It’s not news that the school system has (more than) a problem. It does not adequately prepare for the world of work (just look at the levels of youth unemployment), the drop-out rates are very high and in the world rankings the students show serious gaps even in basic literacy, with devastating consequences in economic, cultural and social terms.
According to Ken Robinson, teacher and expert on British pedagogy, however, the school system has one problem more serious than others, a problem that implies all of them: it kills creativity. In doing so, it puts a brake on students' mental and social development, preventing them from excelling in what they are brought to. Exactly the opposite of what education should do, in other words "allow students to understand the world around them and their talents, so as to become realized, proactive and compassionate individuals".
To explain how this happens, and to solve the “problem of problems”, Robinson has written a book called Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education. A simply written but eloquent essay, which goes through all the limitations of the school sector in this day and age, and most importantly suggest solutions to overcome them through good examples that can be copied. Change can, must happen on all levels of the school system, and must come from below: “ It doesn’t matter what the school program is or how evolved the tests are: the real key to transforming education is the quality of teaching” says the expert. So the school, starting from the teachers, must understand, support and promote what is interesting to students.
It doesn’t matter what the school program is or how evolved the tests are: the real key to transforming education is the quality of teaching
But let's start from the basics. In the world of education (and not only that) a false myth has spread, assuming that children are born with different degrees of intelligence, and for this reason some are good at school and some are not. The smart ones will go to university and find well-paid jobs, while others will get bad grades and do manual or low-income jobs.
According to Robinson, however, this is not absolutely true. "We are all born with very great natural talents, but at the end of their education many of us lose them, because the school did not value our talents, or even stigmatized them," says the expert.
All this, however unfair and senseless it may be, happens for a very precise reason: the school system is built according to “Fordist” logic where the goal is to produce serial graduates: same contents and objectives for everyone, same standards of evaluation, and same shifts among the subjects during the day.
The problem? People are not all the same, not all activities or school subjects lend themselves to standardization, and above all a school is not a company. So, rather than promote students' attitudes and help them grow, education seems to be aimed at boxing the minds to fill them with as many notions as possible, putting students in competition for something (the grade) merely symbolic and neutralizing their curiosity and desire to learn.
It’s therefore not surprising that for most children, school is a burden, and a burden that often causes psychological suffering and lowers self-esteem. While statistically what most dictates the success of the students is motivation and their own expectation.
According to Robinson, all this can however change. How? By implementing a logic that is exactly the opposite of the Fordist one, that is, personalizing education. "This does not mean that there should not be some basic content to be transmitted", warns the expert. Quite the opposite: it means recognizing that intelligence takes substance in different things, it means giving students the opportunity to develop their own interests and attitudes, adapt their schedule following their own learning rhythm and evaluating them in order to support their progress.
Creativity is not the opposite of discipline. On the contrary, in every field, creativity requires a deep knowledge of facts and a high level of practical skills
Is that too good to be true? Actually, many of these changes are already underway, and Robinson provides a large number of examples to support these good practices. The transition that has taken place at a systemic level from the acquisition of knowledge to that of skills is already a good thing, for example. But it is still not enough: teachers should be given the space to work in a closer and more personal way with their students, to enable them to become curious and to really learn. And to become creative, combining imagination with the ability to implement new ideas. "Creativity is not the opposite of discipline," says Robinson. "On the contrary, in every field, creativity requires a thorough knowledge of the facts and a high level of practical skills".
For example Rafe Esquith, in Los Angeles, has decided to “teach as if I had a fire going on in my hair”, because during an experiment, he was so focused on helping a student, he didn’t realize he had set his hair on fire. These are the teachers who can really accompany and inspire their students in their learning. Mexican Juárez Correa, gets his students to work exclusively in groups, and his lessons always start with an open question. Joe Harrison, from Manchester, focuses on “Slow Education”, a method that uses personalized and vertical learning, deepening rather than widening. The list of examples supporting his theory is infinite. And it’s something that any school can do, just starting from simple things.The flipped classroom methodology, for example, can be very useful for stimulating students and allowing them to have an active approach; or, rather than giving the students the usual multiple choice tests, you could focus on creating portfolios and projects. And so on.
Naturally, it is not a change that can take place from one day to the next. And for it to take place all actors must be involved, from families to principals, as well as teachers. "For a variety of political, cultural, and economic reasons, the school system is among those most likely to preserve the status quo," says Robinson. But it is possible to change, provided you have a vision of the future, the belief that change will be for the best, optimism towards its ability to develop it and trust in seeing the desired results.
"Creative Schools" is not just for teachers but for all those who have an interest in the world of education. We have all gone to school, but how many of us really enjoyed studying? Learning should first and foremost be fun: if the good practices contained in Robinson's book were implemented on a large scale, the social benefits of such a revolution would be incalculable.