tennis course in Spain once and, on the first day of the course, the instructor said “today I don’t want you to concern yourself about where the ball goes, just hit it hard and as well as you can”. It was the strangest feeling but taught us all to focus on the stroke and follow through instead of being constrained by the need to hit the shot in.

    We un-learned our reservations about htting the ball hard (because it might go out) but, ultimately were all playing better very quickly.

    Very interesting indeed.

    Lauren – your courses sound a very interesting multimedia experience. It is odd isn’t it that roles that need good networking skills, multimedia skills, creativity and charm are often taught in a classroom with a book!


  23. Re: the video…I first showed this video to my speech class and now show it in ever class. Great conversation starter!

    Just like you and several other remarkable profs I have met in the blogosphere, my class assignments are completed with blogs, Twitter and email. Students are so used to being spoon-fed information and robotic writing style, they are afraid and react quite fiercely to the new medium. It is amazing how their thoughts blossom when they give this new medium a shot!

    I also like to assign my compressed courses game projects! For example, in an entry-level marketing communications course, students were split into teams and had to recreate the Monopoly game! Wow! The results get better and better with each crop of students…and they actually leave the class having learned something!

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